First Solar's community solar module sales gaining speed

First Solar has booked sales of 121MW of thin film modules for an undisclosed number of utility-based community solar installations in the US.

The Arizona-based company did not disclose the owner or off-taker of the projects, many of which are still in development and not yet announced by the owner.

"This scale of community solar implementation is extraordinary, and suggests the enormous potential for this market segment," said Georges Antoun, chief commercial officer at First Solar.

"Small one-off installations cannot match the economies of scale realized by utility-scale portfolios that minimize development costs, transaction costs and building costs, while bringing end consumers the freedom to choose solar energy, " he added.

Antoun said the initiative is underway, with M+W Energy constructing several small, closely sited solar projects comprising approximately 41MW of capacity. Construction of additional generation facilities is due to begin in the fourth quarter.

Regional utility customers will purchase power from the plants through a special community solar program.

This will give commercial and industrial operations, non-profits, educational institutions and residences access to renewable energy without needing to install and maintain solar panels on their rooftops. Another benefit is reassurance that operation and maintenance of these systems will occur with utility-scale infrastructure and reliability.

Community solar is becoming a hot growth segment for the industry with 94MW in operation nationwide as of 1 January and installation of another 173MW this year, according to GTM Research.

It forecasts the US will add 1.8GW of community solar through 2020.

Last month, in an effort to increase consumer understanding when choosing community solar, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the Coalition for Community Solar Access released Residential Consumer Guide to Community Solar

It provides ratepayers with an overview of community solar, expert tips on how to be an informed consumer, questions they should ask before entering into an agreement and links to other resources.