Community Solar: Uniting For A Sustainable Future

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We once believed that natural resources would last forever. But we then realized that if there is one thing that isn’t going to last even our lifetime, it is fossil fuels. In fact, we have an extremely finite amount of it to source from. Eventually, we have to depend on sustainable energy. And it is green energy such as solar that has the potential to sustain marginalized communities on a massive scale. And community solar promises just that, sustainable and affordable energy.

Transition to sustainable energy is about investing in the future. Sustainable forms of energy can both produce clean energy and make money. People are more interested in turning to solar energy and plan to get solar panels installed at their businesses and homes. They realize that solar energy saves money and contributes to the environment.

Solar energy is the energy of the future. But while they are compelling grounds, for many installing infrastructure for solar energy isn’t feasible for various reasons. The 2 common reasons that people cannot go for solar energy even if they want to are roofs that are not suitable for solar panels, or if they are renters. This is where community solar comes in.

Community Solar: The Advantages Of Sustainable Energy Without The Operational Inconvenience

Also identified as a shared-solar or solar garden, community solar enables people to enjoy the fruits of clean energy without investing in solar panels. Community solar sources allow residents, organizations, small businesses, municipalities, and government organizations to receive credit on the electricity bills for any power produced from their part of the solar array. This helps in offsetting the cost of their energy.

Multiple parties come together for a common interest and share in both the financial benefits and the power from a community solar system.

Under this system, solar panels along with other equipment are installed at a central position. This does away with the need for individual families to purchase and install solar equipment on personal properties, and also with duplication of expenses and effort.

The power generated under this community solar system is then distributed among an enclosed community made up of multiple members. The equipment can be owned by all members of the community, by a few who are willing to invest or are capable of investing. The investor can also be an outside party.

Community solar is different from the group purchasing solar equipment from several homes or businesses which is then installed separately. It is also not the same as the ‘green power programs that are set up by utilities that allow customers to source electricity from multiple sources of renewable energy such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power.

Read: Solar Net Metering: Storing Power For Later Use 

Community solar facilities help in gaining equal access to the environmental and economic benefits of solar energy generation. This is independent of the physical ownership or attributes of an individual business or home.

So, if you are unable to install solar power directly on your home property, community solar is a great option for gaining access to the savings and various other benefits provided by solar energy.

The Functioning Of A Community Solar System

Community solar systems work generally on a subscriber-based model as in other utilities. Members subscribe to the service and pay for the power consumed.

Subscribers to community solar systems do not normally need to invest in the system. This makes it easier for consumers in the low and middle-income categories to participate and equally benefit from the renewable source of energy. Such a system is also ideal in a place where the installation of rooftop panels is not possible.

The basic advantage of the community solar system is that it allows everyone to be a consumer of a sustainable source of energy.

Every member of the community participates in various ways in a common installation of numerous solar panels that are sufficient to meet the combined energy requirement of all members of the community.

Community solar systems are frequently built at third-party properties. These are often installed on property deemed unsuitable for housing projects or projects that involve humans. these include landfills, industrial wastelands, brownfields, or marginal farmland.

There is also the process of net metering where consumers are linked to major utilities producing conventional electricity. Any excess generation is fed to the integrated grid while during periods of low generation of high requirement, the shortfall is compensated from the excesses.

Community solar facilities are normally below 5 megawatts of electricity capacity. They vary in the area affected. unlike commercial development on a farm parcel, community solar farms are installed normally on land that has been leased where well-designed systems can revert to their original condition.

For instance winters in cold regions lead to the consumption of more energy which can be compensated in the summer months through the system of net metering when excess solar energy is produced.

Reaping the Multiple Rewards Of Community Solar

Community solar offers a convenient and inexpensive way for energy consumers to drastically reduce their carbon footprint even without investing in hardware such as solar roof panels and other equipment. According to the NREL, 39 states possess community solar programs.

This system is especially convenient for people living on rent, or who are constrained by housing agreements or reside at a place that does not have adequate access to sunshine.

Half of all homes are not appropriate for the installation of rooftop panels. This is because they either have insufficient space according to the energy required by the household, or the rooftops are shaded and are not oriented towards a constant source of sunlight.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, only half of the commercial and residential properties in the US are suitable for installing solar energy panels.

community solar
community solar

One group that has historically been left out from the advantages of sustainable energy, especially solar energy, is the renters. The prerequisite of going solar is owning property. This has barred renters across the US from going for this clean and cheap source of energy. Community solar can be the perfect resolution to these problems.

The system of multiple consumers pooling in their monetary resources for a community solar startup is beneficial as the costs for basic expenses get lowered considerably.

Moreover, community solar is beneficial not only to the people who are directly participating in the generation and distribution of electricity but also to the greater community. Unlike rooftop locations, community solar projects have the freedom of choosing the location that will help in getting the maximum amount of solar energy.

Another reason that it is better to opt for community solar platforms is the issue of aesthetics. People wish to have the option of decorating their rooftop according to their sense of aesthetics.

While some go around this issue by installing the panels in open spaces, others do not have even this luxury. For such people, joining the community solar project is the best option. They can benefit in economic terms from community solar and also retain their home aesthetics.

The generation of electricity by community solar resources brings stability to the conventional grid. It allows power utilities to assure a  reliable source of power to their customers. The power utility doesn’t have to invest in additional infrastructure to generate this excess electricity.

Another vital factor is the proximity to the power source. As the community solar systems are often close to the consumers of such power, community solar programs save energy lost in transmission, called ‘line loss’ in power parlance, which happens when power is transmitted over extensive distances.

Becoming A Member Of A Community Solar Project  

There are 2 ways to become a member of a community solar system. There is the ownership and the subscription model.

Members who have enrolled for the subscription model need to buy the required energy from a utility that takes care of the installation and maintenance of the solar panels.

In the ownership system of community solar, the customers themselves own and take care of a certain portion of the panels installed.

community solar

The difference is similar to buying or renting a house. While the buying model involves greater initial costs, the second system makes it necessary to go for a lease. There are drawbacks and benefits to either of the model.

Being free from the hassles of maintenance has been the greatest benefit of community solar projects. Homeowners can reach out to the company for any issues with the performance of the

The Ownership Model Of Community Solar Farms

Purchasing a share in a community solar farm is not within the means of most. Then there is the matter of credit approval plus interest rates, taxes, and insurance. It also entails regular involvement in maintenance and repairs. But owning the solar farm can also mean that the holder can readily sell, transfer, or bequeath the property.

The owner also has got the right to sell the renewable energy credits (RECs) that might increase in value over time. Purchasers of solar farms are also eligible for a federal tax credit of 26%, spread out over a long period stretching into several years.

The tax credit will be applicable subject to renewal by Congress. Every state may have its incentives.

The main benefit of the ownership model is that once the owner pays his share in full, the energy generated by the solar farm is virtually free for the entire life of the panels. This could turn into a quarter-century of free electricity, more if proper care is taken of the installation. Even after the stipulated period, the panels continue to function, but the efficiency starts going down from 100%.

Going For The Subscription Model Of Community Solar Farms

This model is easier to join as there are no or very few costs upfront. It involves a short-term commitment, and there are very few responsibilities for the subscriber.

It is the same as renting a property. The owner is liable to take care of the property and its liabilities, maintenance, and taxes. The subscriber can always choose to stop subscribing to the utility when moving away from the place. They are not saddled with any panels that will have depreciated over a certain period.

But people who opt for the subscriber for the community solar farms are denied any renewable energy credits or tax credits. This is enjoyed by the owner, who usually passes on a part of the benefits to customers.

Read: Powerhouse: Making Solar Energy More Accessible Through A Breakthrough Support Program

Moreover, once the expenses are paid off and ownership passes completely, the subscriber never gets to reap the benefit of almost a lifetime of free energy which is enjoyed by those who opt for the ownership model. But they reap the benefit of low utility bills and have the satisfaction of helping in the creation of a carbon-free economy.

Principles On Which The Community Solar System Is Based

All consumers of community solar farms are allowed the chance to partake in and benefit directly from the operation and construction of this clean form of an energy asset.

Community solar should provide balanced access for the developers to construct and operate renewable energy systems that are community shared. These are then interconnected to the utility’s main grid.

Community solar systems are required to include a fair bill mechanism that helps subscribers gain economic benefits that are proportionate with the worth of the long-term, locally-cited clean energy that is shared by renewable energy ventures.

community solar

The community solar programs are expected to support diverse participation in the use of renewable energy systems. Costumer choice should also be given choices with product features, providers, that hasten innovation and serve customers in the best way possible.

Customers of community solar must be assured of continual program operations plus proper maintenance to make sure that the operation lasts for the full life of the facility. This will guarantee the protection of the interests of the customers and protect the investment of the developers.

Read: Solar Canal Operation Is California’s Power Move

The whole operation should have full transparency that will ensure accurate and complete disclosure of the benefits to customers. Customers should also be appraised of the risks associated in a comparable and standard manner that should be transparent.

All applicable tax, securities, and consumer laws should be complied with to reduce the risk to customers. There should be non-discriminatory and transparent rules on collaboration with utility majors.

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