Community solar projects are popping up all over the country- it’s likely there is one near you. This innovative solar power system is sometimes called a solar garden and is a solar plant or collection of panels that is shared by more than property to generate electricity. Community solar can refer to community-owned projects and third party-owned plants that shares electricity with a community.
This form of solar power allows users to share the benefits of solar power if they cannot or prefer not to install solar panels. Participants in solar gardens benefit by saving on utility bills and allows for solar to be installed and used by people who do not own property.
Community solar is distinct from other solar power ventures in that it allows households and businesses to use clean and renewable energy who might not have been able to otherwise. Those who are a part of a solar garden receive credits on their electric bill. Community solar expands access to renewable energy for all including low-to-moderate income customers without access to renewable energy sources as well as small businesses that help local economic growth.
Community solar is often confused with group purchasing which is when numerous households or businesses bulk purchase an individual solar power system from a solar installation company. Unlike community solar, the purchased system is not shared, but only used by the households and businesses who purchased it. Some community solar modules do include ownership of panels installed within the system.
The majority of community solar programs are owned by communities are maintained by a monthly subscription fee to use the solar. Credits are added to subscribers electric bills for the electricity they do not use due to using solar power instead. Subscribers to community solar purchase the power at a reduced rate. Most community solar programs do not have any upfront fees and users will notice savings on electricity in a short time after signing up. Subscription-based community solar allows for participants to leave the program if they move or decide to opt-out of the program. If someone leaves a community solar subscription, their spot will open up for someone else.
Some community solar modules do include ownership of panels installed within the system Within in an ownership community solar program, participants either purchase panels up-front or finance them. Instead of panels being installed on their home, the participant will own a set amount of panels or kilowatts of solar power.
The below diagram from The Department of Energy shows different ways community solar can be installed and accessed.