Community Solar Billing
Laura Del Vecchio
bilanol @ stock.adobe.com
With the increased general concern over the impact energy consumption produces on the environment, many households are starting to look for renewable energy sources to power their homes. The abundant availability of solar energy enhances the promise of deploying renewable energy for electricity generation, which adds more positive viewpoints for investing in solar energy. In fact, the global solar panel market is projected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 6.1% until 2027, which in 2019 was already valued at USD 66.84 billion, according to Grand View Research.
Global warming is a fact, and it is being accelerated by the exploitation of natural resources and the constant harrying of industrial practices to local flora and fauna. And energy industries are responsible for many of the adverse effects occurring on the planet. Numerous policies are being promoted to add extra pressure on industries, governments, companies, and businesses to genuinely go green, but other changes are needed too.
Recent developments are being tested and deployed in multiple places, especially in the United States. These developments aim to help consumers understand the impact of their choices and possibly lead to an overall behavior change. One of these developments is the community solar billing program, which has grown in popularity and importance over the past years.
Community Solar Billing
Community solar billing is a business model that serves communities' interests by creating a shared value of solar energy generated on-site. This economic framework generates proportional monetary credits to each community member based on the solar power generated and consumed within the community.
Households or businesses close to solar farms, an area dedicated to harnessing the energy from solar panels, can sign up for the model, enabling them to participate in two distinctive frameworks; subscription or ownership. By subscribing, members pay a monthly fee, profiting from the energy the solar power plant generates. When buying a portion of solar panels located at the solar energy plant, members can benefit directly from the energy produced.
The electricity generated flows through an on-site meter to the utility power grid. The utility company measures the electricity generated, calculates credits, and sends it to the program members through a Mobile Crowdsensing Platform. Applied as a monetary credit to the electric bills, the credits lower the electricity costs proportionately to each member's contribution, resulting in long-term economic savings and considerably less environmental impacts.
Solar farms are private businesses, where solar power is generated and sold to energy suppliers. The produced energy is then distributed to households included in the community solar billing program, allowing multiple users to have access to renewable energy at lower costs rather than owning solar panels which are expensive and require users to actually own a house (renters are not allowed to install solar panels without the landlord approving installation).
In addition, the energy generated by solar farms is expected to produce more than 3.4 GW of power in the following five years. This is enough to supply energy for nearly 650,00 homes according to Ampion, which is a leading Public Benefit Corporation aiming to provide sustainable operating practices to distribute renewable energy throughout the US. Actually, in the US, there are currently 40 states that have at least one active solar farm contributing to community solar billing programs.
Most of the solar panel installations worldwide are rooftop attachments. In the year 2018, 43 percent of all solar panels were installed on residential and commercial buildings, allowing many urban infrastructures to make use of solar energy capacities. Even though these rooftop solar panels were shared among residents living in those buildings, their power expenditure often went wasted or poorly distributed.
This adds increased anxiety of whether these 'sustainable sanctuaries' are engaging in symbolic sustainability initiatives than actually contributing to overall sustainable practices. The term conspicuous sustainability is commonly employed to differentiate sustainable initiatives that are merely illustrative from those producing real environmental benefits. According to this classification, Community Solar Billing could undermine sustainable development more generally while creating value only for targetted communities with economic resources to invest in renting or purchasing solar panels in solar farms. This may lead to a distraction of the pressuring demands of governments and institutions' social and environmental responsibility and support a critical marketization of the environment itself.
However, to avoid a capitalization of sustainable practices, a solution would be to count on the backup of regulations and policies to invest in community solar billing. The support could take place through solar incentives, where each subscriber, for example, would receive credits or rebates for the generated power surplus. Currently, this type of solar incentive is only available for those users who purchase and own solar power systems, but by adding subscribers to this model, it is likely that the number of participants would increase.
In addition, even though solar power plants occupy vast spaces of land, which could result in environmental degradation and habitat loss, they still offer a feasible energy transition option. To pair with global climate agreements, governments may adopt measures and policies to consolidate the utility bills of such communities. This approach could reasonably reduce market barriers, which might have impeded the development of national energy shifts.