When traditional solar systems don’t work for your situation, community solar can be a huge help. People in various situations, such as those who rent, don’t have a lot of disposable income, or those that have a house that isn’t ideal for solar might feel like they have no choice but to depend on a grid, but that isn’t the case.
Thanks to community solar, many places still offer the option to use solar from local or nearby arrays and solar setups, so you can still do your part to help the environment and offset your electricity costs.
What Is Community Solar?
Community solar is a solar system that works for multiple individuals. It is different from grids that use solar power, because whether your grid uses solar, coal, or some other power source, you still have to pay the company for the amount of other electricity you use.
While you do have to opt-in and usually pay a fee for solar power, you are entitled to a certain amount of power you pay for. It’s similar to getting solar panels on your roof. You can have a certain amount of panels that provide you with power.
Depending on your situation, you have the option to buy your solar panels or lease them for a certain amount of time.
Are There Multiple Kinds of Community Solar?
There are two main kinds of community solar. You can either buy or lease solar depending on the options in your area and what option works best for you. For example, if you own a home or apartment and plan on being there for a long time, you may want to participate in owning a portion of the community solar.
This allows you to save on your gas and electricity bills right away. You can then sell your ownership back to the community or the next buyer.
Many ownership options also have limits. You can buy shares up to your total electricity usage, but not more than that. You can also purchase less than that if you just want to offset some of your costs.
This is to help make sure there is enough solar for the whole community and that it is actually being used. You can often purchase based on the number of solar panels or the number of kilowatts of the total capacity.
You can also subscribe, which is better if you are renting, or not planning on staying in an area for too long. You tend to save a little on your bills per month, though not as much as owning. These are the most common options for community solar.
You often don’t have to pay any upfront costs, like a deposit, which means you can start saving right away. There are limits on how far away from the community solar you can be, and how much you can use. They are designed to be easy to sign up for and cancel.
How Community Solar Works
About one-third of all the states in the US have created policies for community solar since 2020. This allows both utility companies and third-party companies to set up solar systems for communities.
Some examples of community solar include an array in a suburban area, or a set of panels at the top of an apartment building. Generally, after subscribing or purchasing your portion of the panels, you will get your bill once a month.
If you paid upfront for your solar portion, you will just see a reduced cost in your utility bill. But if you are subscribing, you will get your reduced utility bill and your fee for the solar.
Generally, it is set up so you save money, even when subscribing. This means the amount you offset is often more than the amount you are paying per month.
Can Anyone Use Community Solar?
As long as there is the option for a community solar setup in your area, anyone can use community solar. It is designed to be used by renters, homeowners, and more. You can decide whether you want to rent or own, how much you want, and then start saving.
The only times you can’t use community solar is when you are outside the intended area, you are trying to buy more power than you are using, or you don’t have any way to get the solar power to your home and can’t afford the installation.
When Community Solar Is a Good Option?
Community solar is the best option for people with lower incomes that can’t afford a whole solar system. Solar panels can be fairly cheap, but installation and other parts like battery back-ups and inverters can quickly add up and be more of an initial cost than many people can afford.
They also work for people who have homes that might not be ideal for solar panels due to the way that they are facing or are shaped. Some homes have too slanted roofs, or the roof may point the wrong way so you can’t get maximum solar from your panel.
Additionally, if you live in an area where there are a lot of trees or other buildings blocking the light, getting your own solar panels may not be feasible.
Some people also don’t have roofs. This is often the case for people that buy apartments or condos. They may not have a way to get on their roof, or there may be other homes under the same roof. HOAs may also prohibit the use of solar panels and solar systems.
Another huge category of people that benefits from community solar are those that are renting. When you rent a home, you are usually not allowed to make modifications to the home, which includes installing solar systems or even just solar panels.
It also works for businesses leasing their buildings, as they are also unable to install solar panels a lot of the time.
For all of these cases, community solar systems offer an option where traditional solar panels may not work well, whether it be due to living situation, cost, or location.
When Will Community Solar Not Be a Good Idea?
Unfortunately, community solar isn’t possible everywhere. There may be some locations where there isn’t a high enough demand for solar systems, or homes may be too far apart for a community solar system to be useful, such as farms.
Most of the time, these are more common in suburbs or major cities, and rural places will not get as much benefit.
Also, you can save more money by installing your own solar systems in some cases, so if you have the money and space, it may be best to just install a personal solar system.
If you want to go completely off-grid, you will need to have a whole system, including batteries and inverters, so installing your own system may give you the amount of storage and panels you need better.
Some homes may also not be connected to a local community solar system, and installing the wires can be hard or expensive, or not practical if you are renting.