How Rooftop Solar Companies are Complementing Community Solar

There’s no question that solar is booming. Over the past ten years, the industry has seen an “…Average annual growth rate of 50%…” and now employs over 242,000 people in the United States. Even with this boom, there is still a huge amount of unmet need when it comes to solar. Rooftop solar installers and community solar companies can work together to move the country towards a clean energy future. In fact, a number of rooftop solar companies profit by referring customers to community solar when they can’t or won’t install on their home.

Community Solar Complements Rooftop Solar

A recent survey of solar installers revealed that traditional rooftop solar installers don’t view community solar as competition. In fact, rooftop solar companies had a overwhelmingly positive response to community solar. That’s because community solar serves different customers that rooftop can’t. According to the US Census, about forty percent of Americans live in housing that would not support a solar array. And even for those who do, obstacles like finances, structural concerns and shading prevent a majority of customers from taking advantage of the environmental and financial advantages of rooftop solar. Community solar can fill this gap, removing financial and siting obstacles that customers face when looking to make clean energy choices.

Community Solar Builds Awareness and Normalizes Solar

The survey also points out another major benefit to community solar. Having large public arrays like the ones along the Massachusetts Turnpike help to normalize solar. The more arrays there are, the more people will think of solar as a regular fact of life, rather than a futuristic and expensive pipe dream. These arrays can act as advertisement too, sparking interest for both potential rooftop and community solar customers as they pass by them.

We’ve Only Scratched the Surface

There’s good synergy between rooftop solar installers and community solar, and the market is still mostly untapped. In 2018, the United States only got 1.6% of its electricity from solar, while 76% of voters support increasing solar capacity. Both types of solar should find ways to work together to transform our energy grid.

If your rooftop solar company would like to learn how to profit from community solar, Learn More

Or contact us to become a partner.

And nearly everyone can help Fight Climate Change by joining a Community Solar Farm.

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Solar is Becoming Cost-Effective in More Places

Incentive-free solar projects are becoming more common. Unsubsidized developments in favorable climates like southern Europe have already achieved price parity with other types of energy, and the falling cost of solar installations is making this feasible in more places.

Northern Europe

  • A German utility signed a contract earlier this year for an eighty five megawatt solar farm in Northern Germany without incentives.
  • There are also two farms planned for the U.K. in York and Kingston upon Hull.
    • The incentive-free system in York will be “37.4 megawatts of PV tied to a 27-megawatt, 30-megawatt-hour Samsung battery system, the largest solar-paired energy storage asset in the country.

Alberta

  • Alberta’s Ministry of Infrastructure has agreed to buy the energy produced by a 94 megawatt solar installation, which is being installed without the assistance of incentives.
  • The installation is using solar panels which can produce on both sides, making use of the reflected light from long lasting snow.
  • The installations are 50% owned by the Conklin Métis, an indigenous community from the oil-sands region of Alberta.

China

  • China has been aggressively installing clean energy, but caused concern in the solar world last year when they halted incentives due to the large bill from so many projects.
    • Their solution to continue rapid development while keeping costs in check is to develop several pilots for incentive-free solar.
    • “The new subsidy-free projects will generate renewable power for sale at the same prices as non-subsidised coal-fired power plants, and will not have to comply with capacity quota restrictions…”

It’s clear that even in snowy northern climates, solar is a viable option. And as costs continue to come down, more and more solar won’t need assistance, subsidies or incentives to compete with fossil fuels.

You can help Fight Climate Change by joining a Community Solar Farm.

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solar field

Climate Change isn’t the whole problem

So much of the discussion around clean energy currently focuses on climate change and pricing, but we shouldn’t forget another important reason to “go green” – pollution. Fossil fuels and nuclear produce dangerous pollutants which have a direct impact on our health and the sustainability of our planet.

Coal

  • Coal use is declining, but we still get almost 30% of the country’s power from it.
  • Coal extraction uses harmful techniques such as mountaintop removal and strip mining, which pollutes water sources and damages ecosystems.
    • Underground coal mines pose threats to safety from collapse and methane leaks.
  • Burning coal releases heavy metals such as mercury, as well as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates
    • These pollutants are linked to respiratory illness, neurological damage, smog and acid rain.

Natural Gas

  • Natural gas burns cleaner and more efficiently than coal, but it still emits pollutants and accounts for about 32% of our energy.
  • The extraction of natural gas can be problematic.
    • Laying pipelines to transport natural gas requires clearing land, and when the pipelines leak they release methane, a strong greenhouse gas.
    • Hydrogren sulfide is burned off, or “flared,” when extracting natural gas, which releases varying pollutants
    • Hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking, uses a fluid that contains unknown chemicals – only 28 states require the disclosure of some of the chemicals in fracking fluid. This fluid can leak and pollute water supplies.
  • Fracking has also resulted in earthquakes at wastewater injection sites.

Nuclear

  • Some says nuclear energy could help with climate change, but we should not take the potential health risks lightly.
  • Used nuclear fuel emits dangerous levels of radiation long after it’s used and there is currently no long-term solution on where and how to store this waste.
  • Nuclear meltdowns may be relatively infrequent or unlikely, but when they happen they’re disastrous.
    • Incidents like Fukushima and Chernobyl have a high human cost, and render cities uninhabitable for the foreseeable future.

Solar is a Solution

  • The guaranteed lifespan of solar panels is twenty to twenty-five years, which is much better than many consumer electronics such as cell phones or laptops, and in many cases they can be recycled.
  • Using the sun for energy doesn’t emit water, air, or carbon pollution.

You can help Fight Climate Change by joining a Community Solar Farm.

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The Push For 100% Renewables

There’s new blood in the state and federal legislatures, and climate change is at the top of their agenda. Here in MA, fourteen of the twenty four newly sworn in state representatives support aggressive action on climate change. At the federal level, we’ve seen ambitious new proposals and a new committee to address climate change as a top priority.

Massachusetts Fights Climate Change

  • Over half of the incoming state representatives have formed a bipartisan group they’re calling GreenTeamMA
  • The Green Team supports 100% renewable energy sources in Massachusetts by 2050
    • This will be achieved with measures such as carbon pricing and driving up demand for energy sources such as wind and solar
  • They are focussing on a bottom up approach with grassroots action by voters and consumers who are concerned about public health and climate change

The Federal\Climate Crisis Committee

  • The midterm elections saw an infusion of progressive new representatives and a flip to a House controlled by Democrats
  • New members have proposed a “Green New Deal,” an aggressive plan which would combine action on climate change and economic inequality while creating job growth
  • Nancy Pelosi has put together a Climate Change Committee, which has a narrower scope but still emphasizes the importance of preparing for and combating climate change

A key component of all of these plans is encouraging consumers to choose greener options. Legislation is important to level the playing field for clean energy, but there are impactful choices we can make right now to fight climate change, especially here in Massachusetts.

Be Part of the Solution

Join a Community Solar Farm. Fight Climate Change.
Help Make the Electric Grid More Resilient.

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eco friendly bikes

3 Easy Changes to Help New Year’s Climate Resolutions

2019: The Year to Take Action

Every January we set goals for our new year. With all the news about our environment’s future that came out in 2018, maybe one of your resolutions was to be greener. We’re here with our top picks for easy ways to fight climate change and save money.

1: Say NO to Single-Use Plastic

Plastic pollution is a major concern – from news on single use plastic bans to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, we’ve all heard the scope of the problem. There are many ways we can tackle this.  First and foremost when asked “Paper or Plastic?” at the store, the answer is “Neither.”  Bringing (or buying at the store) your own re-usable bag will help reduce plastic waste. If you have to use plastic bags, try to re-use them and then they can be recycled at most grocery stores.   Another cost effective and easy switch you can make is to buy in bulk. It cuts down on packaging, even more so if you bring your own reusable container to the bulk aisle.

2: Take a Walk (Or Bike)

According to the EPA,A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.” And according to the Energy Information Administration, the average household spent about two thousand dollars on gas in 2017. If you’re able to, committing to walking or biking on trips under a mile will save you at the pump, and as an added bonus you’ll make some progress on your fitness resolutions too.

3: Support the Switch to Clean Energy

Electricity accounts for twenty eight percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, and residents of Massachusetts pay one of the highest rates for it. Often people like the idea of clean energy, but are concerned it’s too expensive or complicated. Community solar is a different way to “go solar,” designed to remove obstacles. By participating in communal fields of panels, residents of Massachusetts can save money, guaranteed and fight climate change with no investment and no installation. And community solar doesn’t conflict with choosing a green electricity supplier.

Get Paid to Keep This New Year’s Resolution:
Fight Climate Change

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Community Solar: Why it’s Not Too Good to Be True

Being able to choose clean, locally produced power while also saving money sounds too good to be true. But community solar is giving residents of more and more states a way to vote with their dollar for greener power that supports their local economy.

Community Solar – What is it?

  • Community solar, or shared solar, is defined by the Department of Energy Resources as a project that allows “…multiple participants benefit directly from the energy produced by one solar array.
  • It’s a way to make the benefits of solar accessible to those who can’t install rooftop solar themselves.

Community Solar Farms: A New Solar Solution

  • Only twenty percent of the people who would like to go solar have been able to.
  • Massachusetts has a Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020 which aims for a twenty five percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
    • This Plan also aims to make the state more energy independent since it lacks other types of energy resources.
  • Even if everyone who could do rooftop solar did, we wouldn’t be on track for the clean energy targets we have.
  • The Department of Energy and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources both have programs in place to encourage the development of more community solar farms.
  • It’s a win-win: solar farms generate jobs, increase energy independence, offset pollution, and provide savings to residents.

That Sounds Great, But What’s the Investment?

There’s no cost to join a community solar farm – you will see savings on day one. Financial obstacles are a major barrier to rooftop solar – many people pay their electric bills every month, and would like a cleaner option, but don’t have the capital to put panels on their roof. Community Solar programs are designed to make solar more accessible.

 

Be Part of the Solution

Join a Community Solar Farm. Fight Climate Change.

Help Make the Electric Grid More Resilient.

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The True Cost of Fossil Fuels

Skeptics of clean energy often cite high costs and “the need for subsidies” as a reason we shouldn’t or can’t afford to transition away from fossil fuels. But dirty energy has many costs attached to it which are not always readily apparent. Fossil fuel prices can be volatile, and we don’t always use domestically sourced products. Aside from the actual cost to consumers, the fossil fuel industry also receives subsidies, and we pay indirectly for using polluting energy sources in healthcare and pollution cleanup costs. It’s well past time to reframe the conversation around energy costs, and to even the playing field for cleaner energy sources.

While it’s true that most renewable energy sources can have high startup costs, once they’re running they’re inexpensive to keep up – after all, you don’t have to pay for wind or sunshine. In comparison, using fossil fuels for energy means we have to constantly buy oil, gas, and coal at the market rate. And this money doesn’t always stay in the US economy: “In 2007, America spent more than $360 billion importing fossil fuels, with the vast majority of that money spent on crude oil. That money is a direct transfer of wealth from American consumers to oil companies and foreign governments.” Even when we are buying within the country, volatile fuel prices can negatively impact consumers.  In comparison, prices for electricity generated from renewable sources has been shown to be more predictable.  In 2016, we spent $5.6 billion on renewable energy incentives, most of which went to biofuels.  Studies attempting to put a number on subsidies supporting fossil fuels, not including subsidies for things like fuel assistance programs, pegged them at around $20 billion dollars a year including the federal and state levels. The US has been slow to get rid of these subsidies and tax breaks compared to other developed countries, and that’s no coincidence. “In the 2015-2016 election cycle, oil, gas, and coal companies spent $354 million in campaign contributions and lobbying and received $29.4 billion in federal subsidies in total over those same years.” We are already spending a lot to prop up fossil fuels, but it’s taken for granted and doesn’t get much coverage, while any changes to incentives for clean energy are often hotly debated.

While the concrete costs to buy and subsidize fossil fuels are important to look at, arguably more important are the added costs of things like health care for asthma and cancer, cleaning up pollution, and fallout from a changing climate. These are difficult to put a price on, but we do know some of the costs. For example, the BP Deepwater oil spill costed tax payers fifteen point three billion dollars. There has also been impact on agriculture: “A 2007 study by researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University found that global production of three of the six largest global crops experienced significant losses due to global warming between 1981 and 2002. The study concluded that global wheat growers, for example, lost $2.6 billion and global corn growers lost $1.2 billion in 2002 alone.” Projections are that these costs will sky rocket if climate change is not mitigated.

The price we pay for healthcare on pollution-related illness is difficult to pinpoint, but we do have some studies that have attempted to put a number on it. Sarah Rizk* and Ben Machol of the Clean Energy and Climate Change Office, U.S. EPA Region 9, in San Francisco published a peer reviewed article attempting to put a concrete price per kilowatt hour that we pay in healthcare. They found costs of “…19 to 45 cents per kilowatt-hour for coal, 8 to 19 cents per kilowatt-hour for oil, and 1 to 2 cents per kilowatt-hour for natural gas. “For coal and oil,” Rizk and Machol write, “these costs are larger than the typical retail price of electricity, demonstrating the magnitude of the externality.” This cost isn’t distributed evenly, either – places that are the site of extraction and energy generation pay a higher price in their health.

Clean energy is often dismissed as being too expensive, but really the cost of energy from fossil fuel is artificially low and much of what we pay is hidden or part of the status quo. When you really dig into the numbers, it’s clear that the playing field is uneven. There are many reasons to transition to clean energy, and now we can add the comparative cost of it to the list.

Find out how you can be part of the solution.

Join a Community Solar Farm. Fight Climate Change.
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Fossil Fuel Giants Acknowledge Climate Change and Begin to Adjust

Traditional fossil-fuel-centric entities are acknowledging climate change and investing in clean energy. This marks an important turning point, and if they believe the future is in clean energy, we should take notice and build on the existing successes, for example the recent boom in community solar in multiple states.

Community solar has seen wide success. Forty-two states have at least one active farm, and there were “…1,226 cumulative megawatts installed through Q2 2018.” Nineteen states have policies and programs to encourage the growth of community solar, and while community solar benefits everyone with lowered pollution and cost savings, increasingly, there are projects that target benefits specifically to low income communities.

Exxon keeps tabs on the outlook for different energy types, and the future is bright for renewable energy. Between 2016-2040, they expect solar and wind to lead the way in global growth. The oil giant has also been in the news recently as shareholders pushed the company to report the risks climate change poses to its business model. And Exxon isn’t the only company; Chevron invested in five solar projects and has announced a commitment to renewable energy. BP has also made some moves: “…much of the company’s strategy update focused on clean energy, which BP said would amount to around $0.5bn of its $15bn-$16bn capital expenditure programme… BP recently bought a $200m stake in Europe’s biggest solar developer.” Shell, another major player in the industry, took things further, pledging to “reduce its net carbon emissions 20% by 2035, and 50% by 2050.”

Although critics correctly point out that these numbers are not large compared to these companies’ overall revenue and we need more action to get where we need to be, there’s a lot of value in what these traditionally conservative and fossil-fuel-focussed organizations are doing. The underlying lesson is that they have acknowledged climate change and the shift in our energy industry and are beginning to adjust. If even the companies that sell fossil fuels are making these changes, it seems like we should pay attention and make changes too. We have the technology and the models we can use for success.

Find out how you can be part of the solution.

Join a Community Solar Farm. Fight Climate Change.
Help Make the Electric Grid More Resilient.

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Wildfires in California and How to Build a Resilient Power Grid

Some say the effects of climate change are already upon us. The wildfires in California this year are the most destructive on record. There are already 80 dead and 1,000 missing, and the fires are still going. Changing precipitation patterns, higher summer and spring temperatures, and earlier snowmelt are creating longer wildfire seasons and drier conditions for more intense burns. Aside from what’s going on in California right now, we can expect more droughts, fatal heat waves like the one in Europe earlier this year, more intense hurricanes, water supply shortages, flooding and erosion from sea level rise, and more impacts that we can’t yet predict. The question looms ever larger – what can be done to fight climate change, and how do we prepare for it?

We’re seeing the consequences of how we generate and use energy, and we know things will get worse if we continue with business as usual. How much carbon we emit will impact how extreme the changes we face will be. In addition to changing our fuel source and trying to mitigate future damage, we also need to increase the resiliency of our power grid. It needs to be able to respond to disruptions, bounce back from disasters, and function more independently than it does now.

Community solar solves both the short term need to cut carbon pollution, and it also increases the resilience of our power grid in the long term. Solar farms reduce dependence on the long and interruptible supply chains that currently feed our natural gas and oil power plants. It is also much more flexible to install than other types of power generation. Solar systems are increasingly being installed with batteries and in Massachusetts the new SMART program incentivizes projects that include batteries which provide backup for the grid and support production during peak demand and brownouts. Community Solar has a promising track record so far, and it’s ready to scale up and provide power to much more of our population than rooftop solar or wind farms are. Last year alone our installed capacity nearly doubled from 387 MW to 734 MW, with more in the works and encouraging signs for its growth in many states.

The impacts of climate change have begun, and they’re impacting our safety. We have solutions we can use to mitigate the damage, and we’ve started planning ahead for how to recover. It’s more important than ever to think about our energy future and take action with the tools we have.

SEE FOR YOURSELF

Join a Community Solar Farm. Fight Climate Change.
Help Make the Electric Grid More Resilient.

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Midterms and the Future of Clean Energy

In light of the recent midterm elections, it seems like a good time to look at what makes good energy policy and what we might expect as a result of voter choices going forward. Policy plays an important role in the success of clean energy. As more states set targets for a future powered by renewables, there’s some trial and error in how to integrate new types of shared power to the existing grid, as well as how to support their growth and ensure ratepayers see the benefit of cleaner, less expensive energy. Community solar, when it’s supported by a state’s policies, is a very accessible and relatively inexpensive solution to these challenges.

Twenty nine states have a mandatory amount of clean energy utilities have to use, called a “Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)” while eight more have a voluntary clean energy target. These regulations have different ambition levels and methods of reaching their goals. Of these, only nineteen states have a shared renewables program.  Shared renewables are those, like community solar, which allow everyone to participate in the benefits of clean power. Shared renewables programs allow new power sources like community solar to scale up. To compare how different states stacked up, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) made a scorecard for states with established community solar programs. They evaluation criteria included such things as if the program is accessible to underserved and low income communities, if all residents are eligible to use the program, if it promotes subscription portability and transferability (being able to “take it with you” or give it to the next resident if you move) and how much benefit residents can get from joining a solar farm.

Massachusetts has one of the strongest programs in place to allow community solar to grow. It allows offset of both distribution and supply charges, targets benefits to low and moderate income customers, and has recently changed its program to remove barriers between utility load zones. This makes farms more accessible and beneficial to more residents, and it makes subscriptions much more portable.

At the polls this week, there was more good news for the future of clean energy. With a shift in congress, Democratic leadership has promised to “resurrect the defunct select committee on climate change.” Nevada also voted for a measure to use 50% renewable energy by 2030, and has seen increasing investment in clean energy recently.

Overall, states, rather than the federal government, continue to lead the charge against climate change. Experimenting with different programs to find the best practices paves the way for other states to follow suit. And as states with strong renewable energy programs reap rewards such as economic growth, financial savings, and environmental benefits, hopefully more policymakers and voters will come around.

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Community Solar Makes Solar Available to All

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