Happy Friday everyone! Coming off of our last issue about the basics of PV solar (check it out here if you missed it), we wanted to follow up by covering community solar this week. As I’m sure many of you are aware, solar power is a very cool technology that allows for mass production at large, utility scale solar sites or small, decentralized locations for individual businesses or homes. However, if you are looking to invest in clean solar power to offset your electric bill but you don’t have a good roof, you can’t afford the upfront costs of installation or you don’t own your home the options are a bit more limited. Community Solar allows people in these situations (us included, since we live in apartment buildings!) to benefit from solar power as well.
The U.S Department of Energy defines community solar as “any solar project or purchasing program, within a geographic area, in which the benefits of a solar project flow to multiple customers…” (“Community Solar Basics”) Basically what this means is that multiple customers -whether they are individuals or businesses- can buy shares of solar energy, even if the panels are not directly connected to the building being powered. It is a great option for folks who want to use a renewable energy source, but perhaps dont have the room or the funds to own their own solar PV system.
A typical Community Solar set up works as follows. A solar company will invest in the design, engineering and construction of a utility scale solar generation facility. Once completed, they will sell customers allotments of the solar power that is generated from it. The solar company benefits because they receive all of the solar credits, tax breaks and payments while also getting paid by their customers who have bought shares. The customers who have bought shares benefit because they are no longer paying an electric bill, but rather paying the solar company for the power that is produced. This monthly payment is typically cheaper than what they were paying their utility company before. Through this system, the solar company remains profitable, while the customers pay less and invest in clean energy; a win-win!
Unfortunately, access to community solar is dependent on geographical location in the United States. About 39 states (plus D.C) currently have community solar projects, but 74% of the market is concentrated within four states; Minnesota, Florida, Massachusetts and New York(Community Solar). About ⅓ of the 39 states have policies that help regulate community solar enrollment through larger private utility providers while the other ⅔ states have community solar that is typically run on smaller levels like municipal utilities (“Community Solar Basics”). You can check out community solar projects in your area here!
Another, less discussed, benefit of community solar is how it opens up the solar market to lower socioeconomic communities who traditionally have been excluded due to a lack of property ownership. With community solar, you no longer need to own a home or be able to afford the upfront installation costs of solar. With these two barriers of entry for solar power now out of the way, we are currently seeing the deployment of projects in which community solar takes center stage in energy projects for affordable housing. (Making Solar Energy Accessible to Low-Income Communities) When deployed effectively, community solar eliminates nearly all of the barriers of entry for all households who want green energy, allowing the large proportion of American households that wouldn’t be viable for solar power otherwise to take advantage of its benefits.
If you want to catch up on any of the previous ClimateRoots education articles, check out our blog here! Next week we will be wrapping up our Solar content with a discussion about solar energy storage.
Community Solar. https://www.nrel.gov/state-local-tribal/community-solar.html. Accessed 26 June 2021.
“Community Solar Basics.” Energy.Gov, https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/community-solar-basics. Accessed 25 June 2021.
"Making Solar Energy Accessible to Low-income Communities." ukdiss.com. 11 2018. All Answers Ltd. 06 2021 <https://ukdiss.com/examples/solar-energy-accessible-low-income-communities.php?vref=1>.
Sunrise over a utility scale solar project, courtesy of Nick Moore.
Becker, Scott. “A Map of U.S. Community Solar.” Solstice Community Solar, 5 Nov. 2020, https://solstice.us/solstice-blog/map-us-community-solar/.