Demystifying Community Solar: How Does It Work and Why Should You Get Involved?

The more people like you subscribe to community solar, the more local solar farms get built. These farms reduce pollution, lower energy bills and help your area become more resilient.

The Biden administration is working to expand access to community solar so that “more renters and homeowners, including low-income communities, can save money on their electricity bill.”

What is Community Solar?

Community solar is a new way to enjoy the benefits of clean energy without installing panels on your roof. Local solar farms pump clean electricity into the utility grid, and you can subscribe to a specific project and receive credits on your electric bill for a portion of the energy it produces each month (the exact amount is based on the total capacity of the solar farm). These credits, enabled by state-legislated renewable energy incentives, give you a discount on your electricity costs — it’s like a reward for helping your neighborhood become more green!

You can find open community solar projects in your area through our Marketplace by entering your zip code. Each project listed has detailed information about annual savings, credit requirements, and other important details. Some also offer a sign-up bonus for new customers.

The best part of community solar is that it’s accessible to nearly everyone. It provides a pathway to clean energy for renters, small businesses, communities, schools, and institutions who can’t install rooftop systems due to tree blockage or homeowner association rules. Plus, community solar expands access to clean energy in areas where it’s not available by making it more accessible to low- and moderate-income residents of the local communities served by each project.

How Does Community Solar Work?

Unlike rooftop solar, which requires an upfront investment and is sized to meet a homeowner’s energy demand, community solar is “zero-dollar,” meaning that customers pay nothing upfront. As long as they live in a state with net metering, the electricity generated by their share of the community solar farm will be credited to their utility bill. Depending on their electric bills and provider, subscribers can save up to 20% off their utility energy rates.

Another benefit of community solar is that you are helping to build a local solar farm in your area by signing up for a project. The more people like you who subscribe, the more projects get built. This creates high-quality jobs in your neighborhood, making the grid less dependent on big power plants.

There are also a few things to consider when choosing a community solar project. First, check if the project offers consolidated billing, which allows you to view your energy consumption charge and solar credit on one bill. You should also check whether subscription fees need to be aligned with your expected savings or if the provider charges a cancellation fee.

Many community solar programs are organized through a group purchase or co-op. These property owners usually leverage their collective buying power to get a good deal on a rooftop solar installation and guarantee savings on utility bills. Other programs, called community choice aggregation (CCAs), buy energy from outside the state or region.

Why Should I Get Involved?

In a community solar project, you subscribe to a local array of solar panels that generate energy on-site. The system is connected to your utility grid, and you receive credits on your electricity bill based on how much power your share of the farm produces. Unlike rooftop solar, which requires installing panels on your home, most community solar options offer more flexibility and allow you to cancel your subscription with no penalty.

Many clean energy options require an upfront financial commitment – and while they may promise long-term savings, that commitment can be difficult for low-income households. Many of these options are structured as power purchase agreements, where you’re locked in for 20 or even 25 years. This structure can be especially challenging for low-income households struggling to meet financial requirements and those who speak English as a second language, often overlooked in marketing materials.

By offering a flexible, accessible way to go solar, community solar can empower all Americans, including those with limited incomes and renters. In addition to household savings, community solar benefits include resilience during blackouts and other energy events, community wealth building, and local job creation. It’s an important part of a comprehensive approach to climate change, and we need your help.

How Can I Get Involved?

The community solar model opens solar energy to residents needing help installing rooftop systems due to various limitations. These could include renting a home, living in a multi-unit tenant building, or having a roof that is too worn or shaded to be suitable for solar.

By subscribing to a community solar project, you will buy a certain number of kilowatt-hours (kW) from the array read monthly by your utility. Your electric company then applies your community solar credits to your bill, reducing the monthly electricity you must pay.

A growing movement is underway to expand the number of community solar projects nationwide.