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Maximizing Energy Savings With a Shared Solar Program

Solar energy is clean, renewable and a great way to offset your electricity costs. It helps reduce our carbon footprint and creates a more diversified energy grid. Community solar, in contrast to rooftop systems, runs through big solar farms. You or other participants “subscribe” to an array and get credit on their electricity bills for the energy produced by the project. There are several benefits to joining a community solar program.

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

One of the best ways to lessen your carbon footprint and promote renewable energy without installing panels on your rooftop is through a community or shared solar program. The solar power generated by your share of a community solar project is fed into the grid and offsets some or all of your electric usage. Moreover, because you are subscribing to renewable energy, rather than just buying it from your utility, your electricity rate will be lower for your entire subscription term—and possibly beyond.

Depending on your average energy consumption, you may save between 5%-15% on your electricity cost annually. In addition, since you are avoiding fossil fuel power from the utility, and you may be contributing to local economic development and job growth, your impact is also greater than just the kilowatt-hours you use. By reducing your carbon footprint, you are helping to fight climate change, protect the environment, and improve local air quality for everyone in your community.

Lastly, since rooftop solar is expensive and the upfront costs may be prohibitive for low-income consumers, shared solar is a great way to bring solar energy to more people in their communities. However, it’s important to note that while these programs are gaining popularity and some states have adopted friendly regulations and administrative structures, many need to do more to ensure low-income participation and benefits.

Save Money on Your Electric Bill

When you go solar, your house generates energy with clean, renewable electricity. This offsets the dirty power you would otherwise consume from your utility company. This “net metering” system allows the clean energy you generate to return to the electric grid and count as a credit towards your next bill.

For New York residents, especially apartment dwellers and co-op/condo owners, a shared solar program offers a way to get in on this savings without needing to own a rooftop solar array yourself. In community solar, you pay a subscription fee to the project’s subscribing participants to share the electricity it produces.

This electricity is sent to the local electric grid, which the utility company distributes to its customers. At the end of each month, the subscriber organization sends your electric company a statement of how much electricity your subscription portion produced. The utility then credits your next bill based on that amount.

Depending on your state’s program and the size of your home’s electricity demand, you can save up to 5-20% on your electric bills with community solar. This is especially helpful in high-cost states like ours, where electricity rates are among the highest in the nation. This is also a great opportunity for low-income residents, who can find it cost-prohibitive to install rooftop solar even with incentive programs and leases.

Increase Your Home’s Marketability

The cost of a solar PV system is often more than homeowners can afford, even with incentives or leasing programs. That’s where shared solar, or community solar, comes in. These programs allow energy customers to “subscribe” or otherwise participate in a local solar power project elsewhere, saving them money on their electricity bill.

It is a great way to get people into clean energy who could not host a rooftop system and makes it possible for those with multifamily homes to participate in solar. Multiple studies have shown that solar can increase your home’s resale value. In fact, according to one study, a 6-kilowatt solar system adds approximately $24,000 in resale value for a typical home.

And because many of these projects are administered by community-based organizations, they can help lower-income households get in on the green energy action. This is especially important as liquified natural gas, which fuels over a third of the US electricity generation, becomes more expensive and scarce. 

Invest in Energy Efficiency

Investing in energy efficiency is one of the most cost-effective ways to lower household electricity use and reduce carbon emissions. It’s also the natural first step before proceeding to rooftop solar. Shared solar programs (also known as community or “solar gardens”) offer a path to clean energy for many people who cannot install their rooftop system for financial, physical or other reasons.

These programs allow multiple electricity customers to participate in a large renewable project located somewhere else in their community. In return, each subscriber receives a credit on their utility bill for their portion of the power produced. These programs are a great fit for households who may need help to install solar, such as renters, those with shaded roofs and low-income communities. In addition to providing equitable access to solar, these programs can help build community wealth by allowing residents and businesses to benefit from the value of their electricity.

When designing a shared solar program, states and utilities should prioritize serving households with high energy burdens. This could mean energy costs 6% or higher of a household’s income. This approach can increase savings for participating families and provide more equity to the program than a 20% energy savings target for all homes served.

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