Community solar allows people to benefit from clean energy without the upfront costs of a rooftop array. They subscribe to a portion of a solar farm and receive credits on their electric bill.
Depending on the business model, subscribers may or not qualify for incentives like the federal investment tax credit. The structure also can help reach the holistic goals of a corporate clean energy procurement strategy.
Unlike rooftop solar, which requires upfront costs and roof space to install panels, community solar offers a more affordable, accessible way to participate in the renewable energy revolution. Community solar allows individuals, families, and groups, including businesses, schools, and churches, to buy into a significant local Solar Farm (also known as a solar project or solar garden) without investing in solar panels on their homes. This allows them to save on their electricity bills while reducing carbon pollution in their communities and helping grow local economies.
The community solar model is a partnership between the project developer, utility, and customers who voluntarily subscribe to the project. Subscription customers receive on-bill credit from their utility based on the size of their share in the community solar project, which lowers their utility bills. In addition, co-ownership models allow subscribers to enjoy access to state solar incentives, despite not owning their panels.
To ensure community solar is accessible, local organizations partner with community-based developers to reach low- and middle-income households, which face unique barriers to participating in the renewables revolution.
As a community-based renewable energy program, community solar provides equal access to the benefits of clean energy. Participants join a solar community project without putting panels on their roof or property. Instead, they share the value of a larger solar installation connected to their utility grid, like a local solar farm or community center. The project generates eco-friendly electricity, which is then credited monthly to your energy bill.
This model is reminiscent of community support agriculture (CSA) programs. People can subscribe to a farmer and receive a box of seasonal produce each week through the growing season. In addition to providing the opportunity for affordable clean energy, these models are also inclusive by reducing barriers to participation. This is especially true for low-income households, where the upfront costs of subscriptions can be prohibitive.
Many community shared solar concept offer payment plans that allow subscribers to buy into a project every month and pay the subscription off over time with their savings from lower utility bills. This is one of the most significant ways community solar helps close the equity gap in clean energy and ensure that all benefit from a sustainable future.
A handful of states have laws that require community solar developers to set aside portions of their projects for low-income customers. Additionally, the movement aims to increase accessibility to clean energy by providing incentives and support for projects prioritizing low-income communities, environmental justice areas, and solar deserts.
Community solar projects allow residents, businesses, and other entities. This can include homeowners, renters, and nonprofits who might be unable to install rooftop solar because of upfront costs or roof constraints. This is a great way to help make the transition to renewables easier and save you money in the long run.
In addition, many Community Solar projects offer purchase plans that allow participants to own a portion of the project. This provides more significant savings over time and will enable participants to benefit from state and federal renewable energy tax credits.
With the increasing frequency of severe weather events, local resiliency is critical. Clean energy solutions, namely solar PV paired with battery storage (solar+storage), can provide necessary backup power during extreme weather and extended grid outages and benefit underserved communities economically.
Community Solar offers a powerful model for urban energy resilience. Combined with innovative city technologies like energy-efficient appliances and building design, a community-based approach to resiliency can be more effective than individual efforts alone.
Unlike rooftop solar, community-based renewable energy projects allow residents and businesses to subscribe to a larger local project — or “acquire” solar energy — rather than installing panels on their homes or businesses. They receive on-bill credits for their subscription and can benefit from the power produced by these solar farms without having to own or maintain a system. As more people participate in community solar, more projects are built to meet demand, creating local jobs and economic opportunities.
These local energy projects often have ecosystem and agricultural benefits that help promote sustainable farming practices on the land and minimize environmental impacts. Additionally, community solar development on farmland can help to rehabilitate the land and boost its value for future generations of farmers.
As more communities adopt this model, it can help to reduce disparities in access to clean and affordable energy. Many homeowners, renters, and businesses don’t have access to solar because they can’t afford the upfront cost or their roofs are not suited for solar. Alternatively, they may have long-term contracts with the energy industry with high up-front fees and escalating rates.
Community Solar is a new way for everyone in the community to participate in clean, renewable energy. By lowering costs, improving access, and encouraging sustainability at a community level, it can be the key to achieving our nation’s renewable energy goals.