What are solar gardens?
Solar gardens (or Community Solar Programs) are community-based solar array with multiple users being connected to the same grid, sharing the same power source. Just the same as a having your own - you can choose to lease or purchase the panels for your home or business. Anyone in the local area can use the solar garden - and can be a great way to invest in solar energy without the installation costs. There are currently 43 states with active community solar programs - and 1,387 cumulative megawatts have been installed through 2018. Solar gardens benefit households and businesses ranging from high - low income households, to not-for-profit businesses and schools.
Benefits of a Solar Garden
Solar gardens can be a great solution if you are unable to install a solar panel on your rooftop alone. Some common reasons might be that you’re renting and not a homeowner, you live in a heavily shaded area, you don’t have the correct roof, you’re not the only owner, or maybe you just simply cannot afford one. NREL gathered that 49% of US homeowners are unable to install rooftop panels due to their roof’s orientation, structure, or shading around the area. Whether you can’t install solar panels yourself because of one of these reasons listed above, some other issue, or you just don’t want to invest the effort -- the benefits of investing in a community solar garden are pretty clear.
By choosing a solar garden, you don’t have to worry about upfront installation costs. In fact, you don’t have to worry about any upfront costs at all. You are essentially “subscribing” to the energy that the garden produces - and better yet, at a discounted rate compared to your utility. The discount will appear on your monthly utility bill based on how much energy you chose to “buy”.
Solar garden users usually get 5-10% discounts on their energy bills each month. This can vary from the solar garden available to you - and is calculated by the tax incentives available in your area, and the solar panels they’ve purchased to build the garden. Being that different states have different laws and regulations, the rate at which the energy is worth fluctuates based on your geographical location. Do your research to find out if there are solar panels in your area.
Community Solar Garden vs. Private Solar Panels?
After reading the benefits, you’re probably thinking “why wouldn't I go with a community garden?” First, slow down, and ask yourself a few questions.
How much am I able to invest? In the long run, owning your own solar system can benefit your finances long-term. If you are unable to find the funds to invest in the initial costs, however - a community solar garden might be the right choice for you to reap the benefits and test the waters to see if solar energy is right for you.
Do I want a customizable system, or am I just looking to cover my general energy bases?
Owning your own solar system allows you to customize it to fit your property or business needs. By joining a solar garden, you are boxing yourself in to the benefits that are shared by everyone at an equal level. If you are a large business, for example - you may want to consider owning your own system.
Do I enjoy maintaining my home? If the answer is no, then maybe think again before purchasing solar panels yourself. By buying a solar system, you’re also signing up for the seasonal spring-cleaning, snow-brushing, and occasional power-washing that comes with owning a fancy piece of modern technology.
Is my location a good candidate for solar panels? This brings us back to the first point - solar community gardens are great for those who are in the wrong location for solar panels. If you do have the right environment, however - you should consider taking advantage and making the investment, if it’s realistic for you financially.
By compiling the most important questions, getting down to the facts, and sharing our opinions - we hope this helped clear up the most commonly asked questions about solar community gardens. By doing your research and looking at all your options, hopefully you can find the right energy solution for your specific needs.