Welcome guest poster, Mathias:
According to National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), only 1/5 households in America are suitable for residential solar panel installations. 4/5 households do either not have sufficient space or have shading issues, which simply means that solar panels are not feasible.
Luckily things are about to change. In just a few years, community-owned solar farms, or “solar gardens” as they often are referred to as, have started popping up all around the country.
For a complete overview over where these are located, head over to The Solar Gardens Institute (SGI).
What happens if more electricity is generated by the solar panels than what the household consumes? This is where net metering comes in – instead of every household having to purchase their own set of batteries for energy storage, the utility lets their customers put excess electricity onto the grid, and lower their energy bill accordingly.
It is true that there are certain caps and limits with net metering, which vary depending on where you live, but they are all a much more financially viable solution than batteries. It is not an overstatement to say that the residential solar market would be nowhere near the magnitude of what it is today if it weren’t for net metering (or feed-tariff schemes in some countries).
Virtual Net Metering
Virtual net metering is based on this very same concept, except there can be several households on each meter, and everyone will be credited for excess power generation according how big their share is.
There are different financial models available for solar farms, each with their own set of benefits and problems. “Virtual” met meter aggregation, which only is in effect in a couple of states at the time of writing (Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency), is not an absolute necessity for community solar.
Individual companies, or the utility, can own and operate the solar gardens, and distribute the bill credits to their customers. If the financial model is based on subscriptions, the problem with heavy upfront costs is solved as well.
Colorado, which is widely considered to have one of of the best net metering policies in the United States, now has a total of 18 solar gardens, and also houses the largest of them all, Clean Energy Collective’s 858 kW solar garden in Rifle.
A community solar garden is a creative solution to many issues regarding residential solar power. Imagine all those living in apartment buildings that will be able to contribute to the green movement – if community solar keeps moving forward.
NREL has just published a guide to community shared solar if you want learn more.
Image credit: Courtesy of Clean Energy Collective