It's great to see the idea of community solar gardens getting this kind of exposure in the New York Times. While the article mentions the excellent work of Clean Energy Collective, I think it's also important to give a shout out to some of the many other companies that are doing great work in the shared solar space: SunShare, Ecoplexus, Community Energy, CleanPath, ACORN Renewable Energy Co-Op, Minnesota Community Solar, Community Energy Solutions, and the many municipal and cooperative utilities that have done this on their own in Ellensburg, WA, Sacramento, CA, United Power and Delta-Montrose Electric Association in Colorado, and Florida Keys Electric Cooperative.
The article States the cost of a panel in a solar garden can be from $500-$1400. This is a pretty broad range! Community solar billing software and ownership models in the United States are often private intellectual property,which has the potential to increase costs. It's important when planning a community solar array with a for-profit developer to obtain disclosure of the developer's profit margin -- it can be considerable.
I will be presenting a paper at the Solar 2014 Conference on July 8, 2014 titled "Open Standards for Shared Renewables". I will offer a model for the use of open standards and open source, which I hope can lower the barriers to entry for developers and community groups wishing to develop shared renewable systems, and lower the cost per panel for the subscriber.
Like many consumers, David Polstein had already done much to reduce energy use in his large Victorian home in Newton, Mass. He replaced his appliances with energy-efficient models, installed better heating and put in new insulation. But he was unable to get a solar system to reduce his utility bill, he said, because his roof is too small and shady to make it worthwhile.
Now, that could be changing. Mr. Polstein is considering joining a so-called community solar garden that is under development in his part of the state, one of many similar new arrangements now available in Massachusetts. Through the approach — largely pioneered in Colorado and spreading across the country — customers buy into a solar array constructed elsewhere and receive credit on their electricity bills for the power their panels produce.
For developers, such shared or community solar arrays create a new market from the estimated 85 percent of residential customers who can neither own nor lease systems because their roofs are physically unsuitable for solar or because they do not control them — like renters and people living in large apartment buildings. And for those customers, it offers a way into the solar boom, whether they seek to contribute to the spread of clean energy or to reap the potential cost savings.