What is Community Solar?
Installing a solar energy system in your home is a large investment that will benefit you and the environment. Unfortunately, you might find that it’s not even possible for you to install solar panels for your home, or purchase a system. While this can be tough, community solar allows households to benefit from solar energy without having to install their system.
According to the Department of Energy. Community solar is a solar project or purchasing program that operates in a location. The benefits of the solar project will go to the customers. Whether they are individuals, businesses, non-profits, and other groups. Community solar customers will subscribe for a portion of the energy produced by the solar project in their area. They can even buy or lease individual panels in the project’s array. Community solar subscribers will receive an electricity bill credit for the electricity generated by their share of the community solar system. Similar to an individual home’s solar panel with net metering.
Community solar projects are generally measured in megawatts, as they are large enough to power hundreds or even thousands of homes. This allows homeowners with unsuitable rooftops, renters, and shared housing residents to be part of the community solar project and benefit from solar energy through reduced bills and net metering. Community solar projects can be known as roofless solar, solar gardens, or even shared solar.
How does community solar work?
When you join a community solar project, you’ll find there are two formats these programs offer their participants.
Ownership Based Projects
These community solar projects allow their participants to purchase a certain number of solar panels, or even a portion of the project. With this format, you’ll get all of the electricity, credits, and savings as a result of your purchased panels. It’s the closest you will get to owning a solar energy system without installing it on your rooftop or property. The number of panels purchased would be enough to fulfill your annual electricity usage. You will not be able to purchase more than that, and the actual output will be credited to you on your electricity bill.
Subscription Based Projects
These types of community solar projects allow their participants to become subscribers. Participants will purchase electricity at a lower rate than they normally would from a utility company. Generally, most subscription-based programs won’t require upfront fees and allow participants to start saving on their bills as soon as they join. These types of programs can differ from each other. There are some caveats with a subscription-based format. Depending on your state or utility company, your home’s distance would need to be within distance of the community solar project and your utility company’s coverage area. You may find that community solar projects will also limit the amount of energy you can receive from the project. This limit would be above your average monthly electricity usage. These programs are easy to get into and easy to cancel, so they are flexible compared to ownership-based projects.
What are the benefits of community solar?
The participants of community solar have the benefits of solar energy by avoiding the installation of the solar energy system on their home/property. The real benefit of community solar is the savings on their electricity bills through virtual net metering (VNM). VNM is similar to net metering for residential solar energy systems, as it allows homes and businesses to receive the net metering credits of the community solar project while it is installed at a remote location. This way, you will be able to use the net metering credits when the community solar project isn’t producing electricity. This way, they will still be able to offset their electricity pulled from the grid and save on their electricity bills.
Utility companies also benefit from community solar as these projects can be located in areas with fewer generators connected. This way the grid becomes more stable which reduces the need for maintenance and repairs. Overall, saving the utility companies money in the long term. Community solar projects also allow utility companies to meet the requirement of the state’s renewable standards. Community solar counts as renewable solar energy, which is increasing in its percentage requirements year to year.
Racking systems are also an option to hold your solar panels in place. They function like rooftop-mounted installations, although they are mounted on the steel beams in the foundation. Ground racking generally needs the foundation to be flat and constructed to fit the racking system. These racking solutions are also implemented with solar carports and canopies. These are mostly used for commercial settings such as schools and business campuses. Although they are constructed in such a way to hold up a greater amount of solar panels and can span larger areas.
What are the benefits of community solar?
Community solar can be mistaken for other types of solar incentives and programs. These can include:
Group purchasing deals allow a large number of solar energy systems at build rates for their individual use. This is done by negotiating with a solar installation company. The difference is that a community solar program uses one massive system for a whole community. Where group purchasing focuses on a large number of individual systems.
Green power is a form of special electricity rates where utility customers purchase electricity from renewable energy sources. These renewable energy sources can include solar, wind, and hydro from large-scale facilities. This acts more as a clean initiative from a utility company, to offer premium pricing for clean energy through them. Community solar is made to power a community and also make the benefits available to them. The energy from green power mainly comes from already existing clean energy facilities.
Online solar investment platforms
Companies are now open and offering renewable energy investments on new solar installations online. While this might sound like community solar, it is not. These platforms serve just as an investment in a financial sense, not to generate electricity for your home. Any benefits you get from them can be taxable as investments.
Why is community solar gaining traction?
Community solar programs are created to allow more people to access solar energy and its benefits. Allowing more people to benefit from solar will further benefit communities through reduced energy costs, increased resilience, ownership, wealth building, and development of the workforce.
The National Community Solar Partnership works closely with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity to make community solar more equally accessible. The Energy Department is also working towards the Justice40 initiative’s goals. The initiative requires 40% of the overall benefits of certain Federal investments including clean energy and energy efficiency should flow to disadvantaged communities.
Community solar works are a great step towards improving the accessibility of solar energy throughout the United States. Currently, 22 states in the country have shared renewables legislation. There are even states that don’t have specific legislation, some states voluntarily participate in community solar. With time, it seems that community solar will gain solar use around the country.