Community Solar: What is it? Who is it for? Where is it going?

Community Solar: What is it? Who is it for? Where is it going?

A few years ago, community solar was a nascent idea facing many barriers to realization. At GreenTech Media’s New England Solar and Storage Symposium, it was evident that this was no longer the case. Despite Massachusetts being a leader in community solar deployment, developers expressed a common problem: customers do not know what community solar is. In this blog, we discuss what community solar is, who can participate, and offer our perspective on where it is going.

Does it go on my roof?

Probably not. A community solar project is typically much larger than any residential rooftop installation, and is instead commonly a ground-mounted system located at a single site. This site may be the “host”, which is the largest investor of the project. Unlike traditional behind-the-meter installations, however, the host is not the only one who benefits from the energy generated for the electric grid.

Everyone can get a piece of the pie 

The beauty of community solar is anyone can participate (homeowners, renters, companies, organizations). We recently concluded a collaborative project in Cook County, Illinois with several stakeholders to produce a community solar business case tool to explore different ownership models. You can be a part of a community solar project and receive monthly credits on your electric bill by serving as a host site or subscribing to a project. The most common methods of subscription include purchasing a block of panels upfront, leasing a block of panels and paying for them overtime, or buying electricity from the system through a power purchase agreement. More information about the project can be found here.

Why might community solar be right for you?

There are numerous appealing aspects of community solar. Financially, you benefit from economies of scale in the system costs and can purchase or lease a much smaller piece than you would for a rooftop installation. There are also many types of roof constraints – it may be too small, facing the wrong direction, receiving too much shade, needing replacement during the lifetime of a solar photo-voltaic system, or you may not have ownership of the roof or building. Or, even if rooftop solar is financially and technically feasible, you may seek the flexibility of being able to move and not worry about losing value on your investment.

Breaking boundaries and coming to neighborhoods near you

With the development of community solar frameworks and successful projects deployed, an increasing number of utilities is enabling community solar with virtual net metering. This is the mechanism in which your share of energy produced by the community solar project is credited to your electric bill. Through legislation, some states have seized the opportunity to encourage the deployment of community solar projects to benefit low income families. Together, community solar is solar for everyone.

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Chicago, IL 60606
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