The expansion of community solar across the U.S. is bringing solar power—and its many benefits—to a number of individuals and businesses who might otherwise not be able to participate. Not so long ago, installing solar panels on your rooftop or undeveloped property was the only way to access solar-generated electricity. If you were unable (or lacked the desire) to host an onsite installation, solar power simply wasn’t an option.
Community solar changed all that, enabling groups of residential customers or businesses to share the clean power generated by an offsite solar installation. Certain areas around the country, such as New York State’s Westchester County and New York City proper—serviced by the utility Con Edison—have become particularly attractive for community solar projects.
What might surprise you is that those using the solar-generated electricity aren’t the only ones who can benefit from community solar projects. Real estate developers and owners of property where community-shared solar equipment is installed can also profit—even without tapping into the shared power source.
Read on to explore how both participants and facilitators can benefit from community solar.
How community solar subscribers win
Community solar describes the electricity produced by an offsite solar installation that is shared by a group of individual businesses and/or residential customers who sign an energy subscription contract. In other words, it’s a community of energy consumers united to benefit from solar power.
A community solar project pools demand for clean energy, and that demand is then met by an offsite solar installation. This setup provides subscribers with solar-generated energy and, in many instances, also delivers energy savings. Reasons for joining as a subscriber to a solar community project include:
- Being a residential customer who lives in a condo, apartment or house shaded by trees or buildings.
- Having no rooftop installation option due to excessive shading, limited size, improper orientation, obstructions (e.g., satellite dishes, air vents, rooftop gardens) or the inability to physically support the solar equipment.
- Being disinterested in owning, leasing or entering a power purchase agreement (PPA) for an onsite solar installation—but still wanting to reach sustainability goals using solar power.
- Desiring flexibility with termination or life events (such as moving) compared to long-term ownership of a solar system.
How real estate developers and property owners win
As noted above, members of community solar enjoy many of the benefits of commercial solar power generation without the need to have an onsite installation. But what are the benefits of providing space for or “hosting” a power plant in a community solar program? A growing number of real estate developers and property owners are realizing financial gains that go beyond the reduced energy prices enjoyed by others.
Historically, real estate developers have been slow to incorporate solar energy into their projects. Since tenants usually pay electric bills, there has been little incentive for a landlord to try to lower those expenses.
That appears to be changing. As the cost of solar panels drops, the price of solar electricity becomes more competitive. According to one report, a 2020 milestone to make solar electricity market-competitive was reached in August 2017—three years ahead of schedule. High equipment cost is no longer an argument against including solar in new developments.
There is also growing demand in the U.S. for the adoption of sustainable energy, and real estate developers are learning that tapping into this trend can benefit society while also generating new sources of revenue. Specifically, warehouses and office buildings can be prime candidates for community solar.
Property owners can also benefit from community solar without using a single electron generated by the solar power system. Adding solar equipment to a site can increase commercial property value, while simultaneously creating a new potential revenue stream. It would be like getting an extra rent check each month from the quietest tenant they might ever have (and never having to worry about clogged plumbing).
By hosting a community solar system, real estate owners can also:
- Attract engaged building occupants interested in lower energy bills and greater social responsibility.
- Help advance corporate sustainability goals.
- Promote an improved public image for “going green.”
- Enjoy available local tax incentives (e.g., NYC’s Solar Panel Tax Abatement).
Many winners with community solar
In the past, if a business or homeowner wanted to access the benefits of solar power, they would need roof or property space on which to install a photovoltaic (PV) system. With the advent of community solar, they can now invest in a portion of a large offsite solar installation instead (or subscribe to its energy output). This has opened the solar market to many new commercial and residential customers.
It has also created an entirely new revenue opportunity for property owners willing to rent roof or property space for community solar installations. Real estate developers can leverage new and existing projects to support (and financially benefit from) a growing number of solar communities.
With community solar, both energy users and facilitators can win... and so can the environment.