What is ‘Community Solar’ and Why is it Booming?

By February 9, 2016civic, RESIDENTIAL, solar

Until recently, the barrier to entry for solar power for most people required that they own a home, since the systems had to be installed on the rooftop of a property. So, in the past, renters haven’t even been able to consider the option of going solar.

The rise of “community solar” however, may have more Americans buying into this form of clean energy. How? Community solar projects, also known as solar gardens or shared renewable energy plants, act as solar power plants, and provide electricity that’s shared by multiple households.

In recent years, more and more Americans, and people all over the world have been buying electricity from shared solar panel projects. Why? Because it has become more accessible, and much more affordable.

Types of Community Solar Projects

When it comes to community solar projects, there are two distinct types available. A community solar project can either be community-owned, or part of a shared, subscription-based membership to a community solar farm.

Ownership-Based

For those who participate in ownership-based community solar projects, they are able to own a share of solar panels. They may purchase them upfront, finance them through a bank, or sometimes even through the project developer.

In this model, participants own a certain number of panels in a system, or a specific number of kilowatts from the solar plant’s overall capacity. They are then able to benefit from the power produced by their purchased solar panels within the community solar project. While this is typically a more costly option than a subscription-based option, it is still more affordable than purchasing and installing an entire rooftop system.

Subscription-Based

Participants in a subscription-based community project are able to pay less for their electricity, which comes from a community solar farm. In this case, they don’t own any panels, but are able to purchase the power at a lower price. This is a great option for those with low-middle income, and especially for renters.

In this model, the community solar project is developed and owned by a third party, and participants from the public are invited to join. There aren’t usually any initial costs required to join, and the savings are typically immediate. Plus, because there is no ownership involved, participants are able to easily opt out of the subscription when necessary.

Subscription-based participants are required to live within a set “network” area, and there is a maximum electricity usage limit, which is typically 120 percent of the average electricity consumption.

Making Solar Accessible and Affordable for Everyone

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it is estimated that 50 percent of electric customers are unable to install solar panels, due to the fact that “they don’t own their building, don’t get enough sun or don’t have a large, south-facing roof upon which to install a rooftop solar system.” Whether electric customers are unable or merely unwilling to install solar panels on their roofs, community solar projects offer a solution.

With community solar, it’s possible for almost anyone to adopt solar electricity, without having to install one solar panel on their roof. Community solar projects have also been encouraged by the Obama administration, in addition to nonprofit organizations like Groundswell, which has helped remove the barrier of being a homeowner in order to benefit from  solar electricity.

The Future of Community Solar

Community solar may be a newer concept, but it’s growing quickly, and statistics say it will continue to do so in the years to come. Since solar has become more accessible to the average person it has become more common, and sharing solar power may slowly become the new norm.

If you’d like to find out how installing solar panels on your roof can help you drive your electric bill down to zero, contact us today for a free quote.