Solar Farming and Solar Collectives: Will the Future of Energy Lie Within Communities?
By Hannah West
The rise of affordable and attainable solar energy has been an exciting phase for environmental advocates as well as home and business owners seeking independence from utility companies. But working together to convert to clean energy can be even more effective — and cost-effective — than each of us individually making the shift to solar.
Solar farming and community solar projects are on the rise, allowing multiple families and businesses to benefit from a single solar array. Home Improvement Leads explains how this plays into the future of the industry and those who stand to benefit from it.
Solar farms are large-scale applications of the same type of solar you see on rooftops: photovoltaic (PV) panels. The panels are mounted on the ground, usually on several acres of fields that contain no shade-producing obstructions like nearby trees or buildings. The number of panels on a solar farm varies, but one megawatt of power is a typical output.
The power generated by solar farms is often utility-scale, meaning that rather than going to individual users, the power is sold to energy companies who then sell it to their customers. However, many solar farms are used to power a single residence or business in order to cut energy costs and help make it self-sustaining.
Solar farms must be carefully developed, a process that requires obtaining permits and consulting with professionals who understand how factors such as location, orientation, geography, and a means of distribution play into the success of a solar installation. Tax incentives are available for private solar installations, and utility-scale solar farms are often built with the help of power purchasers and financial backers.
One of the biggest benefits of solar farming is that in addition to supplying utility-scale solar, a solar farm creates no waste and involves no moving parts. The solar array is low-maintenance, and the land on which it is located can be grazed by livestock or used as public recreation land with walking or biking trails.
Solar collectives are often referred to as “community solar projects” or “shared renewable energy plants.” They are solar arrays that are owned by a group of customers who individually benefit from the energy they produce. Each person, family, or business that invests financially in the collective reaps benefits – in the form of clean, usable energy – in proportion to their investment. And if one of the collective’s co-owners has no demand for the energy being produced at a given time, simply being part of the community can result in savings because the energy produced by the community solar array becomes “net metering credits” – credits applied to your utility bill.
A big reason both solar farming and solar collectives are effective is that solar panels are not the only expense of a solar energy system. The inverter, fuse box, wiring, utility meter, and costs of installation and even land can be split among several owners, making community solar a viable option for those who cannot afford to go solar on their own.
Both solar farms and solar collectives make solar energy more accessible to homeowners, renters, and businesses, and that accessibility benefits individuals, communities, and the environment as a whole.
Hannah West writes for Home Improvement Leads with the goal of empowering homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big home projects with confidence.