Solar Gardens: Power to the People

With solar gardens, or community-owned solar power, neighbors team up to buy panels and share the benefits of renewable energy through virtual net metering.

Solar Garden

Community-owned solar has the potential to make solar energy accessible to large numbers of people.

JEDA VILLA BALI

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Sure, solar power is clean and renewable—but in most cases it’s also expensive and impractical. In fact, when roof angle, direction, and shade are taken into account, only 20 percent of American households capture enough rays to make solar useful—and potential payoff won’t help with a down payment on panels.

Enter solar gardens, a way for neighbors to pool resources and buy into solar energy together. With community-owned solar, explains Sustainablog (July 2, 2012), individual households can buy or lease a percentage of a neighborhood solar array.

The arrays, or “gardens,” can be installed on flat land or a rooftop in the community. From there, electricity is sent to the power grid and metered virtually. Each household’s electric bill is credited in proportion to their share of the garden and how much energy it produced. Virtual net metering, the technology that makes all of this possible, is not available everywhere, but programs are expanding state by state.

So far, Colorado is leading the charge for community-owned solar power, with 12 existing solar gardens and another seven in the works. Moreover, the state has established exchange programs with power companies that can be modeled elsewhere. Check out the Solar Garden Institute to find or create a community-owned array for renewable power near you.