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Understanding Distribution Lines & Community Solar

Updated: May 2


Understanding Distribution Lines & Community Solar


As we see new legislation and incentives emerging for community solar development, locations prime for development opportunities are coming to light. In order to take advantage of these burgeoning opportunities, developers should be aware of potential hot spots for community solar development, relevant legislation and incentive programs in these areas, and methodologies for accessing and utilizing critical distribution line data.



Understanding Community Solar


A community solar farm is a solar power facility in a particular geographic area that is owned and managed by several people, companies, or organizations. Usually, each member of a community solar farm leases or buys a portion of the solar array. They can then receive a credit on their electricity bills due to the power they generate. This relates to the energy that their section of the solar array produces. Community solar farms are primarily designed to give people who might not be able to install their own solar panels access to solar power. This solar power is transferred to the end user such as homes, businesses, and organizations participating in the project by way of distribution lines. 


The community solar sector in the United States has demonstrated remarkable growth and resilience, with projections indicating a bright future ahead. As of December 2023, the U.S. boasts approximately 7.3 gigawatts (GW) of community solar projects in operation across 43 states, highlighting the widespread adoption of this renewable energy model. Despite experiencing a short-term slowdown in 2022, where the growth rate dipped by 16%, industry analysts from Wood Mackenzie remain optimistic, forecasting a dramatic surge in the community solar market. They predict an increase of 118% over the next five years, underscoring the sector's potential for rapid expansion and its vital role in the nation's renewable energy landscape.



This optimism is echoed by various sources, including CNET, which reports that the total capacity of community solar in the U.S. is expected to climb from about 6 GW in 2023 to an impressive 14 GW in the near future. Such growth is not only indicative of the increasing demand for clean and sustainable energy options but also reflects the effectiveness of community solar in bridging the gap for households and businesses that may not have the means to install individual solar systems. States like Illinois, Minnesota, Maine, New Jersey, and Maryland are at the forefront of this expansion, driven by supportive policies and the growing recognition of community solar's benefits. Furthermore, the Department of Energy (DOE) has set ambitious targets, challenging the solar industry to triple community solar capacity by the end of 2025, aiming to power the equivalent of 5 million households and create significant economic opportunities. This concerted push towards community solar not only underscores the sector's potential to contribute significantly to the U.S.'s clean energy goals but also highlights its role in democratizing access to renewable energy.




Understanding Distribution Lines


Distribution lines are the infrastructure that delivers electricity from substations to end-users. One of the key considerations in developing a community solar project is understanding the distribution lines and their capacity in the area. 


The relationship between community solar project development and distribution lines is a pivotal aspect of the broader transition towards renewable energy in the United States. Community solar projects, which allow multiple participants to benefit from a single, large-scale solar array, inherently rely on the existing electrical distribution infrastructure to deliver generated power to their subscribers. This relationship is both symbiotic and complex, as the successful integration of community solar into the grid requires careful planning, coordination, and investment in distribution lines.



One of the critical challenges in this relationship is the capacity of current distribution lines to handle the intermittent nature of solar power and the additional load from community solar projects. Unlike traditional power plants that offer a constant output, solar energy generation fluctuates throughout the day and with weather conditions, necessitating advanced grid management and storage solutions to ensure reliability. Furthermore, many existing distribution lines were not designed with the decentralization of energy production in mind, leading to potential bottlenecks where the infrastructure cannot accommodate the influx of solar-generated electricity.



community solar distribution lines


community solar distribution lines


community solar distribution lines



By having access to distribution line data, developers can assess the feasibility of their projects, identify suitable connection points, and ensure that the project does not exceed the capacity of the distribution lines. LandGate offers this distribution line data on its platform, providing unique insights and tools including site selection, regulatory compliance, solar irradiance, environmental considerations, and grid connectivity. 



Hosting Capacity


One of the most critical aspects of distribution systems for community solar projects is hosting capacity. Hosting capacity refers to the maximum amount of solar generation that a feeder or segment can accommodate without causing reliability or safety issues. This information helps developers determine the feasibility of a community solar project and plan for grid interconnection.



community solar distribution line hosting capacity



Having information about hosting capacity is essential for developing a new community solar project. It enables developers to select appropriate locations, assess interconnection feasibility, and mitigate grid impact.



community solar distribution line hosting capacity



LandGate has access to distribution line data for the entire United States, including information on the capacity and phases of the distribution lines. This comprehensive dataset allows developers to assess the feasibility of their projects on a national scale, identify regions with high solar potential, and make strategic decisions about where to invest their resources.




Putting Distribution Line Data to Work for Community Solar Development



The future of community solar development stands on the cusp of a revolution with the prospect of developers gaining access to complete distribution line data. This advancement promises to dramatically enhance the planning, implementation, and efficiency of community solar projects, thereby accelerating the transition towards a more decentralized and renewable energy grid. Complete distribution line data encompasses detailed information about the capacity, load, and operational status of the electrical distribution network. With this data at their fingertips, developers can make informed decisions about where to site community solar projects to maximize their impact and efficiency.



Access to comprehensive distribution line data enables developers to identify optimal locations for new projects with precision, avoiding areas with potential grid constraints while targeting those with underutilized capacity. This strategic siting reduces the need for costly upgrades and mitigates the risk of overloading the grid, ensuring a smoother integration of renewable energy sources. Additionally, it allows for the closer alignment of solar generation with local energy demand, enhancing the overall stability and reliability of the power supply.



Moreover, the transparency afforded by full access to distribution line data can foster stronger partnerships between community solar developers and utility companies. Such collaboration is essential for navigating the complexities of grid integration and for innovating grid management practices to accommodate the variable nature of solar power. Utilities stand to benefit from the increased generation of clean energy within their networks, while developers can leverage utility insights to optimize project performance. This synergy could lead to the development of new business models and regulatory frameworks that support the growth of community solar.



In the broader context, the availability of complete distribution line data has the potential to democratize energy generation, enabling a more inclusive participation in the renewable energy economy. Communities, especially those historically marginalized or underserved by traditional energy systems, could gain unprecedented access to clean, affordable power. This shift not only addresses energy equity issues but also contributes significantly to local economic development and environmental sustainability.


To learn more about how to access and utilize the distribution line data on LandGate’s platform for community solar development, click here or book a demo with our energy team.

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