by Mathias Aarre Maehlum
Shading, ownership issues, limited space and many other factors means that most American households simply aren’t suitable for solar panels. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated that as much as three-quarters of residential buildings have physical restrictions to going solar.
However, in the last few years, new creative models such as “solar gardens” have started appearing all over the country, enabling those who otherwise were ineligible for solar, to participate in going green. What exactly is a community solar garden and how “big” will these become in the future?
To go deeper into how community solar gardens actually work, we first need to take a look at net metering (or feed-in tariffs in some countries). These schemes allow homeowners who have invested in solar panels to put their excess electricity production back onto the utility grid. Depending on the framework of the scheme, these homeowners will receive direct payments for every kWh they “overproduce”, or get credited accordingly on their electricity bill.
There are usually certain caps and limits involved; nevertheless, these schemes are all superior to a domestic battery storage system. Along with financial state and government rebates, net metering or FIT-schemes, provides the foundation for affordable solar.
Virtual net metering takes it one step forward. This allow multiple homeowners to participate in the same net metering system, which ultimately means people can “get” solar panels without having them on their own rooftops – in other words, vastly increasing the domestic solar market.
Virtual net metering is not necessarily an intrinsic part of solar community gardens or “shared solar”. Independent companies or the utility could install, operate, and manage “subscribers”, making solar gardens simpler and even more attractive for the average Joe.
Community solar gardens have seen good growth in only a couple of years. Maybe there are solar gardens up and running in your area? Head over to Solar Gardens Institute for a map over already established solar gardens.
Mathias is studying energy and environmental engineering at The Norwegian University of Science & Technology and writes about solar and clean technologies at Energy Informative.