Community Solar: the truth about this option?

community solar

What is the truth about community solar?

(July 21, 2018) The concept was great. For those who found solar unattainable, community solar offered a way to buy into a larger community solar energy system. If a property is surrounded by trees making solar impractical, the home or business owner could purchase solar panels, as part of a community system, equal to the number of panels needed to offset their electrical usage. If that person’s solar panels represented 5% of the solar panels in the community system, they would receive 5% of the system’s electrical production to offset their electric bills.

They also received all the benefits of private-solar-energy-system ownership, including tax credits and state incentives without needing to maintain the system or provide space for the system. But, community solar has taken an unforeseen turn since the concept was introduced. Rather than marketing community solar for joint ownership, developers have pushed the systems to electrical consumers on a leased basis. Instead of selling panels, the developers are selling subscriptions to access the large energy systems.

By leasing, the developers retain ownership of the systems. They also receive all of the incentives, including federal tax credits and State Renewable Energy Credits (SREC). In return, all the lessee receives is the power equivalent of their needs at a discounted rate. That discounted rate usually works out to a reduction of 20% compared to what they normally paid.

The only advantage for the subscriber is that they avoid the initial investment to buy into the community solar system. That’s it.

Leasing solar energy may seem like a great deal but you may want to take a closer look before signing a customary 20-year contract. That’s two decades where the subscriber won’t have the advantage of federal tax credits, SRECs or writing the system off on their taxes.

When purchasing a solar energy system, once the cost of the system is recouped, the owner of the system is essentially reaping the benefits of free electricity delivered by an indiscriminate sun. The same is true when someone purchases panels in a community solar system. But, with a lease, the developer enjoys the post-installation-cost advantages.

The way to see community solar, as applied by developers today, is to Think Timeshare. There are commercials offering ways to defer a timeshare owner’s loss when they want out. In the future, the same commercials may run for those stuck in community solar leases that sounded a lot better when the subscriber first signed up.


Paul A. LaBarbera

President / CEO

Magitek Energy Solutions, Inc.

With net metering, solar panels can turn your electric meter to run backward

net metering

Can you imagine your electric meter running backward? With net metering and a PV system on the roof, you could see your electric meter running the other way.

When a PV (Photovoltaic solar energy) system is installed on the roof of a home or business, it is tied into the electrical grid and monitored. The process of monitoring how much electricity is generated is called net metering. The amount generated is compared to the amount of electricity used by a home or office. If the solar panels produce less electricity than is used, the consumer is charged for the difference by the utility company. However, the PV panels can also produce more energy than is used.

Extra electricity contributed to the grid is tracked so that the customer with the solar panels can draw on those energy credits, as if from a bank, on days when their solar energy system is producing less electricity. For instance, on a stormy day, heavy cloud cover may obscure the sun and reduce the amount of energy captured by the panels.

Utility consumers will usually draw on their electric credits at night, too. When the sun goes down their PV panels idly wait for the sun to come back up in the morning. However, in the night time when the solar panels are not generating electricity, the demand for electricity from the grid is usually down and the hourly rate for electricity also falls. In other words, the PV panels generally produce electricity during the peak hours of demand potentially saving consumers from the most expensive hours of electrical usage.

Solar panels also benefit the grid

There are scorching-hot days in the summer when everyone has their air conditioning running full blast. The strain on the electric grid is intense. The demand can even tax the grid beyond its capacity. In response, the utility companies may implement rolling blackouts in an effort to keep up.

Solar energy systems help. Each solar array is contributing to the grid and enhancing the grid’s ability to keep pace. Additionally, the PV systems are reducing demand, which can help keep the cost down for all consumers.

On the roof or on the ground: where should you mount your solar panel array?

solar panels on the ground

If your roof doesn’t offer an optimal position for a solar array, you can have your solar panels installed on the ground.

You’ve decided to install a solar panel array at your home or office. That’s a wise decision. You’ve taken a big step that will help you to virtually disconnect from the utility grid. Those big electric bills will begin to vanish as though evaporated by the sun. But, making the decision to go solar is only the first related decision you’ll need to make. And, along the way, you’ll need to decide whether to mount your solar energy system on the roof or on the ground.

Once you’ve decided to go solar, you’ll need to choose an installer and a solar panel system to install. If you choose the prior wisely, they’ll help you to make the latter decision wisely. They’ll also help you to make the right decision about whether to mount your solar panels on the roof or on the ground. However, here is a short overview of the questions to consider in making this decision:

Cost: Generally, a roof-mounted solar panel system is less expensive since the substructure is already available – your roof. Often, with a ground-mounted solar panel array, the installer has to build a substructure where they can mount the solar panels. It’s likely that they’ll have to pour concrete footings that are sturdy enough to hold the solar panels, and strong enough that they won’t blow away in a storm.

Appearance: Roof-mounted solar panels are generally less noticeable. They sit up on the roof where people simply don’t often bother to look. Of course, this depends on the position of your home and which side of the roof your solar panels are mounted on. If, for instance, the front of your home has a Southern exposure, your solar panels will sit on the roof above the front door and visible to traffic at the front curb. But, the appearance of a ground-mounted solar array also depends on where you mount the system.

Assuming you want the solar panels to soak up the sun’s energy obscurely – working quietly out of sight – the question is whether you have an out-of-the-way spot on your property where you can have a solar energy system installed. Keep in mind, it needs to be an area where the panels are directly accessible to the sun.

Positioning: How you position your solar panels on your roof depends on how your home is situated and which way the slopes of the roof face. Here in the Northern Hemisphere of Illinois and Wisconsin, a roof with a Southern exposure is ideal. If your home doesn’t offer that exposure, a Southwestern exposure is next best followed by Western and Southeastern. But, if you don’t have the ideal Southern exposure, you’ll probably need additional panels to make up the difference.

On the ground, you can generally point the solar panels towards the South as long as you have room and there aren’t any obstructions. This brings up the next point to consider …

Space: Usually, the square footage of a home is reflected, to some degree, in the amount of roof space you have. In other words, your roof will probably have enough space for your solar panel system, assuming the positioning works. But, on the ground, not only do you need the space for the system, but you’ll also have to be willing to give up that space for your solar panels. In other words, if you have a smaller backyard, would you be willing to use half the yard for your solar panels?

Typically, solar panels are 64” X 44”. Let’s assume that you’ll require 28 solar panels. With four rows of seven panels, the outside dimensions are 21’ 8” X 22’ 9”. That’s close to a 500-square-foot area.

Maintenance: Cleaning your solar panels is not a major concern. The rain will generally do a good enough job and there is a self-cleaning film on the panels. A solar energy system is also a low- to no-maintenance system. However, should your panels require maintenance, you’ll probably find it easier to maintain them if they’re mounted on the ground.