In order to engage everyone in building a sustainable future, we propose an inclusive model. We prefer to build smaller solar projects that are closer to and endorsed by the community. We prefer to raise awareness and rally local groups to empower them have clean energy projects in their neighborhood. Shifting away from fossil fuels doesn’t only mean curbing CO2 emissions, it also means switching to a new socio-economic model – and we want to do our part! Neighborhood Sun’s approach entails developing renewables in a more participatory way, which will favor community and citizen engagement. It will empower all of us to participate in the planning of our towns and the resources used. This is why our slogan is “Building community through local solar power”. For the same reason, we have invited all our followers to give us feedback on our economic propositions, on our social and environmental impact, and how we relate to the local communities.
Having a stake in the energy generated means to more effectively influence the way benefits are shared among the various stakeholders. Because there are several projects available in a given utility area, each household would also be able to choose from different options. This is what it will be like with community solar. On the contrary, with a few big central projects, the project developers and managers would sell power to the utility, who will sell it to customers after pocketing their profits. In residential and community solar projects, consumers become producers (as it has been coined, prosumers). Consequently, they represent an important part of the electricity grid, contributing to its reliability and resilience. Moreover, a new grid is also unavoidable because the electricity network is increasingly interdependent with many actors playing different roles, and forward-looking advocates are looking at a “Grid of the Future”.
And what about the economics of solar and wind projects with different capacity installed? An extremely valuable resource in this matter is the report released by the Institute of Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). It shows that, although economies of scale naturally favor large projects, there are several factors that makes each situation way more complicated. Distance from users, added resilience to the grid, and relevant electricity price points happen to weigh more than one may expect. The bottom line here is that while small solar installs (e.g. 5 kW on a house) have no economies of scale, utility-scale solar (bigger than 5 or 10 MW) are not close to users. The latter may also need new infrastructure, increasing economic costs and impacts on the environment. Community solar, instead, has the right size to be close to communities while being cheaper on a per Watt basis* at its development stage.
Distributed solar energy resources are also more effective than huge projects in avoiding intermittency of voltage during different days, hours, and minutes. When the weather presents scattered clouds, and some parts of a community are shaded while other ones are not, some solar array would still be able to generate electricity. Those that are shaded would not be able to do so, or the generation would be really limited. If, instead, clouds impact the centralized solar facility there would be very little solar power generated at all in the same day or hour. This causes stress on the transmission and distribution lines, given the abrupt changes in voltage that the cables carry.
All in all, a more democratic energy system is desirable for several reasons. Among these, it offers a more just solution to climate change, apart from being more economically feasible. Get on board the solar train now, you won’t regret it!
* Solar development costs are often calculated on a $ amount per Watt developed. Utility-scale solar can be developed at a cheaper rate (often below $1.50 per Watt) than residential solar (almost always above $3 per Watt). Community solar development costs would be anywhere in between.