Community solar: How it works

on April 26, 2018

You don’t need a big, sunny house adorned with glossy panels to have solar energy for your household. As we discussed in "What Kind of Solar Power Is Right for You?", there are several solar options you can explore.

For the majority of Americans, community solar is the winning choice, because only about 8% of Americans have the ability to put solar panels on their roofs. The other 92% of us, including renters and condo-owners, can easily and inexpensively sign onto a local community solar program. In the process, you can save money, support your local community, and contribute to the growth of the clean energy industry.

The goal of community solar has always been to make the benefits of solar power accessible to all residential energy users, no matter where they live.

What is community solar?

Community solar is a way to tap into solar energy and savings without having anything on your roof. As defined by SEIA, “community solar refers to local solar facilities shared by multiple community subscribers who receive credit on their electric bills for their share of the power produced.” It is a solar project that anyone can gain access to, no matter whether you rent, own, or have the right roof.

If you join a community solar program hosted by a third party through a subscription model, you can leverage high-volume purchasing power alongside your neighbors. You therefore secure a better price on the energy and avoid all of the hassle and expense of a residential solar system.

The solar farm, where a bulk number of solar panels live, is often built on wide stretches of open land. However, solar farms can be built in people’s backyards or even on community building roofs if they have enough room!

How does it work?

Once you sign up for community solar, you are subscribed to a share of a solar farm. A typical solar farm is made up of 2,000 kilowatts of alternating current and could theoretically support about 500 individual users. The farm produces electricity that is sent to your local power grid, and you receive credits from the electricity generated on your monthly utility bill by signing up for the project. Solar power is less expensive than other electricity being sent to the grid, and those savings are passed to you. The result is a lower utility bill for you and more local solar for your community. This video explains more.

How do the savings from your portion of the community solar project get to you? At Arcadia, our local community solar program simply requires a utility login and payment information so that we can get these savings to you through your next electric bill. Each month, you'll see savings on your electric bill based on the production of your share of the community solar project.

How do you benefit?

The goal of community solar has always been to make the benefits of solar power accessible to all residential energy users, no matter where they live. You don’t need to own property and you don’t need to install your own system. The first benefit of community solar, therefore, is obvious – now almost anyone can use clean energy and feel better about their carbon footprint.

Community solar offers significant financial benefits as well. It’s free to sign up. You’ll get a discount on your electric bill, typically as bill credits. Federal and state tax incentives for solar system developers also help reduce the consumer’s expense for using solar energy, while advancing the cause of clean energy.

And if you move, you don’t have to suffer the loss of any investment you made in your community project. Simply cancel your subscription, without penalty, and then sign up for a new solar program in your next community!

How does your community benefit?

Your environment and your wallet aren’t the only beneficiaries of community solar. Many programs also benefit a local charity – such as a church – or a local public facility. In these cases, the local organization saves on their energy costs (or receives the energy for free), while contributing to both the clean energy movement and the local economy.

What’s the catch?

Sounds too good to be true, right? A free community solar program where the solar panels basically pay you and give back to your local community. The catch is simply that programs like this are not yet available everywhere. Community solar is currently only available in certain areas, and projects require consumer demand to be built. Fortunately, we are beginning to see user demand for solar power grow and we've started partnering with developers to build entirely new community solar projects in some of our member’s local communities.

How can you sign up?

Tapping into the benefits of community solar is remarkably easy. You can find out if your area is available for our local community solar program here. From there, all you need to do is connect your electric utility account. Take a look at what which of our community solar programs are available in your area today, and check back for additional updates throughout the year!