There are lots of ways to invest in solar energy, some that involve putting up solar panels on your own property and some that don’t. We fully support all the solar options out there – all of them are needed to help fight climate change. Lately, there’s been some buzz (and depending where you live in the DMV area, some heavy advertising efforts) behind community solar. But who is this program meant for? Why choose to sign up for that versus ordering a solar installation for your house? Let’s explore those answers and more now.
Understanding community solar’s benefits
Ever subscribed to a farm box to support local farmers without growing the veggies and fruit yourself? Community solar is a lot like that. Anyone who pays for energy can buy into the solar project, built on a non-residential site by a developer.
The topic should be particularly interesting to Virginians, because until recently it was not allowed in the state. Only Dominion Energy could provide customers with participation in a community solar subscription program, which seems to be pretty limited and is arguably not true community solar. So last year, legislation passed the General Assembly and became law that opens the commonwealth to community solar.
Big national companies that offer this model are now marketing to Northern Virginia.
A community solar plan could be a great option for you if:
- You’re a renter or otherwise lack a roof of your own
- You’ve been told that your roof isn’t viable for solar, due to shading by other structures or trees that aren’t yours, roof material like slate, or having little or no space facing near south (or historic or HOA guidelines are in play that restrict your solar access)
- You don’t like the idea of dealing with maintenance and repairs
- Finance issues around the upfront cost of solar or credit score for a loan
- You’re planning to move in the near future, and prefer to wait and solarize your next home but would like to support 100% clean energy now
- Some of your family members aren’t on board with how rooftop solar looks (We sort of can’t believe this is still a thing, but like grandma used to say, it takes all kinds to make a world!)
Some providers even include some of the other features that solar buyers love like:
- Energy use reporting, where the customer can see what times of day or year their consumption goes up and try to reduce their bill through energy efficiency
- Utility energy is always there – if the solar facility where to have a service interruption, just like if a homeowner’s rooftop system went partially or entirely down, the grid backs up your energy seamlessly
What community solar can’t do for you
Want to use an energy storage system to run your essentials in a grid outage? Community solar won’t help with that. Batteries can’t be paired with offsite solar, so the popular solar-and-storage setup requires the panels be on your property. If charging a battery system with your own renewable energy is a goal for you, definitely harness your solar potential first rather than settle for a community solar subscription.
It also won’t increase your home value like solar panels (or an energy efficiency certification like Energy Star) can. Studies show that solar increases home values by about 4%.
Tempted by community solar’s no-upfront-cost pitch? Financing your solar project with a clean energy loan can get around the upfront cost issue. Unlike community solar membership ,there is a payoff date, after which you’re done with the monthly expense, usually on a 12-year plan, with no prepayment penalty. From then on, you’ll see only pure utility savings as long as your solar keeps operating.
However, as noted above, for non-homeowners or those in a duplex or condo who don’t control their roof, these drawbacks are totally moot and community solar stands as a perfect choice.
Solar is going up on roofs contagiously, neighborhood by neighborhood all over the world. Often the first home on a street nudges more to follow soon after. It’s seeing the equipment so sleekly and thoughtfully integrated into a home that makes neighbors want to do the same. Go kickstart solar growth in your community: get solar panels on your roof.