What is a Solar Community and how does it work?

What is a solar community?solar communities. Image: Various photographs – Shutterstock.

Residential solar power has grown by leaps and bounds around the world in recent years, but there is a problem: not everyone can get solar power on their own roof.

Think about it, a large majority of households don’t have access to rooftop solar because they rent, live in an apartment building, or can’t afford to install a photovoltaic system.

This is where solar communities come in: a simple, yet effective concept.

Neighbors who cannot install their own solar systems are organizing and banding together into solar communities, with the idea of ​​installing larger, more cost-effective solar systems closer to home, on larger rooftops in their area , and to use this generated energy to power their homes. However, like many simple concepts, when it comes to pushing, they can get complicated.

A democratized alternative is already there: community solar energy.


What is a solar community?

Community solar refers to medium-sized solar projects, typically up to 5 megawatts, which are jointly subscribed or owned by a number of customers, which may include individuals, organizations and businesses.

Instead of placing panels on their own roof or property, a community solar participant harnesses the value of a solar system located elsewhere, such as in a community center or field. The projects, also called community solar farms, generate energy that is fed into the grid.

Community solar energy.

In solar communities, people buy a stake in a solar project, often through a community solar supplier. Once built, the panels generate electricity and have benefits that generally reduce your electricity bills.

These types of solar communities are spreading all over the world.

A currently small but growing market – with a great future ahead of it.

How does community solar power work?

A community solar project can be owned and operated by a cooperative. More often, however, projects are owned by private or utility companies, which offer community members the option of subscribing to a portion of the project, sized according to the amount of electricity they normally use. Once the community solar project is fully subscribed and operational, its electricity is usually sold to the local company.

For their share of energy sold, each subscriber receives a credit on their electricity bill, similar to what they would receive if the panels were on their roof. Credits fluctuate from month to month depending on the degree of sunshine; As with all solar power, you don’t pay for it in the shade.

These are the basics, but how community solar is implemented and how customers save on their electric bills varies widely, influenced by state policies and programs.

Will I save money by participating in community solar?

Ideally, yes, community solar subscribers will pay less for electricity overall.

There are different pricing models for community solar power, and most promise to save you money over time, if not immediately. Some projects charge subscribers an upfront or monthly fee. Other projects cost the subscriber nothing and offer guaranteed savings.

How can I save money with community solar power?

Billing is where community solar gets a bit perplexing. A community solar customer essentially pays for electricity at a lower rate than the utility normally charges. This usually involves two bills: one from the electricity company and one from the community solar energy provider (or an outside organization that interacts with subscribers).

The bill from the community solar energy supplier shows the amount of energy produced by the subscriber throughout the month and, therefore, the credits obtained. These credits are paid by the subscriber, usually at a 5-15% discount off regular electricity rates, and then applied to their electricity bill, reducing the amount they owe the utility company. .

The rebate can be even higher in some community solar projects serving low-to-moderate income subscribers.

How to join a solar community?

First, find an open project near you. Then compare the terms of the different subscriptions, just as you would when buying a mobile phone or an Internet service provider. There are a few things to check:

  • Does the project offer guaranteed savings and, if so, how much?
  • Does the subscription have a cost?
  • Are there any credit score requirements?
  • Do I have to be low or moderate income to join?
  • What is the duration of the contract ?
  • Are there cancellation fees?

Once you’ve chosen a project, it’s usually easy to sign up. You will need to share your utility account details with the community solar provider so the utility knows which bill to pay. The whole process may only take a few minutes.

And then, even without rooftop panels, you’ll be putting solar power on the grid and probably saving money in the process.

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