On-Site Solar vs. Community Solar - What Should You Do?

Are you interested in going solar, but aren’t sure where to start? You’re not alone! Solar energy can be complicated, but there are lots of benefits. In today’s article, we’re going to talk about on-site (or rooftop) solar and community solar. In the next article, we’ll talk about how solar energy opportunities and incentives differ by state.

Solar energy is electricity or thermal energy produced by the sun. This is one of the most common forms of renewable energy since the sun will always shine (according to NOAA, 173,000 terawatts of solar energy hits the Earth at any given time, more than 10,000 times the amount of energy used in the world). A common form of solar energy production is through photovoltaic (PV) panels that convert the sun’s rays into electricity through the technology within the panels; that’s what we’re talking about today.

On-site solar and community solar are two ways customers can use solar-produced electricity to power a home, school, or office space. Both on-site arrays and community solar installations use PV panels, but the systems differ in size and in the direct benefits a customer will see (check out a previous Fusebox blog post to learn more about the ins and outs of solar installations).

Having PV panels on a roof or somewhere else on a property allows a customer to produce electricity on-site and use that electricity directly in the building. This decreases the amount of power used from the public electric grid. Since power from the grid generally comes from fossil fuel sources, by producing electricity on site from a renewable source like the sun, a customer can guarantee they are using clean energy to power their building. One key thing to keep in mind with on-site arrays is their size. It’s generally recommended to make energy efficiency improvements to your building before installing a solar array so that the array produces only the amount of energy needed for the building. Sometimes your utility will credit you for excess power you put back on the grid (or you can store it in batteries if they are available), but to be most cost effective and environmentally-friendly, right-sizing the solar panel array is the best option.

Sometimes, electric customers may not have the option to install solar panels on-site, as is frequently the case for those in multi-family buildings. Community solar is another way customers who are interested in protecting the environment can still support clean energy. Customers typically buy into or subscribe to a community solar installation and receive the credits from their portion of the project’s solar energy production on their electric bill. Consumers are still using electricity out of the electric grid though, so while they are paying to support solar energy, there’s no guarantee that the power actually used is coming from solar. However, by participating in community solar, customers are helping put cleaner, renewable energy into the electric grid.

Make sure to read the next article about how solar opportunities differ around the country!

Check out Laurel’s other blog posts!