Power To The People: Community Solar Power

As renewable energy costs continue falling, the rise of people owning their power is growing.

Whether its developing nations are tacking a more sustainable path to meet their needs, or homeowners looking to diversify their energy use, we see a substantial shift towards solar power as a real important option.

Community solar amplifies how consumers are as author Wikinomics author Don Tapscott suggests becoming prosumers, which are consumer producing and consuming their goods and services. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) defines community solar power as For the “as a solar-electric system that, through a voluntary program, provides power and/or financial benefit to, or is owned by, multiple community members.” Meanwhile, US-based Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) adds to this definition suggesting community solar projects “pools investments from various members of a community and provides power and/or financial benefits in return.”

Unlike its other models, community solar users offer tremendous opportunities for two distinct groups. First, shared solar options can provide lower income consumers who would not typically offer an opportunity to participate in the clean energy future a chance to do so. As mentioned earlier, shared solar allows individuals within a community to invest in clean power where each will receive benefits for their purchase.

An example of this is happening in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minnesota Renewable Energy Society (MRES) is teaming up with the local developer, Greenway Solar to install two community solar gardens, which will help out more than 200 low-income families, within the Twin Cities, according to Impact Connects.com . MRES Board Chair Katrina Stratton said the project, which will be completed by this summer, said this project would give a chance for low-income families in Minnesota to get benefits and declining prices from solar energy, which normally they would not see.

Besides low-income families, renters who live in apartment blocks are another group who benefit from community solar. Tenants who are seeking to go solar before, but could not as frequently as solar power was marketed towards homeowners. Community solar now offers a great opportunity. Numerous apartment blocks and condominiums are using the idea of shared solar projects for renters to get the perks of solar energy, without being a homeowner. A total of 91 community projects in the US were up and running last year .

All of this growth for community solar is expected to advance rapidly. It’s expected by 2021; US shared solar projects will add 1.8GW. Minnesota, Massachusetts, California, and Colorado are scheduled to install the majority of the US community solar projects over the next two years, SEIA said .

As shown in the US, community solar projects offer great potential low-income neighborhoods and apartment dwellers who are seeking a clean electricity alternative, without owning a home. Policy makers, financial institutions, and utilities would be wise in supporting community-based solar ventures in the future as a climate policy tool which gives power to the people.

Adam Johnston is a freelance writer and owns a part time social media and clean tech writing business. You can go to his website at http://www.salayconsulting.com or email him at salayconsulting@gmail.com.

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