The potential of solar energy, a renewable energy source crucial to curbing global greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, is infinite. If it could be gathered, the sunlight that hits the earth’s surface in one hour provides sufficient energy to power the world for a year.
Currently, individual solar photovoltaic (PV) panels installed on rooftops of houses or businesses produces most solar energy. However, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reports that roughly 80% of energy consumers cannot use rooftop PV due to various factors: insufficient sunlight, limited roof space, leasing or renting a house, or poor roof structure. However, the market limitations of rooftop PV means there is a bright future for another form of solar energy consumption: community solar gardens. Community solar gardens can enable the 80% of energy consumers unable to install rooftop PV to still reduce their ecological footprint by utilizing solar energy.
A solar garden is a large array of solar panels established within a community, the energy from which is used by utility companies. Residents of the community can buy or lease solar panels in the community garden, and in return receive a credit on their utility bill for the amount of energy produced by their solar panels. Community solar gardens provide many advantages over rooftop units: they are established in locations of optimal sunlight, the solar panels are equipped to follow the sun throughout the day to maximize efficiency, customers do not have to worry about installation/maintenance, and if residents move they have the option of either taking their solar contract with them to their next location or selling it as part of the residence.
The first community solar market in the United States came with the founding of SunShare, a company that developed its first solar garden in my hometown of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Considering the vast potential and benefits associated with solar energy, and the increased need for clean energy sources to support our growing population, expect to see a growing number of community solar gardens around the country and the world in the coming years.