Photo via Tim Fuller, Flickr
Community Shared Solar

Community Shared Solar

Community Shared Solar (CSS) allows residents, nonprofits, businesses, or other entities to invest in and receive benefits from solar energy even if they do not own a building or have a roof, parking lot, or land suitable on which to install a solar photovoltaic (PV) system.

People may not be able to install solar on their own properties for a variety of reasons: they are renters and do not own their rooftop, the site may be too old or not structurally able to support the solar infrastructure, the site may be shaded or facing the wrong direction, or the location may need expensive upgrades to add solar to the electricity grid.

CSS can be an effective way to increase access to the benefits solar energy, including reduced greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants and decreased utility costs, for renters, low-income residents, small businesses, municipalities, and others.

Community Shared Solar Models

There are several different variations of the Community Shared Solar model. The most common model in Massachusetts is the Subscription Model. The subscription model can be visualized like this:

community shared solar subscription model

In this example, one unit in a building has subscribed to a Community Shared Solar project. a subscription, the unit’s occupants lease a share of a large solar system by making payments to the CSS owner and operator. The solar power produced by that portion of the system is then distributed to the electricity grid, and the value of the energy is credited back to the unit, saving them money on their electricity bill.

In the subscription model, CSS works similarly to a community garden in that each subscriber leases a portion of the system for a designated period of time. Other models include a shared ownership model, where members own one or more solar panels as part of a larger array that is set up as a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or co-operative.

In most CSS configurations, the solar panels are not located on the same site as where the energy is being used. This means that the subscriber does not need to make any physical changes to their home to have it powered by solar electricity. The solar credits are managed virtually, and power is delivered to the unit by the existing electric utility. In this way, CSS makes solar accessible to the whole community.

Other Community Shared Solar Models

The below models are the most common types of community shared solar, but there are others out there! Feel free to reach out to Sasha Shyduroff at if you'd like to learn more.

Subscription Model

System Owner and Operator:

A third party owns and operates the system. There is usually a primary (or anchor) offtaker, such as a municipality or private business, who subscribes to a significant portion of the system.


Reliable electricity savings with low commitment requirements

Length of contract:

Can range from short (1 year) to about 20 years

Who would be a good fit to participate?

Anyone. Renters may find this model particularly beneficial due to the availability of short-term contracts.

Ownership Model

System Owner and Operator:

Residents either own a share in the company or a share in the system. A third party operates the system.


This model is set up as an LLC, which allows residents to have partial ownership with comparatively low time investment

Length of contract:

Long-term (typically 20 years)

Who would be a good fit to participate?

Homeowners and long-term renters who can make a long-term commitment to a share.

Cooperative Model

System Owner and Operator:

Residents own the system and have joint decision-making power


This model is set up as a Co-Op instead of an LLC.

Length of contract:

Long-term (typically 20 years)

Who would be a good fit to participate?

Homeowners and long-term renters who can make a long-term commitment to a share, and would like to be involved in the operation of the system.

The Role of Municipalities

Municipalities can facilitate CSS development and adoption in many different ways. Cities and towns can help residents identify existing vendors for CSS that serve the region. Municipalities may choose to conduct an RFI or an RFP to procure CSS for residents, or to provide land or roof space for an installation. Municipalities may even choose to be a subscriber to a CSS system for municipal electric needs.

Equity Impacts of Community Shared Solar

CSS systems can create access to the benefits of a solar PV system for residents and businesses who would not be able to install a system otherwise. Depending on the format and structure of the system, benefits can include ownership of a portion of the system, lowered electricity costs, and carbon reduction claims.

Municipalities can measure the equity success of developing or partnering on a Community Shared Solar system from the enrollment of renters and low to moderate income (LMI) residents. To ensure that the benefits of the system are accessible to these target groups for increasing positive equity impacts, municipalities should request savings guarantees and lower or eliminate any credit score requirements for subscribers from the project developers. To support benefits for LMI residents, municipalities can also consider a model that gives them more direct control over the program structure, such as a municipally-owned and sited system. Additionally, cities and towns should consider partnering with trusted local community organizations on education and outreach to enhance equitable access to the benefits of solar.

Community Shared Solar Resources

More from MAPC

Community Shared Solar Glossary

Check out our brief CSS glossary for a resource on terms related to Community Shared Solar systems and policies.

Community Shared Solar One-Pager

Our Community Shared Solar One-Pager provides a quick overview of the information available on this webpage. This printable resource is helpful for events or to share with colleagues when starting to plan for Community Shared Solar.

MAPC Webinars on Community Shared Solar and SMART:

External Resources and Best Practices on Community Shared Solar

Energy Sage is a website that allows individuals and businesses to compare solar quotes across multiple vendors. As a third party, they seek to streamline this comparison so that residents can compare similar information from multiple vendors. They have a handy page explaining the basics of Community Shared Solar here.


SolSmart is a solar designation program from the U.S. Department of Energy and funded through the SunShot initiative. The program brings together many solar industry experts across the country to provide technical assistance to municipalities looking to reduce solar soft costs. A few municipalities in the MAPC region have achieved SolSmart designation through streamlining their solar permitting, adopting solar zoning language, and other measures. The SolSmart website has resources for municipalities on solar including Community Shared Solar.

Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)

The Solar Energy Industries Association or SEIA is a professional group of solar developers, testers, and other industry experts. SEIA offers consumer protection resources for residents, businesses, and municipalities looking to install or subscribe to solar systems. Below are two of their resources on consumer protection for Community Shared Solar:

The Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) is a national coalition of public agencies with a mission to advance clean energy. CESA mainly operates at the state level, but has resources for municipalities as well. One of their areas of focus is on encouraging the development of solar for low- to moderate-income (LMI) residents.

Click here for the CESA Guide for Community Solar

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) tests the efficacy and safety of solar panels and systems, and studies and reports on all aspects of the solar industry. This resource describes consumer protection considerations for solar PV and provides a list of resources. This is a strong resource for municipalities looking to add solar consumer protection resources to their site, or for residents and businesses to assess solar developers.

Read NREL Solar Consumer Protection Resources.