Community solar aims to bring renewable energy to everyone
For Earth Day, environmental activists are encouraging people to look into community solar projects, which gives the benefits of solar energy without solar panels on your own roof.
Anyone can go outside and enjoy the sun, but can everyone benefit from solar power?
If you don’t have the finances, or the roof, to install solar panels, you may have thought you had to miss out on the renewable energy resource, but a movement of “community solar” has been gaining traction.
Community solar is a model that lets you get the benefits (both economic and environmental) of solar panels, without actually installing them on your roof. The whole concept, said Nick Baudouin, co-founder of community solar software company PowerMarket, is “solar for all.”
“It’s for everyone, not just everyone who can check off a lot of boxes,” like previous requirements of home ownership, an in-the-thousands installation payment, a credit check and so on, he said. “I live in a city, in an apartment, and clearly I can’t put solar on my roof, but I can still be part of solar and be part of the sharing economy.”
Instead of having panels right on your roof, you can basically rent panels in a nearby community solar farm and see the savings — in some cases, guaranteed amounts — in your energy bills. You don’t have to commit to 20 years of solar service or deal with the hassle of installing panels.
PowerMarket works with solar developers to establish community solar programs, handling the software that deals with the utility companies, the households, making sure the credit goes toward the energy bills and so on. There’s a lot of administration work to it, he said, but it’s worth it to make solar more accessible.
Currently, PowerMarket has about seven community solar projects in both New York and Massachusetts. Some are still looking for people to sign on, like a project in Palmer, Massachusetts that will provide a carbon trade-off equivalent to planting 372 trees a year, while others are mostly booked up and awaiting construction, like a rooftop solar farm for Queens.
John Oppermann, executive director of Earth Day Initiative, an environmental nonprofit that partnered with PowerMarket to get people to sign up to the Queens project, said he definitely sees community solar becoming (even more) popular.
“Think across the country, people are looking to whatever ways they can switch over to solar and wind,” he said. It’s a great option particularly for cities like New York and Boston, which he said are “high ambition, low ability” when it comes to renewable energy. Community solar, he added, “provides the missing link.”
- Earth Day Initiative 5K Green Tour Friday, April 20: This walking tour will stop by different spots around the city so you can learn about green initiatives like a Broadway theater that's going green and partake in an upcycling planting activity. Plus, you'll learn about how solar energy works and how you can get involved with solar in New York City.
- New York Passive House Icebox Challenge Event Saturday, April 21: This contest focuses on how a home can be energy efficient and comfortable, and launches on Broadway this Saturday with a live art performance and remarks from NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, Garment District Alliance and more. PowerMarket will be participating as well.
- Earth Day Spring Kickoff Sunday, April 22: The Astoria Park Alliance is hosting an Earth Day event featuring environmental education, sustainability demos, instructions on how to build a solar oven, live music and more. Bring the whole family to taste local honey and learn how to recycle.