Posts Tagged ‘community solar’

By definition, most of us are in the 99%. Some of us may even be in that mythical 47%. But there’s another group that many of us are in, without even being aware of it: the 75%. That’s the estimated number of people who can’t get solar on their roof.

While leases are helping far more people go solar than before, 75% of us are still left out of the equation. We may have shaded roofs, rent our homes, or live in multi-unit buildings. And these are just a few of the reasons preventing so many of us from going solar.

But don’t despair! There’s hope for the 75%, and plenty of it. The boom happening right now in community solar is making it possible for almost anyone to benefit from solar power. At a recent Community Solar Forum put on by Solar Sonoma County, the 75% became a theme as we learned about some of the options:

  • Community Choice Energy: Programs like Sonoma Clean Power and CleanPowerSF are enabling utility customers in some areas to buy their power from renewable sources.

    Joy Hughes explains solar gardens to an audience of 60 attendees at the Community Solar Forum

  • Solar Gardens: Some states have laws that allow virtual net metering, which lets utility customers subscribe to solar power from an installation not on their own roof.
  • CLEAN programs, or feed-in tariffs: By promoting these programs, the Clean Coalition is working toward the goal for 2020 of 80% of all new electricity generation in the United States coming from renewable energy sources.
  • Co-ops: Energy co-ops like the San Francisco Energy Cooperative allow anyone to participate in solar for as little as $50. They hope to be a model for other co-ops around the country.

The speakers at the forum all had slightly different perspectives, and they were focused on different ways to bring solar to communities. But they all shared the goal of helping as many people as possible to participate in renewable energy — that is, reaching the 75%.

All of these ways to bring solar to the 75% are important and highly effective — and even affordable. Models like community choice energy, solar gardens, and CLEAN programs generally result in savings, especially over time. They bring a slew of other benefits, like cleaner air, local jobs, increased national security. So it’s crucial to support these efforts. Still, while a lot is happening already, some of these programs can take years to implement, and they aren’t yet available everywhere.

In the meantime, how do we get the word out to the 75% that there are options for them — for us — now?

For most people, that will mean an appeal to their pocketbook. Those with an active interest in supporting solar for altruistic reasons are a minority. But most people like the idea of saving money or getting a good return on an investment. If they can do good at the same time, that’s a nice benefit.

And now there are more ways to invest in solar and do well while doing good. Energy co-ops can already provide a return on small investments, and the JOBS Act should allow for larger investments in the near future. Other organizations are moving from crowdfunding models where people can recoup their investment to providing a return on that investment. For example, Mosaic allows people to invest in solar projects and get paid back from the clean energy produced. There’s more coming, so stay tuned! Before long, we’ll have solar for the 75%.

What you can do now:

This post was originally published at Mosaic on 11/12/12.

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Can you spot all the roofs with solar in this photo? I hope ours will join them soon!

Have you ever thought about going solar? Maybe you rent, live in a condo, can’t afford solar, have a shaded roof, or plan to move soon.

Some states are now making it possible to go solar even in these situations. In those states, people can subscribe to solar power from a common array called a solar garden, supplying their homes through the existing power grid. Next year, a bill will be before the legislature in California to make this possible here. Please urge your representative to vote for SB 843, which would enable solar gardens to happen in California.

And for now, take advantage of this opportunity to learn about solar gardens:

When: Sunday, November 20, 2011, 4:30 pm
Where: Farley’s Cafe, 1315 – 18th Street, in  Potrero Hill, San Francisco
What: Community Solar Day is a worldwide Meetup sponsored by, among others, Solar Mosaic, Vote Solar, Community Power Network, the Solar Panel Hosting Company, and the Solar Gardens Institute to kick-start solar projects in people’s communities.

If you can, bring a photo of yourself with friends and family at a site where you’d like to see solar power.

Together, we can help get solar to everyone in our communities!

Please RSVP at my Community Solar Day Meetup site for San Francisco.

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I'm in this group photo, but you'd need pretty good eyes to see me!

Any regular visitor to this blog has read more than once about the GRID Alternatives Solarthon. After participating in this “solar barn-raising” last year, I was hooked. And that’s not surprising, since the event combines two of my favorite things: solar power and community. It’s a celebration of the work GRID does all year, and it provides an inspiring example of what people can achieve together.

Some of us on the roof at the Women's Build.

There’s no dearth of good causes to contribute time and resources to, and many of us give to other organizations and do other kinds of volunteer work. But I’ve found volunteering for GRID the most satisfying. Yes, it’s partly that all the staff and volunteers are just so nice, and it’s partly that it’s very different from the work I do during the week. But mostly, it’s the bang you get for your buck. How many other single actions can you take that make a difference in such a host of areas as the environment, public health, jobs, the economy, foreign policy, national security … you get the idea? To top it all off, by volunteering with GRID you’re also helping spread renewable energy in the communities that are generally most affected by environmental problems.

Three of us lifted the heavy inverter into place and then went to work connecting it.

So I was glad to take part in this year’s Solarthon last weekend. And I must take a moment here to thank my family members and friends who helped me become the top fundraiser for the Solarthon for the second year in a row, for which I was featured in this GRID video. With your help, I raised over $4,300! This helps GRID continue their important work all year.

The direct benefits of this particular Solarthon can be measured:

  • We installed 13 PV energy systems.
  • These represent 31 kW of clean, renewable energy.
  • The systems will produce 1.7 million kW over their lifetime.
  • The families will save $290,000 over the system lifetimes.
  • And the systems will prevent 977 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

This is just one day’s work. GRID is growing exponentially and has already installed over 1,200 solar systems, preventing 96,300 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. But there’s a lot more to it than these impressive statistics. At the Solarthon, you experience being part of a community of solar enthusiasts, as well as the community where you’re installing the panels. While doing something very concrete in one neighborhood, you also get to feel that you’re part of something larger.

The happy homeowner turning on her new system.

Which you are. GRID is not alone in spreading solar through communities. We had a visit at the house I was working on from Joy Hughes of the Solar Gardens Institute, who wrote about the event in her blog. As a proponent of community solar, she was enthusiastic about GRID’s work, which brings local power to communities in need. She’s part of a growing community solar movement, as is GRID — just from a slightly different angle. And this movement could significantly change how we generate, distribute, and use power. The hope is that it will not only help us get off fossil fuels but also directly benefit not the large power companies but the people who need the power — which is all of us.

And that’s really the reason to volunteer for GRID and other renewable-energy organizations: we all benefit. We’re not talking in a fringe benefit kind of way; this is a serious, urgent issue. If we don’t take care of the environment, all those other causes people volunteer for will cease to exist. And ultimately, that’s really the reason I choose to devote my volunteer time and energy to an organization like GRID Alternatives.

The whole group at the end of the day.

The roof we worked on with all 10 panels in place.

With Erica Mackie, co-founder of GRID.

For more Solarthon photos, see my Facebook album and this album from GRID Alternatives.

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