Community solar could be the Goldilocks-style “just right” answer for urban residents who want to participate in clean energy but don’t have the rooftops or the household finances to support solar arrays for their homes, according to a Bloomberg survey of the sector.
Community solar farms are sized between residential and utility-scale arrays and typically located on small parcels of community land, the outlet reports. Power produced is fed directly into the local grid, rather than a homeowner’s own circuits, but subscribing residents see credits on the bills they receive from their conventional electricity supplier, reflecting their share of a farm’s production.
The approach has a number of benefits, advocates argue. Because community solar subscribers continue to buy power from traditional suppliers through the grid, those utilities don’t lose customers. “Also, community projects use the grid to deliver power, and help pay for maintaining the utilities’ infrastructure,” Bloomberg writes. “That makes them less of a threat to traditional power companies, which are losing revenue to solar leasing providers.”
At the same time, the concept expands access to federal subsidies for solar investment beyond those with south-facing rooftops to those with less advantageously placed homes and residents of multi-family dwellings. Work began in April on New York State’s first community solar project, a 582-kilowatt array near the city of Troy. Its 100 local customers “may be able to save more than $31,000 on their electric bills” over two decades, Bloomberg forecasts, citing Clean Energy Collective LLC, the array’s developer.
“Everyone with an interest in solar can now participate,” Eran Mahrer, director of utilities for First Solar Inc., America’s largest panel-maker, told Bloomberg. “That’s particularly true in high urban densities. The market’s clearly accelerating.” Adoption may speed up further in the wake of US$287 million in U.S. Energy Department funding announced last month for solar projects in low- and moderate-income communities.
The U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association forecasts that generation from community solar farms will reach 1.8 gigawatts over the next five years.
“I think it will grow as big as rooftop in half the time.” Predicted Hannah Masterjohn, director of new markets at Louisville, Colorado-based Clean Energy Collective.