Energy Efficiency & Sustainability Consulting

Community Solar Gardens Make Solar Accessible To Everyone

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Solar PanelThink solar power is only affordable for large companies? Think again. A new and innovative concept in renewable energy, known as community shared solar, might be the solar solution for your small business. Community solar will allow your business to reap the financial rewards and environmental benefits without the hassle and expense of installing panels.  It doesn’t matter if you rent or own your building because the panels are located at an off-site solar array. Keep reading to learn more about this exciting innovation in renewable energy and see how it can work for your business!

Background

In 2008, Massachusetts approved the Green Communities Act to promote energy efficiency and stimulate renewable energy investment.  This law required utilities to increase efficiency measures and facilitated long-term contracts between the utilities and renewable energy developers, which paved the way for the community shared solar model.

What is community solar?

Source: Brewster Community Solar Garden

Source: Brewster Community Solar Garden

The premise is relatively simple; “customers buy into a solar array constructed elsewhere and receive credit on their electricity bills for the power their panels produce.”  The solar array is typically located in an area that receives optimal sunlight, so customers receive maximum value despite the exposure of their rooftop.  The most exciting part of community solar is that customers don’t need to own their building; renters can participate because everything is handled at an offsite location and there is no impact on the rented space.  

How it works

Because of the Mass. Virtual Net Energy Metering(VNEM) law, customers of investor-owned utilities (not municipal) are allowed to buy solar panels, or shares of panels, in a solar array located within the utility’s territory .  When the solar panel produces more power than the customer uses, the excess power is sent back into the electricity grid. Their electricity meter effectively spins backward so the utility company is required by the VNEM law to “reduce the panel owner’s bill by an amount commensurate with the power sent to the grid by the solar array.”  In other words, the customer gets a credit on their monthly electric bill for any excess energy produced by their panel.

Community Solar Diagram 2

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Benefits

The biggest benefit of the community solar model is accessibility.  Customers who want solar but can’t put panels on their own roof can now access a new supply of renewable energy.  Most importantly, solar is not limited to those who own buildings.  Everything is done off-site, which allows renters access to a new way to control their electricity cost.

The model also increases the flexibility of solar because customers can move without being responsible for panels on their roof.  Plus, customers have a choice to purchase an entire panel or shares of a panel to offset their specific energy consumption.  This helps to limit the amount of money customers need to invest up front and allows for more customization to meet the specific energy needs of each business owner.