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community solar vs home solar

What is Community Solar? Is It Better Than Installing Solar Panels on Your Home?

Solar energy has never been more popular than it is now. A new study by Pew Research Center found that a rising number of American households are looking into installing solar panels in their homes. Solar energy attracts people because they want to save money and help the planet simultaneously.

There are several good arguments for investing in solar power, and there's no doubt that the popularity of solar panels will keep increasing.

Sadly, installing solar panels isn’t an available solution for everyone. Getting solar panels installed probably won't be feasible for different reasons, but the top two reasons include insufficient roof space and being a tenant.

In the above scenarios, community solar comes handy.

A community power system allows homeowners to take advantage of solar energy without installing their solar systems.

This blog will tell you about community solar, how it functions, and whether it suits your needs.

What is Community Solar?

When multiple people participate in a community solar project, they collectively own the solar panels and receive the financial benefits of using them.

They are non-profit projects that allow people to experience the benefits of solar energy without having to invest a lot of money initially.

Solar power systems are often installed in a centralized location; therefore, residents don't typically have to purchase and install any additional equipment individually at their homes. The power generated is then allotted among a group participating in the project.

The equipment is shared among the group members or by a third-party company.

How Does Community Solar Operate?

community solar vs home solar

Solar communities operate on a membership-driven model, where members pay a subscription fee every month for access to electricity produced.

Solar communities allow lower-to-middle-income households to enjoy the benefits of solar energy without investing in any upfront costs. They're also perfect for homes where rooftop panels aren't feasible.

Community Solar makes renewable energy available to everyone.

Read this guide from the U.S. Department of Energy to learn more about how community solar programs operate and how they are useful for communities.

What are the Advantages of Community Solar?

community solar vs home solar

Community solar projects provide all the advantages of a renewable power source: They help protect our planet, diversify the country’s electricity supply, improve economic development, and offer new employment opportunities.

Community-based renewable energy projects offer many different types of advantages for both project developers and community members.

  • A perfect solution for renters
  • Previously, renters weren't eligible for any financial incentives available through solar energy programs.

    Being able to afford to own property has been a major barrier preventing US residents from adopting solar power. Community solar is an ideal solution to this issue.

  • It doesn't matter if you don't have a suitable roof.
  • Approximately half of all houses don't meet the requirements to install solar panels on roofs. They may be too small, they might be covered, or they might not face the right direction.

    Community solar projects have the flexibility to select sites for installation that will give the maximum solar energy production.

  • Easier choice if you are planning to relocate
  • If you're considering selling your house or moving soon, joining a local solar energy system could be easy.

    You don't have to worry about solar leases with community solar.

    The best thing about going solar is that if you're moving within your electricity provider's service area, you can easily switch utilities by transferring your solar shares.

    If you plan to move far away, it will be wise to sell your share to someone else first.

  • It won't change the appearance of your house.
  • Not everyone likes rooftops with solar panels.

    If you're having trouble finding enough space for a solar panel, you could install one on a structure like an attached garage or carport or opt for a ground-based system instead.

    Homeowners can't install solar panels on their property without making them visible. For people who want to go solar but don't want to sacrifice their homes' appearance, choosing a community solar program may be the best option.

  • No maintenance required
  • Participating in a solar project removes the requirement for maintaining solar panels.

    Warranties cover rooftop solar panels, and most issues are uncommon, but it becomes your responsibility to keep a check on your panel and contact the manufacturer if your panel isn't functioning correctly,

    A well managed community solar will require specialists who monitor its performance, so you don't need to worry about it.

  • Virtual net metering helps you save money by reducing your utility bills.
  • 'Virtual net metering' offers a bill crediting system for community solar subscribers. It’s similar to standard net metering.

    With ordinary net metering systems, homeowners' solar panels feed extra electricity into the grid. The utility company credits every kWh of electricity that goes onto the grid.

    With this option, a community solar customer gets credited an energy credit on his or her electricity billing statement for his or her share of the solar energy generated at the community solar facility.

    25 states are offering virtual net metering for community solar programs. Some of these states are:

    • New York
    • Colorado
    • California
    • Minnesota
    • Vermont
    • Massachusetts
  • Better Economies of scale 
  • Like other forms of renewable energy, the "economics of scale" rule holds for solar power. The bigger the solar system, the lesser its output per unit of electricity generated.

    Because community solar installations tend to be much bigger, they can often get started at a lower initial price than a typical residential solar system.

    Suppose the project effectively passes on its cost savings. In that case, homeowners will find that community solar power costs similar to or even less than installing a solar power plant.

    Community Solar or Rooftop Solar: Which One to Choose?

    community solar vs home solar

    If you're considering subscribing to a community solar or buying solar power, which option would be best for you? It depends on your needs and choices. Here's an approximation of the differences between the two.

    Community solarOwn 
    Reduce carbon emissionsYesYes
    Available to rentersYesNo
    Possible with a roof unsuitable for solarYesNo
    Zero (or low) upfront costsYesNo
    Simple to transferYesNo
    Ability to own the systemNoYes
    Can provide backup powerNoYes
    Benefit from incentives and subsidiesNoYes
    Highest lifetime savingsNoYes

    Is it a perfect solution to join a community solar power system to bring renewable energy to your house? Or is it worth installing a private roof-top solar panel system?

    To find the answers, ask these questions to yourself:

    Is My House Suitable for Solar Panels?

    Your roof design, land use, and landscaping can affect your solar energy production.

    Those living in rental properties or those who live near neighborhoods where there are strict rules regarding building permits may have trouble obtaining them. Community solar gardens are usually the best choice for these situations.

    • Install solar panels if your property is good for a solar energy system. You can use our online calculator to see if your rooftop solar system has enough energy potential to power your entire house.
    • If you have limitations that prevent you from installing solar panels on your property, such as a lack of available space, then subscribe to community solar.

    How Much Money Can I Invest?

    community solar vs home solar

    While benefits like the federal solar tax credit help offset the cost of installing solar panels faster, the out-of-the-money expenses initially may be difficult for some to invest in solar. Community project participation requires very less to zero upfront investment.

    • If you have the money or can get solar loans with low-interest rates, go for your solar panel installation.
    • If you're not interested in making a large investment or have bad credit, subscribe to community solar.

    What Do I Want: Financial Savings or Convenience?

    Owning your solar panel system is the best option for maximizing the financial benefits of a solar power system. You significantly reduce your savings potential if you lease solar equipment or subscribe to a solar energy system.

    • Install solar panels if you want to save the most money
    • Subscribe to community solar if you don't want to get your solar system or if you're willing to sacrifice some savings in exchange for greater comfort

    Do I Need Customization?

    A personal solar energy unit allows you to design your solar power setup according to your requirements. A shared solar system is owned by a cooperative or private company, which benefits everyone who uses it. This could be a problem if you're using a lot of electricity.

    • Installing solar panels may be an option if you need extra features or customization, such as backup electricity.
    • If you can use any energy generated by community solar, sign up for it.

    Community Solar Program Resources

    community solar vs home solar

    If you're looking for a local solar community, here are some useful online sources that can provide helpful information.

    • If you want to know whether there are any community solar projects nearby, just type your zip code into the site search bar. It will then tell you which ones operate in your range.
    • Contact your local energy provider for details on sponsored solar programs.
    • You could start a community if there aren't any existing ones in your area. A National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) guide advises on the best practices for running a community solar power plant.

    Final Thoughts on Private installations vs. Community Solar

    Community solar doesn't require upfront costs and eliminates the need for on-site equipment.

    Community solar installation offers an affordable way to generate clean electricity for low-income residents, people who live in apartments without rooftop space, and those who don’t want to install their solar panels.

    Solar panels installed privately can produce more energy and revenue. Homeowners who want to save money by installing rooftop solar systems are advised to buy them.

    Important Considerations

    • A community solar project is one where multiple people share the cost and benefit from the energy produced by the system.
    • Subscription-based community solar farms usually don't require any initial cost.
    • There are many reasons why people choose to invest in a community solar energy project, including the savings on their monthly utility bills, the environmental safety, and the fact that they don't need to own any land to participate.
    • Virtual net metering offsets energy usage bills of community solar consumers. The solar farm generates electricity and then sells its output to the utility company. Subscribers get credits for their shares of the electricity produced by the solar farm.
    • Both community solar and rooftop solar have their advantages and disadvantages. You'll need to evaluate your situation to determine which one works best for you.
    • Community solar is an ideal option for low-income renters and those without a suitable roof to enjoy the benefits of solar energy without any need to install a solar panel system. On the other hand, homeowners who want the most financial benefits from solar energy should install solar panels on their roofs.

    About the Author David Roberts

    I'm a Mechanical Engineer who's obsessed with solar energy and sustainable living.

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