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Rooftop vs. Community Solar: Everything You Need to Know

 

Have you been considering transitioning from fossil fuels to solar power? If you want to lower your utility bills, improve your carbon footprint, and move away from the grid, then this is a smart move.

However, in your quest to determine the ideal setup, you might be confused about the exact path to take. Should you install rooftop photovoltaic (PV) panels or should you enter into a community solar program?

Today, we're sharing how each one works and how to determine the right one for you.

What Is a Rooftop Solar Setup?

As its name implies, a rooftop solar system involves installing physical PV panels on the roof of your property. At this location, it's easiest for the panels to absorb light from the sun.

As these photons interact with the electrons inside the panels, they're converted into electrical power via a built-in inverter. Once the energy passes through the inverter, your home can use it to activate your lights and power all of your devices.

Most homeowners and business owners who decide to install solar power choose to go the rooftop route. They'll hire a professional solar installer, like Blue Raven Solar, to size and scale the system appropriately, and they can begin reaping the benefits of alternative energy as soon as possible.

Yet, what happens if an installer determines that your property isn't a great fit for solar? Certain homes and businesses aren't optimally designed to support the PV panels. Others aren't located in an area that receives an adequate amount of sunlight during the day.

In this case, a community solar program can prove more attractive.

What Is a Community Solar Program?

A community solar program centers on a set of PV panels that are located off-site. These panels collectively comprise what's known as a solar farm.

This collection of panels produces a significant amount of energy. In fact, it's enough to power multiple homes and properties at once! If you want to cash in on the solar movement but aren't equipped to do so at home, it can be a valuable alternative.

Weighing Your Options: Factors to Consider

For some people, the answer is straightforward. Their properties aren't designed to support rooftop panels, so they reach out to local solar farms. For others, the path forward is a little less clear.

Some people have everything they need for a home solar system, but choose to go the community route anyway. Then, there are some who invest in expensive workarounds to make their property accommodate solar despite initial setbacks.

Let's take a look at a few of the most important factors to keep in mind as you make this decision.

Accessibility

It's critical to understand the basic requirements that you must meet in each category. These can make solar power either accessible or inaccessible to you.

To add rooftop panels, you'll need to meet the following criteria:

  • Own your home
  • Have a solid credit score
  • Have the right roof type
  • Plan to stay in your home for at least five years

In terms of roof type, the ideal roof for PV panels is one that isn't shaded and faces south. However, most roofs are pitched and located in a way that makes a rooftop system possible. If you move, you can't take your solar panels with you and you'll need to start all over again with a new installation at your new home.

With community solar, here are the accessibility guidelines to understand:

  • Don't need to own your home
  • Don't need to have a solid credit score
  • Don't need a roof
  • Don't need to stay in your home for a set amount of time

As you can see, community solar is often more accessible than rooftop panels. With the requirement to own your home removed, this frees up renters to take advantage of the program. Even if you move, you could still remain part of the same program as long as you don't travel too far outside of your local area.

In addition, the flexible credit guidelines enable low-income and mid-income residents to apply. If your credit score is less than stellar, this might be a more viable method to consider.

Payment Methods

Speaking of payment, how do you pay for rooftop solar and how does that compare to community plans? With rooftop models, you can either rent your panels or purchase them outright.

If you own your system, then you also own all of the components required to control it, including all wiring and the necessary inverter. Most panels are designed to last at least 25 years, so owning is a smart move if you plan to stay at your property long-term.

If you're unable to pay the full amount for your system upfront, you can also look into solar loans. Many lenders will provide these loans to help you finance your purchase. You'll pay these loans back over time via monthly installments.

If you decide to lease your rooftop system, then a third party will own all of the equipment. For your part, you'll just purchase the power that the panels generate each month. In that way, paying for a leased rooftop system is similar in many regards to paying into a community solar plan.

With community solar, you'll usually enter into a subscription-based setup. Each month, you'll pay for a portion of the solar energy that the panels on the solar farm generate. One of the aspects of community solar that makes it so attractive is that the prices are usually less than what you'd pay through your local utility company.

Note that some community solar providers will allow homeowners or business owners to purchase a portion of their panels outright. If you go this route, then you'll pay for your share either outright or via a solar loan.

Environmental Benefits

Is one of these options better for the environment than the other? Not exactly. With both community and rooftop solar, you're making great strides toward protecting our Earth, improving the air quality, and reducing the number of greenhouse gas emissions in the air.

With rooftop solar, those benefits are isolated to your property. While that's an excellent move, imagine the impact if multiple homes made the switch. This is what you get with community solar.

However, this isn't to say that community solar is always the way to go. For one, there might not be a solar farm in your vicinity. Even if there is, make sure to do your research on it.

Remember that rooftop panels take advantage of empty, unused space on your rooftop. They don't require you to add any more acreage to your property. If a solar farm is set up on land that's otherwise unusable, then the concept is similar.

Otherwise, the land could have a better and more eco-friendly use.

For instance, could it be a wildlife conservation area or a local park? Areas such as former landfills can't be used for anything else, so they make excellent spots for solar farms. Check the history of the farm and understand what the land was used for before the power plant was established.

Financial Gains

What can you expect to gain from installing solar panels on your rooftop? How do those benefits differ from community solar panels?

With community solar, it's easy to see the money that's put back in your pocket. You'll usually save around 10% by going this route versus paying your local utility company for electricity.

With rooftop solar, you'll be able to use your panels to offset your reliability on the traditional electric grid. This can snowball into major savings over time, especially if you buy your system initially and aren't paying for it over the years.

In addition, it's important to think about the federal incentives put in place to encourage property owners to go solar. One of those is the Federal Tax Credit for Solar Photovoltaics. In addition, your state government might provide its own set of rebates, and you could even enjoy discounts from your local utility company.

You could even sell a portion of your unused solar energy back to your utility company through a process known as net metering.

Rooftop vs. Community Solar: Which One Should You Choose?

In the debate between rooftop and community solar, there is no clear-cut winner. Rather, the right decision depends on where you live, whether you rent or own your home, the pitch of your roof, and the type of payment schedule you prefer.

Regardless of which type you choose, this is a strong step in the right direction. The more we can lower our dependency on fossil fuels, the cleaner and safer our air will be. Both rooftop and community solar systems benefit the environment and residents alike.

Looking for more lifestyle news? Check out our other informative guides!


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