Written by Lindsey Brand, ESLLC 2015-2016
As renewable energy becomes an increasingly important choice for the environment, more and more people are trying to find ways to cut back on their fossil fuel use. Solar power is one particularly advantageous power source that is becoming more readily available to the average consumer due to community solar.
What is community solar?
Community solar refers to the emerging option for more than one household to use the energy produced by a small solar power plant. Together, a community purchases a solar farm that may or may not be located on land owned by any of the community members. Community members pay for a share of the power that comes from the plant.
Why is community solar an accessible and valuable option?
One primary issue preventing an individual or household from owning a solar array is location. There are many reasons a person might not be able to install solar panels on their own property. Some locations do not receive enough sunlight, do not have adequate space for the panels, or cannot install panels due to a rental agreement. Additionally, a household might be concerned about the aesthetic consequence of installing solar panels on their own property. Community solar solves these problems. The panels can be set up in a space that receives sufficient solar radiation, and the energy can then be transported to the nearby home that needs that energy.
Another issue preventing solar installation is upfront cost. Community solar reduces some of the upfront cost by installing a larger array that will be divided among buyers. Additionally, due to virtual net metering, stakeholders can sell excess energy back to the grid, increasing the cost-effectiveness of using the solar energy. Lastly, certain policies have emerged through government programs to incentivize solar use and the investment into solar communities.
Where is community solar happening today?
Currently there are at least twenty-five states with at least one functioning community solar project. At least twelve states are using policy incentives to encourage solar power use.
Where will community solar be in the future?
Hopefully across the country and beyond! Community solar is a relatively recent development in the quest for accessible renewable energy. Allowing a wider variety of households to gain access to solar energy brings renewable energy closer to the mainstream where it needs to be.