What Are Solar Cooperatives?
Most homeowners are familiar with electric utilities. They are the companies which provide your home with power from the grid. However, there are many different types of energy utilities. Some are public utilities, which are owned by the local government or taxpayers. Some are private utilities, which are owned by their stakeholders. Finally, there are cooperatives. Cooperatives take many forms and are an increasingly popular way to bring solar power to a community.
What Are Cooperatives?
Cooperatives, commonly shortened to coops, are a middle point between publicly owned utilities and privately owned utilities. A cooperative is variously defined as either a company owned by its employees, or a community project owned by a particular neighborhood. In the case of solar cooperatives, they usually take the form of a solar generation facility owned by the local community.
How Solar Cooperatives Work
A solar cooperative is simple in theory. A community establishes some sort of solar generation facility, after which each member of the community pays for discounted electricity.
A solar cooperative can take two main forms: centralized and decentralized.
Centralized Solar Cooperatives
These cooperatives are where the community builds a single, central plant. Perhaps it’s on the roof of a local business, or in a lot that has been purchased by the community. The electricity is all generated in a single location, after which it gets sent to each individual home that is wired into the main plant.
Centralized solar cooperatives are most often known as community solar, as they service a particular area. Community solar projects have been expanding rapidly across America. New laws have been paving the way for community solar to take root in major metropolitan areas.
Decentralized Solar Cooperatives
A decentralized solar cooperative takes the opposite position. Each home installs solar panels on their own roof. The panels are all connected to the central grid, which each home draws from. The solar energy is pooled together, even though the panels are not placed in one central location.
Solar Consumer Cooperatives
Alongside community solar projects, there are also consumer cooperatives. A solar consumer cooperative is where multiple people come together in order to negotiate lower rates for mass solar purchases. The cooperative can establish contracts with local installers and with solar product manufacturers to purchase products and services at discount rates.
What Are the Advantages of Solar Cooperatives?
If there were no advantages to solar cooperatives, they wouldn’t continue to exist. However, while there are upsides to solar cooperatives, there are also some downsides. Let’s take a look at both to see whether going with a solar cooperative is right for you.
Advantages of Solar Consumer Cooperatives
The advantage with solar consumer cooperatives is that the homeowner still benefits from solar incentives. The federal ITC — aka the solar tax credit — is still on the books. Anyone who purchases and installs solar on their home will be able to benefit from the tax credit and other incentives.
Solar consumer cooperatives are very helpful for the homeowner who wants to own their power. The negotiated prices are usually lower than the typical rate. The homeowner also gets the choice of remaining connected to the cooperative after the purchase or going their own way.
Advantages of Community Solar
The advantage of community solar is that it brings solar energy to those who may not be able to go solar otherwise. Some cannot afford solar. Others rent apartments, where they can’t go solar unless the landlord allows it. Still others live in areas where no more residential solar hookups may be available.
For people in these situations, community solar is a valuable compromise. Your apartment can be powered by cheap, clean solar power even if you can’t purchase solar outright. While you will still have a power bill, it is often cheaper than the fossil fuel power that you would receive from the utility.
Disadvantages of Solar Cooperatives
One of the main disadvantages of solar cooperatives is the reduced flexibility. A solar cooperative will usually have negotiated contracts with one or two installers, usually with specific products in mind. While these products and services might be discounted, a potential solar homeowner may potentially lose out on better offers from other installers.
The best way to find a good solar installer is by getting many quotes. Learning what products a particular installer uses and how they would install them in your house is a key part of getting the best solar savings. Without taking this step, a homeowner might find themselves saddled with inferior products or inflated service prices.
Additionally, there might be a backlog of installations. When a cooperative establishes a relationship with a particular solar company, that company is going to begin to receive more orders than it may have previously. Companies which are unprepared, or which choose not to make any changes, may have wait times of several months before they’ll even get started on an installation.
Disadvantages of Community Solar
Moving along from consumer cooperatives, community solar also has a few downsides compared to traditional residential solar.
You do not own your energy with community solar. You are still reliant on a utility of some sort, even if it is providing you with clean energy. That means that you will still lose power during a grid failure. You will also continue to have a power bill — something that you have the potential to eliminate when you purchase solar.
While community solar is a good measure for those who cannot purchase solar for some reason, it is a much worse option for homeowners who can. Owning your own solar installation will bring more savings and energy security than going with community solar.
Is It Worth It To Go With Solar Cooperatives?
Now we come to the final question. For someone who is interested in going solar, is it worth it to go with a solar cooperative? Unfortunately, like most questions in life, the answer is difficult to say without knowing the specific circumstances. However, we can make some generalizations based on what we covered before.
Firstly, Go Solar Group recommends getting quotes from as many solar companies as possible. By doing so, you ensure that you’re getting the best deal. Getting multiple quotes also helps you escape from potential rip-offs. Secondly, we recommend purchasing the products that best fit your needs, not those which got the best deals negotiated for them. Finally, we believe that timeliness is an important part of going solar.
Therefore, a potential solar homeowner should be careful when looking at solar cooperatives. They should be considered alongside other installers in your area. Don’t commit yourself to one without looking at the other options available.