Solar commons wall mural in Tuscon Arizona
Solar Commons Mural in Trust Beneficiary Neighborhood (Wright Elementary School, Tucson, AZ) Artist: Karlito Espinoza 2020

The Solar Commons Project is a multi-disciplinary research project. We apply the Solar Commons Model of low-income community trust ownership in Living Labs with community partners.  Our trust ownership model gathers the sun’s common wealth through rightly-sized solar panels, monetizes solar savings in a social wealth fund, and distributes the common wealth over two decades through local, transparent, peer-governed community trusts that support regenerative local livelihoods.  Solar Commons researchers share the tested legal and digital tools and standards we co-create. 

With our funders and community partners, we demonstrate that “Solar Commons” are infrastructures for commoning; they enable trust law to become a set of free community tools that

  • hold benefits of solar energy in local, reparative economies;
  • embed commodity market values of solar energy in gift economy common wealth;
  • fund mutual aid work that supports healthy, regenerative local livelihoods; 
  • reduce GHG emissions causing climate change; 
  • enable, through digital dashboards, transparent peer-governance of community trust funds;
  • celebrate, through public art and festivals, the community’s equitable title to the sun’s common wealth.

Value and Scalability Studies

The Solar Commons Project embeds solar technology in social and ecological relationships that support equitable local livelihoods for low-income communities in rural and urban regions. The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) analyzed the capacity of the Solar Commons Model to iterate through donations in the US over the next ten years. RMI saw the sweet spot for a Solar Commons array to be 500kW. That size would provide between $100,000 and $70,000 (depending on the region’s solar capacity and net-metering rates) a year for over twenty years to each locally governed community trust fund. Over ten years, RMI found that Solar Commons would produce a positive net present value to donors as it proliferated in cities and towns across the US to achieve a minimum of 10 gigawatts.

Read the Rocky Mountain Institute’s
Solar Commons Financial Analysis Results
Solar Commons Scalability and Constraints Analysis 


Research Team

The Solar Commons Project is part of the Minnesota Design Center at the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. The team is led by Prof. Kathryn Milun, a legal anthropologist, and includes partners in disciplines of law, art, architecture, engineering, economics, and computer science.

Learn more about the research team


Partners

Our partners, from hot and cold climates, work with the Solar Commons Project research team to support creation of Solar Commons legal, economic & governance tools and the Living Labs which co-create and test them. Partners include community and tribal organizations in Minnesota and Arizona as well as the University of Arizona School of Art, the international Commons Strategy Group, Minnesota/Ontario-based solar manufacturing company Heliene, Inc., the Lake Superior Living Labs Network and others.

Learn more about our partners


Funders

We are grateful for the financial contributions of the US Department of Energy, the Pulliam Charitable Trust, US Green Building Council (Arizona), the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, and others.

Learn more about our funders


Connect

We continue to build our network. If you would like to learn more or explore collaboration, consider subscribing to our quarterly news letter and please feel free to contact Prof. Kathryn Milun at kmilun@d.umn.edu