What is Community Solar, and How Does it Compare to Owning Your Own Solar Panels?

In an era where renewable energy is gaining momentum, community solar has emerged as an interesting solution that empowers individuals and communities to access solar energy without the need for rooftop installations.

Community Solar: What It Is and How It Works

Also known as solar gardens or shared solar, community solar is a power system that allows multiple individuals or businesses to jointly invest in and benefit from a shared solar installation. Instead of installing solar panels on individual rooftops, community solar projects are typically built in a central location, such as a large open field or a commercial building rooftop. Participants can purchase or lease shares or subscriptions to the solar project, enabling them to receive a portion of the energy generated and the associated financial benefits.

Community solar projects are designed to maximize energy production and distribution efficiency. A professional solar developer oversees the planning, construction, and maintenance of the solar array. Once operational, the system generates electricity, which is then fed into the local power grid. Subscribers receive credits on their electricity bills for the energy produced by their share of the solar installation. The credits offset their electricity consumption, leading to potential cost savings. By participating in community solar, individuals who cannot install solar panels on their own properties can still access clean energy and support the growth of renewable energy in their community.

Examples of community solar in Washington state include smaller projects like Benton PUD’s 24.6-kilowatt ground-mount array in Prosser to a 450-kilowatt system on the roof of the Peaking Storage Reservoir in Bonney Lake (pictured above).

Benefits and Drawbacks

A community solar project offers a few advantages over installing solar panels on your own property by eliminating the need for suitable rooftop space or home ownership — allowing renters and individuals with shaded or unsuitable roofs to benefit from solar energy. And the credits on your electricity bills for the energy generated by your share of the community solar project can help you save money.

Community solar programs often have lower upfront costs. Participants can lease or purchase shares or subscriptions in the solar project, typically without the need for upfront investment. This makes community solar more accessible for individuals who may not have the financial means to invest in a solar panel system for their home.

Get Your Energy Independence

Community Solar vs. Rooftop Solar

But the savings are likely to be far less significant compared to owning your own panels, as you’re not directly offsetting your entire electricity consumption. Owning your own solar installation allows you to generate your own electricity and potentially eliminate or greatly reduce your monthly electricity bills. With net metering, any excess energy produced can be fed back into the grid, earning you credits or cash from your utility company.

For these reasons, owning your own solar panels typically offers a higher return on investment over time. Although it requires an upfront investment for purchasing and installing the system and the initial cost can be a barrier for some homeowners, there are government incentives and financing options available. And once the system is installed, you can enjoy the long-term financial benefits.

As a homeowner with your own rooftop installation, if solar panels replace most or all of your monthly electrical use, the savings on your electricity bills accumulate and surpass the initial installation costs in just a few years. After that, all power generated is virtually free to the owner. Additionally, installing solar panels can increase your home’s value, providing an additional financial benefit.

So while community solar participants do receive credits on their electricity bills, these programs offer a more modest return on investment, and the savings are typically lower than those achieved through personal solar ownership. If, as a homeowner, you are interested in exploring these options further, please feel free to get in touch with us.

Photo credit: Solar Washington