While solar may be hot, until recently, it hasn’t been very accessible. More than half of American households still can’t install solar panels where they live, due to unsuitable or insufficient rooftop space or because they don’t own their home. And with the average cost of installing solar panels coming in at almost $19,000 before tax credits, traditional solar is financially out of reach for many homeowners as well.
Thankfully, there’s a new model that’s leveling the playing field when it comes to solar power adoption.
Buying Into Community Solar
Community solar, also called shared solar or a solar garden, is an array constructed by a group of individuals or a company in an area of the community suited for solar collection. Collected solar power feeds into the local power grid. Residents can then buy a subscription or membership to the solar program, and receive a credit on their utility bill. As of October, 42 states, plus Washington D.C., have community solar projects in place, with 1,023 megawatts of total installed capacity.
Community solar projects can be particularly beneficial to lower- and moderate-income communities. In these communities, home ownership rates are low. Many families live in multifamily or rental housing, which means they have little say over structural improvements like rooftop solar. Even for those who do own their homes, solar panel loans or leasing may not be available if they don’t have good credit.
Supporting Solar at the State Level
Because subscribers often have little-to-no upfront investment and simply pay a monthly subscription fee, community solar can make solar energy financially accessible to more people. And state policies that support renewable energy are helping to make community solar a reality. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 19 states and Washington D.C. have enacted policies that support community solar (as of July 2018). And at least 10 states have some type of provision in their policies to promote community solar in low-income communities.
Colorado, for example, passed its Community Solar Gardens Act in 2010, which, among other things, carved out 5 percent of new shared solar projects to be specifically reserved for low-income customers. And in 2015, the Colorado Energy Office launched a project to demonstrate the viability of shared solar in low-income communities. This effort resulted in a 15 to 50 percent savings on electricity costs for participating households.
Community Solar is Skyrocketing
Across the U.S., as the cost of installing solar plummets, community solar has been skyrocketing. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association has noted a tenfold increase in co-op solar programs between the years 2013 and 2017, from 19 programs to nearly 200.
And the Department of Energy predicts that community solar will continue to grow – by 2020, they calculate, shared solar could account for up to half of the overall distributed solar in the country. Onesta plans to be part of that growth, with partners across the country committed to providing community solar projects with a unique, hassle-free subscription model in communities that need it most.