A Bumper Crop of Solar

Solar Array

In farming parlance, a “bumper crop” is a reference to a particularly successful harvest season. If you’re even casually acquainted with shopping at a local farmer’s market, you know that a year of good production for your favorite fruit/nut/vegetable is worth celebrating. And what does that have to do with solar energy, you might ask? We’ll get there, but first we need to set the table, so to speak.

As more and more homeowners consider rooftop solar, some are finding out a brutal truth: Only 22-27 percent of residential rooftop area is suitable for hosting an on-site solar PV system¹. Putting  solar on your house has been largely dependent on things like home ownership, an unobstructed roof with the proper directional orientation and a willingness to make a 20-year commitment. However, an emerging solution commonly known as “community” solar offers hope for those who may not meet these criteria.

Community solar is typically defined as a solar-electric system that provides power and/or financial benefit to multiple community members. Because there can be significant cost advantages associated with building one large solar array compared to multiple individual arrays, community solar is growing. There are currently around 75 or 80 such projects across 10 states in the U.S.²   Could participation in a community solar project be right for you? Cue our first tie-back to the farming analogy!

Two Great Ideas, One Acronym

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, wherein people often pre-purchase farmed bounty from local or regional farmers or growers. It’s by no means a new concept, but it’s enjoyed quite the resurgence over the last decade or so as a way to reinvest in and support the fine folks who have mastered the art of growing food.

CSA also stands for Community Solar Array, which in some ways resembles the other kind of CSA in that it allows a way for consumers to voluntary support solar “farmers” and, in turn, benefit from the solar bounty produced at community-scale.  What they have in common is the desire for a connection to their supplier.

One Word, Multiple Definitions

Now we know that CSA stands for at least two things…but what about the word, “Community”?  As it relates to a solar project that is shared among multiple parties, Green Mountain offers a couple of interpretations:

  • Community – As in local.  Literally, in the community for everyone to see and admire. It could mean economic development for your town/city, or it could mean you drive past it every day and think, “Wow, I’ve got a clean energy facility making electricity right there!” Know what we mean?
  • Community – As in a group of people who share interests or goals. Even if the solar facility is hundreds of miles away, it still offers a great connection to like-minded people. In fact, we’d imagine people who want to share in the benefits of solar energy — whether in one city or another, living in an apartment or a castle, fan of kale or not – might just as easily define the “community” referenced in community solar.

And this brings us to our aforementioned “bumper crop” reference: Larger-scale solar facilities are often situated in areas that offer the most efficient conversion of sunlight to energy, thereby yielding more solar production for the cost. We’d love to know your thoughts, Green Mountain customers and solar fans: What’s your idea of “community” when it comes to buying energy from a solar array? Do you want to see it, or do you want to be it?

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Read article on community solar (Star Tribune)

More solar content:

¹ Supply Curves for Rooftop Solar PV-Generated Electricity for the United States, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Nov. 2008.  http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy09osti/44073.pdf
² http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/community-solar-a-big-idea-with-big-barriers