Tech is advancing at such a rapid pace it'll leave your head spinning. A view years ago, projects like community solar didn't even exist. Nowadays, the federal government offers tax incentives on solar panels and individual states are piling on their own tax breaks. One thing for certain, whether you go with your own rooftop solar panels or buy into a community solar farm, you WILL save money in the long term.
But which one will save you the most money and is there a way to overcome your lack of roof space? Read on to find the answers and ask questions in the comments if you get confused!
What exactly is community solar?
A large array (also called a farm or garden) of solar panels owned by a holding company. The resulting solar power is credited to renters or investors monthly utility bills.
You can choose from Ownership or Subscription
With the Ownership model, you purchase a share or a collection of panels in a community solar project. These solar panels now belong to you and your share are an asset with resale value.
If you choose to go with the subscription model, you pay a monthly subscription fee to receive a chunk of solar power produced by the panels. There is usually a signup fee and an early termination fee.
You receive monthly solar credits that offset your utility bill
In a process called Virtual Net Metering (VNM), solar credits are added directly to your utility bill and you pay for any excess electricity you use. If you have a positive balance of solar credits, you don’t pay anything until they are used up (they roll over to the next month). Some states have cash-back policies.
Contract lengths vary but all expire in 25-30 years
With the ownership model, your solar panels will be decommissioned in 25-30 years at which point you will have to buy new ones again. The subscription model gives you more freedom with fixed-term rentals, but leaving your contract early could result in hefty termination fees.
You can sell your share of solar panels before they expire, but you’ll get a low price for them.
The holding company deals with all maintenance and upkeep
Repairs, breakages, insurance, cleaning - these are all taken care of by the managing company. The cost is usually worked into your monthly payments or upfront fees.
There is often a start-up fee and an early termination fee.
Make sure you factor these fees into your budget and check how much they'll cost before you sign your contract.
If you move within your utility, you'll have uninterrupted service
If you move outside of your utility area, you might have to pay a moving fee. If you move too far away from the community solar project, you need to cancel your contract.
Farms are built on unusable commercial land for maximum environmental impact.
Solar farms are built close to the communities they serve, but far away enough to make use of undesirable land. Often they are built near landfills.
What You Need to Know About Rooftop Solar
Having your own solar panels installed on your property means you are in direct control of your solar output and don't have to deal with a third party metering system. Any excess electricity is sold back to the grid and federal tax breaks apply.
Panels are installed on your property
Solar panels are usually placed in areas that receive maximum sunlight, primarily your roof.
There is no contract and you get a manufacturer warranty + installers guarantee
There are no penalty fees and no contract to cancel - but the panels are wholly your responsibility. The panels should be covered by warranty, protecting you if they are faulty. The installer should give guarantee a successful install and provide insurance in case something goes wrong.
Your solar panels will last 25-30 years
Technically your solar panels could last even longer, but remember that their efficiency will degrade with time.
Net metering is used to add solar credits to your utility bill
The state is required by law to buy any excess electricity from you and credit your utility bill. If you produce excess electricity in the summer, but under produce in the winter, the credits gained in summer balance out your savings during the colder months.
How Much Money Can You Save with Incentives?
Federal Level - 30 % of total costs
The federal government offers ITC tax incentives to owners of solar panels. They will net you a cool 30% of your total solar system costs. If you decide to go with community solar, the holding company get this saving. Only rooftop solar will get you the 30% back.
State Level - Varies
Each state has their own rules and regulations. Some have Performance Based Incentives (PBI) that pay you for the energy you put back into the grid. Find out what applies to t your state using the DSIRE database. Again, these savings mostly apply to rooftop owners, but you can get positive credits against your utility bill using community solar.
Personal Level - 10% with DIY install
Get creative and start a DIY project by installing your solar panels yourself. You can save up to 10% of the total cost of your system
Pros and Cons
Your own solar panels
You own them forever
Once installed they cost nothing to run
Excess power earns you money back from the grid.
You have to have the right space to install them (maximum sun exposure and enough panels to run your household
The panels are visible on the outside of your house and impact aesthetics.
If they break or are ineffective, you bear the full cost
There are no installation costs or maintenance fees
You can buy into a short term contract (perfect for renters)
You pay less per unit of solar energy and yearly costs increase at a slower rate
You are dependent on third-party providers
No 30% federal incentives
Contract start fees and early termination fees
Honest Talk: If you rent, go Community - if you own, go Rooftop.
There's been a study that proves utility-grade solar systems produce units of electricity cheaper than individual solar power systems. But that study didn't consider the costs placed on you, the consumer, when signing up to community solar. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and plenty of people are willing to dive into your savings by charging you contract fees. If you go with community solar, make sure you run some calculations, and find out how much you’ll save over a period of time including fees.
If you own a house or will be renting the same one for 10+ years, you'll save big time with your own rooftop panels. Any excess you produce will be bought back from you by the state grid and in some cases, even give you cash back. On top of that, you get a 30% federal tax break and any tax incentives given out by your state.
If you’re starting a community solar project or want to save with panels on your roof, we’re solar panel pros. We calculate, deliver, install, repair and help you out. Give us a call or a mail, and we'll make sure solar panels earn more than they cost!