'Community Solar:' A New Option For Greener Apartment Life

The world is seeing a rise in interest in alternative energy, especially solar. Today around 1.6 million solar installations exist in the U.S. alone, and projected growth shows that number reaching 4 million by 2022. American homeowners have had a few options for incorporating solar energy into their property for a while now — emphasis on “homeowners”.

One obstacle of solar in many developed nations is attempting to make it accessible for city dwellers, particularly people who rent or lease an apartment and have little control over their utilities. In the U.S., some renters have been encouraged to work with their landlords to install solar panels on the rented property, although not every landlord will agree to such a project, be convinced of the return on their investment, or even have the funds for it.

New York City in particular has seen a demand from its numerous apartment renters for more sustainable and cheap energy like solar. This summer 2018, NYC solar companies have created a plan for NYC renters to be able to take part in ‘community solar groups’.

The process basically goes like this:

    1. A host (typically a commercial building, e.g. a warehouse) buys its own solar array, or possibly agrees to lease its viable solar panel space to a sponsor who operates and maintains the system.
    2. The host or sponsor sells the energy produced as solar credits to the local utility service.
    3. Anyone who pays a bill through that utility service can sign up with a community solar group and earn an energy bill discount.
    4. The size of each group member’s energy bill discount depends on the size of the host’s solar array and the number of group members.

For now, many groups in the NYC area are guaranteeing a 10-15% monthly electric bill reduction for each group member and no membership fees, though it’s worth noting that this is a new system in place. Energy bill deductions will inevitably vary, and future community group memberships may ask for yearly membership fees.

Some hosts are eligible for rebates and tax perks.

“If I see that I’m saving money, I can use that to train and hire more people,” explains Michael Rogers, owner of Truck and Trailer Service Ltd. in Brooklyn.

The solar array on his building’s roof supplies to IPPSolar, an NYC solar company and pioneer in organizing community solar groups.

It’s still in an experimental phase, but community solar’s success may hold a bright future for apartment-dwelling families and individuals hoping for greener living, as well as businesses participating as hosts and the people they employ.

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