We're excited to share that Bruce Stewart is our new CEO, and we have secured $7.2 million in Series A funding.Learn more

How Community Solar Benefits People, Local Economies & the Planet

Community solar has huge benefits for consumers, cities and towns, and for combatting climate change. This clean energy solution is available to anyone, costs nothing up front, and lowers your utility bills. It also supports local economies, promotes energy independence, and strengthens the power grid.

Share

A graphic showcasing solar panels replacing fossil fuel plants.

If you frequent your local farmers' market, you probably speak to a vendor who drove into town early that morning with their eggs and freshly picked veggies laid out at their kiosk. Maybe their farm is a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), where people in your community buy a “subscription” for a box of fresh produce every week through the growing season.

You walk over with your tote, chat, make the exchange, and feel good about getting some tasty produce grown not far from there.

This good feeling comes from knowing the food you’re getting isn’t being shipped across the country, but from right in your own backyard. You know where it’s coming from, and you know where your money is going—back into your own community. You’re supporting local produce vendors, allowing them to continue operating their farms and contribute fresh food to you and your neighbors. In return, you get the best darn tomatoes you’ve ever had.

Additionally, by purchasing your produce from the farmers’ market or subscribing to your local CSA, you’re actively choosing to not buy it from a big chain grocery store. As an eco-conscious consumer, this is likely a deliberate choice as an effort to support sustainability and planet-friendly farming practices (which many grocery store brands can’t say they do).

Now, consider that farmers’ market CSA subscription model, but for supporting clean energy the same way you support your local farms.

That’s kind of like what community solar is. Community solar is when you and others in your community enroll in a solar energy subscription service. Though you aren't actually receiving solar power directly into your own home, you are helping your state generate more clean solar power for the overall grid and reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. 

What you do receive are credits on your own electricity cost. Homeowners, renters, and businesses subscribe to a local solar project, and all the energy it produces is turned into "solar credits" by the utility company—that get distributed to you, the subscriber, acting as a discount on your electricity costs. Plus, there are so many benefits to community solar in addition to money savings and helping the environment.

And with Perch Energy, it's a lot easier to enroll in than going to the market!

A solar farm in an open field.

What exactly is community solar?

Analogies aside, community solar is essentially “shared solar” where everyone can enjoy its benefits together without the need for any ownership.

Community solar takes advantage of state renewable energy incentives to help homeowners, renters, and businesses save money while also supporting solar power in their communities. It’s really a win, win for all involved.

If you aren’t able to install rooftop solar installations on your own home—due to the upfront cost, roof constraints, or you’re a renter—community solar programs offer a way to participate in the renewable energy revolution and save money.

That’s because there are no rooftop panels involved on your home at all! No installation, no maintenance, and no headaches.

Under a community solar program, local residents all share the output of a single large solar installation (think: thousands of connected solar panels in a big open field). These large systems generate enough energy to power hundreds or even thousands of homes. Though you’re not actually getting direct solar power into your home, you’re helping put that solar power onto the overall grid.

Community solar works like this:

  • A local solar farm is built specifically meant for community solar.
  • It’s connected to the utility grid and generates eco-friendly solar energy for the grid, helping reduce reliance on harmful fossil fuels.
  • An electric meter keeps track of the farm’s energy production which the utility then translates into a monetary value, often referred to as a “solar credit.”
  • You subscribe to the project which means you receive a share of the credits produced—these credits are ultimately what act as a discount on your own electricity cost.
  • Your local government enables the project owners to provide these credits as part of your state’s renewable incentive program.
  • Because the solar farm is connected to the utility company, the credits are efficiently applied right on your existing bill. (Depending on where you live and the specific solar project, you may receive a separate bill for the cost of those credits—but at a discounted rate so you’re still netting out with savings)

Think of it as a reward to you for supporting solar power generation in your community!

To be clear, with a community solar subscription, you don’t own any portion of the farm or its panels yourself. But you receive a share of the credits it generates based on its clean energy production.

Learn more about community solar subscriptions, savings, and billing in our Ultimate Guide to How Community Solar Works.

Benefits of community solar

Benefits of community solar
1. There are no upfront costs to enroll in a community solar program
2. Community solar saves you money on your electricity costs
3. It’s accessible to so many who haven’t been able to benefit from renewable energy
4. It’s an equitable clean energy solution that promotes environmental justice
5. Community solar helps local economies through job creation
6. Community solar produces local energy—with a global impact
7. Community solar promotes energy independence
8. Community solar helps create grid resilience
9. It can indirectly help protect wildlife
10. Replacing fossil fuels with solar power promotes the health of humans and our planet
A group of large solar panels in an open field with blue sky above.

Community solar is growing fast. According to Renewable Energy World, total shared solar capacity in the U.S. roughly doubled every year from 2010 through 2020. Why is community solar so popular? Because it has so many benefits for subscribers, communities, and society as a whole—some obvious, others less so.

1. There are no upfront costs to enroll in a community solar program

Installing home solar is expensive. According to the Center for Sustainable Energy, the average cost nationwide is $3 to $5 per watt. That’s tens of thousands for a typical 5-kilowatt system—more than many homeowners can afford. And while loans are available, they increase the total cost, as well as locking homeowners into years of payments.

With a Perch Community Solar subscription, there are no up-front costs. There’s nothing to buy, nothing to install, and no change in your electrical service. Just sign up and start saving on your electric cost as soon as you get matched to a solar farm.

Moreover, a typical community solar contract involves less than a year’s commitment. If you move away or want to switch power providers, you can. On the other hand, if you move within the same area, you can choose to keep your solar subscription. You definitely can’t do that with a home solar array.

2. Community solar saves you money on your electricity costs

Community solar can bring you immediate savings on your energy costs (once you’re matched to a farm)—up to 10% annually depending on where you live and the specific project you’re subscribed to. Considering community solar requires no upfront costs of installing panels on your roof, or any ongoing maintenance costs, that’s a nice chunk of savings for virtually no extra effort.

The amount you save each month is also proportional to the energy you use, so if you use more power than in this example, you would likely save more. Many states are increasingly offering incentives—especially for low-income earners—to participate in community solar.

At a time when nearly 3 out of 10 Americans have trouble paying their electricity bills, community solar savings can be a lifeline.

A row of apartments in Manhattan.

3. It’s accessible to so many who haven’t been able to benefit from renewable energy

Many people can’t take advantage of rooftop solar. These include:

  • Apartment dwellers who don’t have roofs
  • Renters who don’t own their roofs
  • Homeowners whose roofs are too small or too shaded to produce enough power
  • Anyone who can’t afford the up-front costs

Community solar, by contrast, is available to anyone (pending solar farm availability in your area and eligibility). Homeowners, renters, business owners, and even institutions like hospitals and schools can sign up for solar shares. Pretty much anyone who has an electricity bill can save on their costs through community solar.

This benefit is especially important for low-income and disadvantaged communities. In these communities, most folks rent their homes. Even those who own don’t usually have enough disposable income to pay the full costs of a solar array up front.

In the past, the only way for these people to get solar power was through long-term contracts for purchase or lease. Worse, the energy industry often took advantage of them with predatory loans. They’d lure borrowers into long-term contracts with low introductory rates, only to jack up the price each year.

For these customers, community solar is a much better deal. It allows them to save money and be a part of the renewable energy future with no up-front cost.

4. It’s an equitable clean energy solution that promotes environmental justice

Of all the ways people can get their energy, community solar is the most accessible solution for everyone, especially low-income earners and renters. In 2019, 36% of the nation’s 122.8 million households rented their homes. When you look deeper into the demographics, about 58% of Black households rent their homes, as do nearly 52% of Latino households. Unless a landlord is willing to install solar panels on a tenant’s house, benefiting from long-term savings residential solar offers is out of reach. On top of this, some energy companies engage in predatory practices, like charging customers more than they should actually pay.

This belies an equity gap in access to inexpensive clean energy that disproportionately affects Black and Latino households. However, community solar is accessible to everyone.

Additionally, in many cities across the country, discriminatory zoning laws have allowed for the development of highways, waste facilities, energy plants and other environmentally hazardous industries in low-income and minority neighborhoods. The burden of health issues associated with these industries are then disproportionately placed on BIPOC communities (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). Moving away from fossil fuels, an energy source that actively pollutes communities—and toward a cleaner and renewable energy source—is critical to achieving environmental justice.

As we move to address environmental injustice, we can be confident in knowing that a solar farm won’t belch smoke or leak toxic substances to nearby residents. Instead, some solar farms are almost like parks where people can go on educational visits, or actual agriculture farms with shade-loving crops growing beneath the panels (a neat concept called "agrivoltaics"). In fact, with every new solar panel, we’ll see less of a need for the antiquated fossil fuels that pollute our cities and towns.

A worker working on a ground-level solar panel installation.

5. Community solar helps local economies through job creation

As more people enroll in community solar, we see a range of economic benefits. Notably, community solar can lead to an increase in high-quality local jobs, as workers are needed to plan, source, build, and maintain solar farms.

So the more residents that want to subscribe to community solar programs, the more solar farms that might get built to meet demand. A single state can have hundreds of different community solar projects, and as more states are adopting pro-community solar policies—paving the way for massive development growth—the sky is the limit for job creation.

Let’s dig a bit more into the numbers.

Currently, solar energy makes up about 4% of the United States’ energy portfolio. The solar industry as a whole is aiming to bump that up to 30% by 2030, which seems like a lot to do in eight years. But when you consider the massive investments from the government and private investment, that goal is well within reach.

With over 230,000 jobs in the solar industry already (eclipsing jobs in the coal industry by more than double), we can expect greater growth of jobs as America aggressively transitions to renewable energy. Renewables are making up the majority of new electrical capacity to our grid every year, so the outlook for the industry and its workers is looking pretty bright.

And because solar farms are in the community they’re serving, the jobs they create feed back into the local economy.

As noted in pv magazine: “Local solar development specifically creates five more jobs on a per-megawatt basis compared to utility-scale electricity generation, according to the Local Solar Roadmap Report produced by the Coalition for Community Solar Access, Vote Solar, Vibrant Clean Energy, and Local Solar for All.”

This is mostly thanks to more construction and operations jobs—both of which are needed to develop new community solar farms. The report estimates that an additional 1.4 million jobs could be created by 2050 from the growth of local solar and storage.

An open field with large solar panel arrays, making up a solar farm.

6. Community solar produces local energy—with a global impact

If you’re interested in community solar and clean energy, then you’re probably aware of how fossil fuels are directly contributing to climate change. Though if you’ve been living under a rock and are simply a photovoltaic enthusiast (strange things to go together, but no judgment), here’s the idea.

We’ve been burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas to power our society since the 19th century and doing it in such great quantities that the carbon dioxide released from their combustion is heating our planet at an unsustainable rate. This warming is causing a whole range of issues from rising sea levels, flooding, more frequent and more intense extreme weather like hurricanes, forest fires, among other calamities.

There is good news though! We have the technology now to get our energy from wind and the sun (and other cool sources like ocean tides), allowing us to make the switch to a carbon-free power grid.

There are compounding benefits to the environment when we take the steps to get to 100% renewable energy.

Let’s start locally.

When more people use community solar in a given area, it reduces the demand for fossil fuel-generated power from the power plants, reducing local greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

Moving further out, this also means less fuel needs to be transported from often hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. Even if we are not directly importing those fuels ourselves, fluctuations in global oil production and supply affect our prices at home.

A lot of fossil fuels, like crude oil, come from outside the U.S. In fact, over half of all crude oil destined for the U.S. comes from Canada. This requires a huge investment in pipelines which are often known to leak, amongst other dangers. When we increase our renewable energy capacity, it makes us less reliant on fossil fuels we get from abroad—meaning there is less of a need to extract fuel from pristine places, like the boreal forests of Alberta where most of that crude oil comes from.

With less demand for extraction, the natural places we all hold dear will face less disruption. At this scope, we can see a global impact from the growth of local community solar.

7. Community solar promotes energy independence

The U.S. no longer depends directly on foreign oil. We produce enough oil at home to meet all our needs. However, this doesn’t protect us from spikes in oil prices. Oil is a global market, so lower oil production anywhere in the world means higher prices for Americans.

The only way to avoid this problem is to reduce our dependence on oil entirely. Community solar is produced in America for our local power grids. It makes individual communities and the nation as a whole less vulnerable to price spikes. And it increases our national energy security, as hostile countries can’t threaten us by threatening our oil supply.

Utility transmission lines.

8. Community solar helps create grid resilience

Community solar helps make the electric grid more resilient—better at avoiding prolonged power outages. That’s because it helps spread out electricity generation. Instead of having a single power plant supply a large area, it puts many smaller solar farms in the areas where they’re needed most.

Spreading out electricity generation reduces the costs of energy transmission and helps keep the power grid stable.

Consider, for example, when a natural disaster hits. The loss of power to the area can be devastating: if a hospital loses power and can’t get fuel for their backup generator, it could be fatal to those needing care. We saw some of this happen in Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria, and in Texas with the winter storms. When energy generation is localized, it makes a community much more resilient in emergencies, which is why some Puerto Rican residents have invested in localized solar energy after the traditional fuels failed.

9. It can indirectly help protect wildlife

Animals and plants, as well as humans, suffer the effects of fossil fuel use. Coal mining and oil and gas drilling destroy wildlife habitat. Air and water pollution from fossil fuel burning harm both land and sea life. Switching from fossil fuels to clean energy solutions like community solar helps all the creatures in a region, including humans.

A girl in the woods holding a large leaf from a tree out in front of her.

10. Replacing fossil fuels with solar power promotes the health of humans and our planet

Speaking of humans, burning fossil fuels doesn’t just release greenhouse gases into the air we breathe. It also produces a host of other pollutants, sulfur dioxide nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, mercury, and particulates. These contribute to human health problems such as asthma, cancer, and heart disease.

According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, fossil fuel use was responsible for 350,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2018. By reducing fossil fuel use, community solar can literally save lives. More solar power means cleaner air and better health for everyone in the community.

Furthermore, fossil fuel use is causing devastating changes in our planet’s climate. Already, we’re seeing increasingly intense summer heat, storms, wildfires, drought, and famine. Sea levels are at record highs. The ocean is growing more acidic, harming coral reefs and other marine life.

All these problems will grow still worse if we continue to rely heavily on fossil fuels. To end fossil fuel use, we need to switch to renewable energy sources as fast as possible. Solar power is one of the best options because it’s a mature technology and it’s cost-effective. By extending the benefits of solar energy to more people, community solar can make a big difference for the climate.

A giant outdoor solar panel array.

How to get in on community solar

Enrolling in Perch Community Solar is incredibly easy. All you have to do is check your zip code on our website to see if there’s a solar farm in your area. If so, continue with your application and provide some upfront info about your historical energy usage.

You don’t have to install anything, and your utility company or electric provider doesn’t ever change. Community solar isn't only available to residents either—but also business owners, schools, hospitals, institutions, non-profits, industrial and commercial owners, plus municiapalities and civic buildings.

Once you’re matched to a local solar farm (pending eligibility and availability), you’ll start seeing the solar energy credits on your next utility bill—saving you money. If there’s no solar farm nearby, don’t fret. Perch will put you on a waitlist so you can be notified as soon as there’s a spot available.

With so much to gain and so little to lose, why wait? Check out Perch Energy and get started saving money—and saving the planet—with community solar!


Share

More Blogs

Get matched to a local solar farm and save on your electricity costs.