Community solar can help meet zero net energy goals
Using community solar to power energy-efficient homes can benefit both consumers and the environment, a new analysis finds.
Community solar allows individual households to purchase shares of a larger solar project, sited in the community, instead of getting an individual rooftop system. In the study, commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), analysts from the Brattle Group found that community solar could be a more cost-effective and powerful carbon-cutting tool than individual rooftop installations.
The findings come as California is set to institute new energy code mandates that most new homes in the state will produce as much electricity as they consume, using solar power and energy efficient construction to zero out electricity use.
The study compared 200 hypothetical zero net energy (ZNE) homes in both Minnesota and New Mexico and determined that the cost of installing community solar to power ZNE homes was 30 to 35 percent less than individual rooftop installations. The community solar-based approach could produce enough additional electricity production to power another 80 to 90 efficient homes in that hypothetical development.
The savings stem in part to economies of scale and the technological advantages of a large, offsite array. Large solar arrays can be adjusted to catch more light throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky, thus generating more electricity than rooftop panels, researchers said. An offsite location enables more people to use solar energy.
Community solar offers opportunity to cut even more carbon, reduce energy bills for consumers and give low-income consumers access to clean energy, researchers said.