Community solar program is a way to let people easily get into solar, due to nowadays, more and more people are having the interested in the solar panel. However, to install an entire solar panel system may not suitable for everyone. But don’t be disappointed, let us introduce the “Community Solar” to you.
Community solar is a bunch of solar panels located on a large plot of land and consigned to provide electricity to the nearest regions. Multiple households can reduce their bills by sharing electricity. The best thing for the community solar is that you don’t have to own home or a rooftop to use solar energy but to make ecology better.
Now we will break down the skeleton of solar community on an array of bones. Each bone will give you a deeper understanding of the whole system and the way it works. Let’s begin!
Why Community Solar?
Nowadays, the number of solar panel in the United States is increasing and it will continue to grow. However, some people can’t afford the solar panel system by themselves for several reasons.
Here are the reasons.
The price changes depending on the size though solar panels usually cost around $10,000 to $15,000. The median savings account balance is $5,200, which means more than half of Americans won’t be able to buy solar panel by cash.
There is a choice of loan or lease too, but in long-term, buying in cash is the best way to receive the benefits of solar panels. However, not everyone can’t get their best value.
Another problem is housing. If you rent a house, live in an apartment or the roof of your house can’t able to set solar panels. It is impossible to have your own solar panel.
If you live in the area with less sunlight, it will not be effective as a climate like Southern California. Rainy or snowy days and when the cloud layer becomes thick, it won’t generate enough sunlight to reach 1kW per 1kWH.
What Is community solar and how it works?
A community solar is a program which can reduce the electricity bill by sharing the electricity generated for more than one household. It solves the problems for people who want to use solar power but can not set up facilities due to restriction on the structure of houses or economic reasons.
This program utilizes a mechanism of net metering. Net metering is a billing mechanism which allows solar panel homeowners to feed electricity they do not use and send back into the grid. In terms of community solar, this system is called virtual net metering. You will virtually own a part of solar power plant facility and shared electricity generated.
In the United States, more and more people are participating in community solar. According to SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association), more people will go community solar and the accumulated equipment capacity will be 1GW by 2018, and 2GW by 2021.
Why are people going community solar?
1 Environmental friendly
More and more residents are caring about the environment and want to use renewable energy for not only a city but also for a rural area.
2 Support for low-income household
Community solar program enables us to utilize the local solar resource, which can lead to the creation of employment and revitalization of the region. And also the program will support low-income household financially.
3 Good investment
Thanks to advanced technology, the cost of going solar became lower so small local governments and power cooperatives which do not a lot of money can easily join it and earn money.
4 Renewable portfolio standard
In some states, community solar is one of the means for electricity company to achieve RPS(Renewable Portfolio Standard). RPS is a regulation that requires a certain amount of renewable energy to supply.
The community solar in the U.S. in 2018
1,226 megawatts of community solar have been installed in the U.S. through the second quarter of 2018.
According to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority today there are 14 active community farms in 2018 in the New York State. North Carolina is in the third place in the amount of solar on its power grid in the United States; 15 solar farms are supposed to be built by the end of 2020.
Besides, there are 42 states with leastwise one community solar project and there are at least 19 states and D.C. that have acknowledged the good of shared renewables.
What are the difference between the community solar and rooftop solar?
Here are some comparison between the community solar and rooftop solar that you need to know:
Provides an option that people don’t need to install solar panels on their roof but use the shared solar energy from the energy resources which solar is generated offsite.
1 Program Model
The homeowner has the different models for participate, such as “Ownership model” and “Subscription-based” program.
2 Panel Location
Can be built on the public or joint-owned property.
3 Easy To Join
You can use the electricity generated by a local solar power plant with a small amount of money.
4 No Worry about Fees and Problems
You do not need to own your home(or rooftop) to participate in this program, and you do not have to take charge of maintenance, replacement, and any installation fees and problems. The maintenance is the project developer or the administrator’s responsibility.
5 Utility Bill Credit
You can get bill credit based on your investment or contract. The credit reflects the amount of electricity you use. Also, you can protect yourself from the raising utility price, get long-term price security.
6 When You Move to Another Location
It won’t affect your solar benefit if your relocation is in the same utility service area when you are still participating in the program. However, if you are moving to another utility service area, it may charge you an early termination fee.
7 System Lifespan
Generally, the system can be expected around 25-30 years. Depend on the conditions.
Homeowners can install their solar panels on their homes by leasing or buying panels.
1 Program Model
The homeowner can have their solar system by finance plan.
2 Panel Location
On the rooftop of your property.
3 Installation and Maintenance Problems
If you owned the panels, you might have a headache on the price of panel installation and questions about how to maintain the panels.
If you lease the panels, the solar company who owns the panels is responsible for the maintenance and replacement.
4 Utility Bill Credit
You can get credit from the grid to save on their power bill, having long-term price security.
5 Making Investment on your house
You are also investing in your house. If you buy the panels, after you install the solar panels on your rooftop, the house value may increase in the future.
But if you are using the leased panels, there’s no investment on your property, and it will be taken over by the new homeowner if you sell the house.
6 System Lifespan
Generally, the system can be expected around 25-30 years. Depend on the conditions.
Nevertheless, both community solar and rooftop solar provide clean energy to people and help you cost down the power bill. You just need to find which way is more efficient and suitable for you.
Community solar models
As it said before, Community Solar is based on sharing renewable energy and there are different ways that customers may enjoy and receive benefits from it.
Here are 4 successful models:
Utility-Led “Pilot Program”
In this model, some utilities operate a solar program, providing the option of a solar ownership to their most ecologically conscientious customers.
These selected customers consumption is generally small and they may buy an amount of electricity at a fixed rate for a term that can from a very short period till 20 years.
On the other hand, the cooperatives or public power utilities contract third parties for support services, such as operations and maintenance.
Utility-Led “Second Generation Program”
Here, utilities have shifted their focus on giving the opportunity of solar ownership only to selected customers, extending this smart grid resource to their entire customer base.
With different economic backgrounds, these customers have two options for the payment: financing or pay per kWh in an ongoing way.
Some utilities are working in some improvements in order to make the program more worth. And, as the first model, they contract third parties for support services on the array.
Third Party-Led “For-Profit Program”
This model of community solar is also called as Special Purpose Entity (SPE) Model.
In this approach, individuals or companies join in a business enterprise to develop a community solar project.
The private companies entered the community solar market with the objective to develop, manage and maintain community solar programs.
The business may design, construct, and own the facility, then work with the local utility to allocate benefits to subscribers.
By using this model, organizations may be able to take advantage of incentives and tax credits that are unavailable to utilities.
The “For Profit Program” is designed to maximize participation. The companies that are involved in this model often provide their services to utility-led programs as well.
Third Party-Led “Nonprofit Program”
This model of community solar is led by non-profit organizations. It works with donors contributing to a shared renewables installation owned by a charitable non-profit organization.
Some nonprofits are formed specifically to manage a specific community solar program and are wholly owned by subscribers to the program. On another hand, other organizations’ are mission based that is supported by donations.
Benefits and challenges of community solar farm
Benefits of community solar farm
1 No trouble about installation
It is a good way to purchase energy from far away without installing private PV systems.
2 Saves your bill
Community farms save consumers money on electric bills.
3 Economic, affordable
People of all income levels can afford energy from a community solar farm.
4 You don’t need to own the roof
If you are not an owner of a property or if it is difficult to install solar panels on the top of your house (the roof is not appropriate for installation, or it does not face the direct sunlight for the most of the time), community solar may be a good source of clean, inexpensive energy.
5 Two ways to use the energy of community solar farms:
1. You can own panels in a community solar farm;
2. You can “subscribe” to a dose of a large volume in a solar garden (a solar power plant whose electricity is used by multiple households)
6 Extremely eco-friendly
Here is an example in Schaghticoke.
There are more than 300 community farms that are on the phase of construction and development after the New York state approval. In concordance with NYSERDA figures the state gave the go-ahead to the other 315 projects.
This quantity of projects will be able to supply practically 700 megawatts, and it equals three conventional power plants! Governor Andrew Cuomo set a goal to vigorously cut state emissions of destructive, climate-altering greenhouse gases by 2030.
The sun is a credible energy source.
The present lifetime of the sun is several billion years. It is a good reason why community solar farms are valuable and may be of good use for many generations.
Challenges of community solar farm
First of all, community solar farms need time and money to be built. Secondly, before a community solar farm is connected to the transmission grid, engineering studies must calculate if it can be executed safely and without any risk. The process can take a year.
Not enough community solar in the U.S
In some states, there are not enough community solar laws.
There have to be rules to ensure that people get credit on their electricity bills for energy generated at the solar site. These laws are important for people whose roof is not appropriate for solar panels.
Needs space to be built
Solar community farms occupy a lot of space and nothing else can be built on the land taken up by solar gardens. Besides, panels don’t look notably esthetic.
Possible negative impact on wildlife
Unfortunate place of construction
The amount of generated energy depends on weather conditions that is why a place of installment matters.
If a community solar farm is constructed in a dark place where the sun comes only in the early morning, households will be left without electricity.
Engineers have to think through the place of a solar community farm very well.