It’s Thursday, January 26, and the Energy Department is offering $10 million in prizes to boost community solar.

US DOE Community Power Accelerator logo

In an effort to expand access to affordable renewable energy, the U.S. Department of Energy announced a new competition last week to encourage the development of community solar projects.

The Community Power Accelerator Prize will offer $10 million in prizes to help developers build community solar projects that deliver at least two benefits related to equity and energy resilience, including providing access to solar power for low- to moderate-income households, increasing household savings, boosting the electric grid’s resilience, and developing an equitable workforce. Awards of up to $200,000 will be distributed in three phases, with each competitor eligible for a total of $400,000.

Community solar refers to an arrangement in which electricity generated by an offsite array of solar panels is shared among many individuals or businesses. It’s popular with people who can’t put solar panels on their rooftops, like many renters or apartment-dwellers. Participants buy or lease some of the panels and get a credit on their electric bill for the power their panels generate.

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The competition is intended to advance the Biden administration’s “Justice40” plan, which promises to direct at least 40 percent of the benefits of federal clean-energy investments to marginalized communities. The partnership behind the prize is “yet another exciting opportunity to harness the power of the sun to power our communities — helping make our climate goals a reality while lowering energy costs and reducing local air pollution,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.

There were about 5.3 gigawatts of community solar installed nationwide as of last year. The Biden administration says tax credits from its landmark climate spending bill could support up to 18 gigawatts of additional community solar projects in low-income communities over the next decade — enough to power more than 2.5 million homes. Done right, the administration has said these projects could help build an equitable clean-energy workforce and make vulnerable communities more resilient to climate change.

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