Solar energy is on the rise nation-wide, especially in Texas. In fact, the Lone Star State ranks fifth in the country for solar-generated energy, producing just over five percent of total U.S. solar power. But despite the benefits of solar energy powering residential homes, many energy consumers are turned off by the pricey installation fees. That’s where community solar projects come in.
Community solar projects are offsite solar plants that generate electricity shared by more than one household. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) describes community solar as “local solar facilities shared by multiple community subscribers who receive credit on their electricity bills for their share of the power produced.”
“Through community solar programs, electricity customers purchase or subscribe to a portion of a large solar array, which is typically located within the customer’s utility service area,” said Katherine Searcy, engineer and project manager at Cation Consultants. “The utility then assigns credits directly on the customer’s bill.”
Community solar allows several residential homes to share solar power generated from a centralized source. This way, consumers can opt into the benefits of solar power without having to pay for their own solar panels.
According to Energy.gov, 49 percent of U.S. households are not able to install solar panels. Community solar projects are ideal for households including:
In Texas, community solar projects are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, from 2015 to 2016, the number of community solar projects in the Lone Star State grew from two to five. That may not sound like a significant number, but the number of projects has only continued to grow since then.
Data from the Texas Solar Energy Society (TSES) shows the number of active community solar projects reached eight as of April 2017.
According to Go Solar, a Texas-focused initiative founded by the Texas State Energy Conservation Office and the DOE, “Texas is poised to further expand community solar thanks to its permissive regulatory environment, availability of financing, and falling solar costs.”
There are several perks when opting into a traditional or community solar plan. For starters, solar is a renewable form of energy – meaning it naturally replenishes and doesn’t emit carbon into the atmosphere like non-renewable sources. Switching to solar energy can reduce your environmental footprint and, in turn, help reduce the impacts of global warming.
There are also the financial benefits of community solar projects. Not only are there no upfront installation costs, but energy consumers may also see lower rates or discounts on their energy bills.
Community solar also offers more flexibility than traditional solar installations. For instance, if a customer moves to a new home, it’s much easier to transfer their solar share than it would be to move giant solar panels to a new location.
With community solar projects bringing the possibility of solar power to nearly half of U.S. households, it is likely these projects will continue to expand.
In a report, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found community solar could accumulate $8.2 to $16.3 billion of cumulative investment. NREL also reports community solar could account for up to half of the distributed solar market in the country by the end of 2020.
According to Greentech Media (GTM), about 218 MW of community solar were installed in 2016, providing the U.S. with a total 343 MW nationwide. GTM predicted community solar would reach 500 MW by 2019 and believes it will surpass the 2,000 MW mark by the end of 2020.
For both residents interested in sharing solar within their community and homeowners opting to install their own solar panels, the progression of solar energy across the country – and in Texas – is undeniable.
Caitlin Cosper is a writer within the energy and power industry. Born in Georgia, she attended the University of Georgia before earning her master’s in English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.