Despite our society’s obsession with self-made success, most people do like working together toward a common goal. The rise in community solar programs and projects proves this especially true. These solar developments help neighbors enjoy the benefits of solar energy in their homes, businesses and apartments.1
Yet, despite the growth of the solar industry over the past decade — including the massive proliferation of solar panel installations across the nation — many people can’t take part in this renewable energy revolution. Between renters, small businesses, low-to-moderate income households, and high-shade homes, nearly 50% of Americans are completely unable to use traditional solar power systems.2
Community solar can change this, but only if people choose to cooperate.
What is Community Solar?
A community solar system is any type of solar facility—most often a collection of solar panels—that shares its power with the surrounding homes and businesses instead of a single building. Customers who benefit from solar energy projects like these receive credits on their electricity bill for the energy generated and distributed to their local electric grid.
Community solar developments are often called solar farms or gardens because of their local and communal nature. They provide people with renewable energy who otherwise wouldn’t normally use or can’t benefit from solar energy. However, only the residents and businesses that have bought into the community solar program will receive the credits.
How Does Community Solar Work?
To get a community solar program up and running, a solar company will first install a sizable number of solar panels in a large, open area with lots of sunlight exposure. Think of it as a smaller version of those massive solar farms in the desert you see on the news.
Once installed, the energy produced by the solar facility will get fed into the local energy grid to be used by the surrounding homes and businesses! While everyone will receive the emissions-free benefit of shared renewables, only the people who joined the solar program will save money on their electricity bills. The size of the credit they receive on each bill depends on the size of their individual home and how much electricity their neighborhood project produced. It’s all thanks to a concept called “virtual net metering.”
Virtual Net Metering Explained
With standard net metering, the local utility company pays the individual owners of rooftop solar for excess electricity their panels fed into the energy grid. With virtual net metering, your local utility company gives you bill credits for the amount of electricity the community solar farm sent to the electricity grid in proportion to the size of your home.4
The ultimate idea rests in encouraging enough members of the community to buy into the community solar farm. This way, the project can quickly earn back its investment in installing the panels and then expand to serve more people.
3 Common Types of Community Solar Programs
Because the United States lacks an integrated electricity grid, not every city, state, or region has the same energy grid, much less similar energy regulations. Nevertheless, three specific arrangements have proven essential to starting, maintaining, and growing healthy solar programs.
#1 Utility Sponsorship
These solar projects are operated by a forward-thinking utility company wanting to expand its services and invest in renewable energy. If you live close enough to the service area for a community solar garden, you will sign up through the utility company for your area.
This option is perfect for long-term residents of a neighborhood who don’t have the funds to install their own panels or their roofs can’t support solar panels.
#2 Private Company
Whether operating as a for-profit or nonprofit enterprise, the idea here is that solar companies want to invest in solar power generation, and they want small-scale investors. You can buy a small, long-term ownership stake in the company in exchange for the solar energy generated by that solar farm. This becomes an option for people who have local utility companies unwilling to create option #1 for their customers.
#3 Subscription Program
This is the more affordable counterpart to option #2: the private company that built the community solar project doesn’t sell you a long-term ownership stake. Instead, you simply pay a regular monthly fee in proportion to the number of solar panels needed to power your home for a given month.
You might not “own” your panels, but you get all the green energy benefits, making this the perfect plan for lower-income people who still want to go green and support the solar industry.
How Can I Learn More About Available Community Solar Programs Near Me?
The best place to start if you are interested in joining a community solar project in your area is to contact your local utility company.7 They are the best resource for two reasons:
- If you live in a state without energy choice, your utility is responsible for generation, transmission, distribution, and billing, which means they would be in charge of any and all community solar initiatives.
- If you live in a state with energy choice, your utility is still in charge of transmission and distribution of electricity, so they would know which REPs offer a community solar option.
In either case, since the utility company controls the electricity grid, they know when, where, and how energy is being added to the grid.8 Since they know who deserves bill credits for solar energy generation and in what quantities, they are the best resource for any information about community solar programs near you.
If you live in Texas, Chariot Energy is your best source of 100% solar power for your home. We help you power your home with solar electricity with ease, as not every utility company offers even standard net metering for rooftop solar panels. Shop our Texas energy plans today to see what rates are available in your area.