The Power of Community Solar Gardens
Interest in solar as a source of renewable energy is growing. According to recent polls, a growing number of homeowners are considering investing in solar panels for their homes.
The two main attractions of solar power are lower electricity costs and helping to create a positive environmental influence.
Unfortunately, installing solar panels isn’t an option for everyone. There are several reasons why moving towards solar energy may not be possible; the list of issues that people run into most include:
- The problem of insufficient roof sizes
- Insufficient solar resources
- A significant investment is required to make your home or business run on solar power.
- The fact that not everyone owns their home.
Fortunately, you can mitigate these issues with the creation of community-based solar initiatives. These initiatives aim to solve these issues and make solar accessible to a larger demographic, something we believe is essential for the widespread adoption of solar energy.
This article aims to take an in-depth look at community-based solar. The article will outline how it works and look at its advantages/disadvantages compared to traditional roofing-based solutions and discuss the positive role that it can have on the environment.
What is Community-Based Solar?
Community-based solar is the result of multiple people sharing the power produced from a solar garden.
These solar gardens are set up in a central location (often in rural areas) and sometimes even on vacated rooftops. The community then collectively benefits from the power produced by the solar garden. The solar panels are either owned collectively by the community or by a third party.
Community solar provides an excellent solution for people who are unable to install solar panels on their roofs. Community-based solar initiatives are not only great for the environment, but they also promote social benefits, such as decreased electricity bills and job creation.
How Does Community Based Solar Work?
Community-based solar typically works by adopting a subscription-based model. Members pay a monthly fee, and in return, they receive a portion of the power generated from the solar garden.
Since there is no need to make a significant investment in solar panels, solar communities make it easier for lower-income consumers to participate in reaping the benefits of renewable energy.
A lower barrier to entry is just one of the many benefits of community-based solar; let’s look at some more.
The Benefits of Community-Based Solar
A community solar initiative offers all the benefits one may expect from a renewable energy project: they’re great for the environment, help to expand the energy supply, stimulate economic growth, and help create new jobs.
Other notable benefits include:
- They are suitable for renters since it becomes a perk of living in that community instead of a personal expense.
- The space needed makes it suitable for cities.
- There are more options for flexibility.
- Individual home aesthetics won’t be affected.
- No individual maintenance
Let’s look at these benefits in more detail.
Lower Electricity Costs
Perhaps the most influential factor driving people towards solar is to save money on electricity bills.
Virtual net metering is a bill credit system used by many community solar projects.
With traditional rooftop-based solar, a homeowner’s solar system sends excess solar energy to the electricity grid. The homeowner then receives a discount on their utility bill from the supplier.
However, with virtual net metering, a community solar subscriber receives a discounted rate on their bill based on how much electricity gets provided to the grid from their share of the community solar garden.
Suitable for Renters
You may be surprised to hear that over 30% of Americans rent their living space. Unfortunately, owning your home is often an overlooked requirement for installing solar panels and has prevented a large percentage of the population from moving towards renewable energy.
Community solar provides a solution to this by allowing anyone to get involved regardless of their housing situation.
Suitable for City Life
About 50% of all homes aren’t suitable for rooftop solar; a great example of this is the housing issues people face in China.
The majority of the Chinese population lives in densely populated cities such as Hong Kong. Therefore, many buildings are occupying a small space. Such a vast amount of buildings can cause a lot of shading; this shading, alongside lack of roof space, makes it hard to implement traditional rooftop solar.
However, the vast majority of China is unpopulated. Therefore, installing solar farms in these areas and routing the energy produced to the cities can provide a solution to China’s energy needs.
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and NextLight Energy, went as far as saying that all of China could run from community-based solar.
Solar Gardens Can Offer Flexibility for People Who Wish to Move
Even if you love your home and don’t want to leave, some situations may make moving a necessity. People who may have plans to sell their home or move to another location will find that a community-based solar program is a much more viable option when compared to installing panels on their home.
Another great feature of community-based solar is that if you are moving within your electric utility’s service territory, you can transfer your solar share to your new home.
Community-Based Solar Won't Affect the Look of Your Home
Some people get turned off from solar because they don’t want to ruin the aesthetic of their home. If this prevents you from going solar, then joining a solar community project is a great solution.
No Maintenance Required
Being part of a solar community project removes the hassle of having to maintain your solar panels.
When installing your panels, it is up to you as the homeowner to observe your system and pay for maintenance if it is not operating correctly.
When using community-based solar, there is often a team responsible for monitoring the farm, allowing you to reap the benefits without having to do any maintenance.
Solar energy is beneficial for the environment, but just how much of a positive influence can it have?
Well, the answer depends on how many people adopt this form of renewable energy.
When the average American home switches to solar energy, around five metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions are negated each year; this is equivalent to over 5,000 pounds of coal not burned.
On a larger scale, The USA burns over a staggering 1 billion tonnes of coal annually to meet the country’s increasing energy demand. Thus, decreasing this number by just 20% would have an immensely positive impact on the environment.
Considering that it’s possible to run most of the world on community-based solar, decreasing the use of fossil fuels by just 20% isn’t such an impossible task. However, widespread adoption of solar and other renewable energy sources is vital. Additionally, it is something that is gaining global traction.
Community Solar vs. Rooftop Solar
So which is better, rooftop solar or community solar?
The answer largely depends on your personal needs as preferences.
The table below outlines the benefits of each option:
All in all, community-based solar provides most of the key benefits of owning your system. Rooftop solar may save you money in the long run, but you must also consider the time it will take to recoup your initial investment towards buying and installing your solar panels.
To summarise, community-based solar provides most of the benefits of traditional rooftop-based solutions while also introducing some much-needed benefits. Perhaps the most notable service of community-based solar is that the barrier of entry is lower. Instead of needing a large payment at the ready or the ability to acquire financing, anyone can get involved by subscribing to a community-based solar project.
A lowered barrier for acquiring solar energy is vital for wide-scale adoption as many people don’t have the means or room to install solar panels on their homes.
If you are interested in moving towards solar, there are a few things that you should consider:
- Is your roof suitable for solar?
- Do you plan on moving home in the future?
- Do you have the finances required for your solar panels?
- Is shading an issue – does your home receive enough sunlight to make solar viable?
Answering these questions should help you decide whether rooftop or community solar is the most suitable option for you. If you want to save money in the long run and your home meets all the requirements, rooftop solar is perhaps the better choice. However, if you want to move towards renewable energy but installing your solar panels isn’t an option, community-based solar is the perfect solution.
All in all, we believe that a combination of both rooftop and community-based solar can power most of the world, resulting in less air pollution and a significant decrease in climate change. With the ever-growing energy demand and increased air pollution, we think that the move towards solar is key to the planet’s survival; however, wide-scale adoption is vital. The earlier humanity moves towards solar energy, the better it will be for both the earth and future generations.