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Solar Gardens

Less than 15% of the U.S. population would ever be physically able to own solar panels. Collective purchasing agreements may let more people enter the market and speed up solar technology adoption.

Photo of Mark Peter
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Even as the cost of distributed energy solutions like solar panels are dropping, many communities and individuals are not able to participate and help speed up the transition to renewable emery adoption.  Why?

It has been estimated that "85 percent of residential customers 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"

This is where solar gardens come in. People come together and buy shares in this energy collective, both opening up access to those who physically are left out of the market and even increasing efficiencies for  those who could without necessarily waiting for the largest energy providers to discontinue traditional power plants. 

There are a lot of variations to this concept, but The Clean Energy Collective in Colorado demonstrated a significant advantage in this strategy.


http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/06/20/business/energy-environment/buying-into-solar-power-no-roof-access-needed.html?referrer=

http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/files/communitysolarpower2.pdf

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Really great insight for the community-centered nature of our challenge topic Mark!

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Photo of Mark Peter

Thanks. This model can potentially be good not just for commune styled communities where they all have some strong, ethical bond and live with one another. This can also be used for people who do not necessarily live apart but nonetheless share a networked community, like what we see online.

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Photo of Joanna Spoth

Love that you tie community-specific insights into your response here, Mark. If you have connections to any implementing communities, it would be awesome to hear pros/cons from them.

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Photo of Mark Peter

Thanks, Joanna. I'm reaching out to some people to see what I can get. Will keep you posted!

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Photo of Joanna Spoth

Amazing!! I'd love to learn more - an interview would be especially awesome. Check out our interview toolkit http://ideo.pn/rr_ask if you haven't already.

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Photo of Shanti K

Mark, thanks for this post! I've been thinking about this concept a lot (of unhinging solar from roofs - allowing people to own solar panels that are hosted in another location) and started to research examples. One potentially relevant state level policy is "Net Metering"/"Virtual Net Metering"/and "Neighborhood Net Metering". Net metering is nothing new, it allows customers of a utility to generate their own electricity to offset their own electricity usage. But net metering is regulated differently in each state and in some states like MA, "host customers" can decide to allocate their solar benefits to other people within the same utility service area. So if I have 10kW installation on my roof but only really need 3KW worth of installed capacity for my family, I can decide to allocate the extra energy generated via the utility to anyone within the network. This makes it a lot easier for benefits to be shared and potentially opens the path for some interesting business ideas for people owning panels that are hosted on other people or institutions' roofs. I think the biggest challenge is that right now each community or business has to do a lot of work to find others interested in investing & figure out the legal issues around ownership/leasing etc. Its one by one. I think there is a need for an efficient way for people looking for roof (or land) space can find hosts who are renting roof/land space - to use an overused analogy it would be a little like an airbnb for solar hosts - but with long term agreements and with the 'guest' owning the solar panel . If a platform like that existed, then an idea like solar gardens could potentially spread more efficiently. People within a neighborhood (defined widely as the utility network rather than people who know each other) can invest in 'planting' solar gardens around their city.