One of the great frustrations for many homeowners is that even if they want to get solar panels on their roofs, they can’t.

NSL Infographic 1

Image source: Next Step Living Inc.

There could be plenty of reasons why this is the case. Maybe their home isn’t positioned correctly. Or their roof is heavily shaded. Perhaps the age and condition of the roof doesn’t allow it, or they hate the way they look, or because they’re renting. In fact, there are estimates that anywhere from 20 percent to as little as three percent of homeowners interested in solar can actually get it.

NSL Infographic 2

Image source: Next Step Living Inc.

While that’s disappointing for many, there is a solution: community solar.

In its simplest form, community solar allows individual homeowners to buy a piece of an off-site solar array, and then benefit from the cheap electricity the array produces. They can then use that electricity to offset their own energy bills. The amount of electricity that’s offset is purely a product of the size of their initial payment. So you can buy as much as you want and need and over time, and you can even buy more if it’s working for you.

NSL Infographic 3

Image source: Next Step Living Inc.

Of course, making this happen requires some fancy metering and bill adjustments. The first step is what’s called net metering, whereby any power you produce (from your roof or from community solar) can be sold back to the grid. Also, community solar allows the homeowner to participate in all the appropriate rebates and tax credit programs; without them, solar becomes less affordable. A clear downside of community solar is that the return-on-investment is generally less than if you owned your own panels outright and they were sitting on your roof. When you own your own panels, you’ll generally get a higher rate for the electricity you sell back to the grid, while having lower costs in administration. But as noted above, frequently folks can’t get panels onto their roofs.

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Image source: Next Step Living Inc.

But it’s the advantages of community solar that should be kept in mind. By producing solar energy away from homes, the result is larger solar arrays, better positioned, using industrial-strength panels that can be maintained by one company. Also, some nice perks include being able to take your piece of the solar array with you as you move, and adding more solar as needed. (I’m not sure if you have any opportunity to reduce your solar commitment or even to sell it to someone else. It’s worth asking about.)

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For many, community solar makes it possible to participate in the solar revolution in a way that they never could in the past. That’s why community solar may be the biggest innovation in solar energy since the sun. (Probably not, but at least since net metering.)

If you’re interested in community solar, start off by going to your own Town or City Hall and see what’s available. Try your utility company for more information and then (if you’re local to the Boston area) check out our friends at Next Step Living, the authors of the fantastic infographics above and below.

NSL Infographic 5

Image source: Next Step Living Inc.