Solar Problems? The Truth Behind 10 Common Concerns About Solar Energy

By Forrest Watkins

As solar panels continue their rapid rise as an energy supplier, there are bound to be questions about their faults and drawbacks, both perceived and real.

In the last twenty years, solar panels have quickly become one of the most efficient, inexpensive, and most accessible ways for everyday people to lower their carbon footprints and fight climate change.

Through our work in communities around the Northeast, we’ve encountered many questions and concerns about solar energy. Many of these are based on legitimate concerns and real experiences, while others some stem from myths and disinformation.

To address these problems and separate fact from fiction, we’ve assembled a list of the 10 most frequently asked questions about solar energy. Check it out:

INTERESTED IN GOING SOLAR? OUR COMMUNITY OUTREACH TEAM CAN HELP ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS

Top 10 Solar FAQ

1. Does solar work in cold and cloudy climates?

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The location of a solar panel does matter, but not in the way you might think. The latitude and number of sunny days do matter to a certain extent, but panels in more cloudy and northerly climates produce more than enough energy to be economically viable.

Two other factors are far more important to solar’s overall efficiency:

  • They must be located near where the energy will be used. Long-distance transmission is generally less economical than local solar energy.
  • They must be oriented correctly—towards the southwest—to catch a maximum amount of the sun’s rays.

READ MORE: Snow, Sleet, and Hail, Oh My! Why Solar Still Works in Colder Climates

2. Would solar even make sense if it weren’t for the subsidies?

This is a thorny and controversial issue to be sure, but the reality is that every form of energy, from solar, to wind, to every form of fossil fuels, receives subsidies. What’s more, solar’s plunging prices have made subsidies largely unnecessary, and federal subsidies (unlike those for oil and other fossil fuels) are scheduled to phase out in the next five years.

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So, what would happen if we took all energy subsidies away? Solar would beat fossil fuels in many places around the world, and would be directly competitive in most others—even without taking into account the massive economic and human costs of fossil fuels.

READ MORE: The Real Deal on Solar Subsidies

3. I can’t do solar—The upfront costs are just too much.

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Not anymore! If you have a suitable roof and you own your home, rooftop solar might still be an option for you. But even if you’re among the third of Americans who rent their homes, or you don’t have a suitable rooftop, community solar is a new model (which we proudly offer to people) that allows people to enroll in a local solar farm and still see savings on their electric bill.

 

READ MORE: Solar too expensive for your household? Not anymore.

 

4. I’ve heard of third party energy providers offering savings and then jacking up people’s prices. Is this a scam?

Solstice is not a third-party energy provider/ESCO. Community solar is an entirely different program, and our contracts give a straight-up percentage discount on your energy (that we’re not allowed to change).

Moreover, pretty much everyone we talk to has experienced the bad sides of ESCOS, or know someone who has. We know the pain these practices cause, and we stand against them. We’re working to bring solar access to every American, not to make a quick buck.

READ MORE: Solstice is Not an ESCO

5. I support renewable energy, but what do these projects really do for my community?

Solstice team members Taro and Sean visit the our solar garden in Lowman, Chemung, NY

Solstice team members Taro and Sean visit the our solar garden in Lowman, Chemung, NY

Besides the clean energy and electric bill savings, community solar gardens bring revenue to local governments and tax districts (such as schools). They also provide local construction jobs and local jobs with organizations like Solstice, which are dedicated to educating people about clean energy.

READ MORE: Solstice and NY Solar Companies Help Local Economies Thrive

6. Are solar panels really going to stand up to years out in the weather?

Yes, indeed. Most solar panels have 20-year warranties, and they can last much longer than that. Many of the earliest solar installations are still operating after 40 years, with only a slight drop in efficiency. In an era of planned obsolescence, solar panels are one thing you don’t have to worry about.

Besides, with community solar, the project owner is responsible for all ongoing maintenance during the life of your contract

READ MORE: How Long Do Solar Panels Last?

7. So, who actually pays for the solar farms?

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Solar farms are most often financed by investors and banks, who are then paid back over the life of the project through the payments of the farm’s customers (who still see savings in comparison to their normal utility rates) or of electric utilities (who buy the power to distribute to their customers).

READ MORE: Who pays for community solar farms?

 

8. What impact do solar farms have on the environment?

Solar panels are better for the environment than fossil fuels in nearly every way, but solar developers still need to put care into their solar developments to maximize their positive impact. Locating projects on previously developed land and minimizing disturbances to existing life are good first steps.

READ MORE: Here’s How Solar Developers Can Maximize Solar’s Positive Impact on the Environment

9. What are solar panels made of? Do they have any impact on the environment?

In countries where environmental regulations are less well-enforced, it’s an unfortunate reality that some solar manufacturers have been irresponsible in their waste disposal and have harmed their local environments.

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Luckily, the industry has created a rating system to evaluate the manufacturing processes used in creating solar panels. Top-tier panel manufacturers recycle all toxic waste (this actually saves them money, because they can use it to create more panels), and the industry is rapidly moving to source more of its energy from clean, renewable sources.

READ MORE: Manufacturing: What Are Solar Panels Made Of?

10. The Trump Administration just imposed new solar tariffs. Is this the end for the American solar industry?

Not by a long shot! The current lack of national support for the domestic renewable energy industry is certainly unfortunate in an era when this is one of the fastest-growing global industries. But these aren’t the first tariffs that the U.S. solar industry has had to deal with. Moreover, solar costs have come down so much in recent years that these tariffs are more likely to stymie jobs growth in nascent solar states like Alabama and Mississippi than to really halt the progress of more developed solar industries.

READ MORE: Here’s What the Solar Tariffs Mean for a Booming Solar Industry

When Will Fossil Fuels Run Out? Here’s What “Peak Oil” Means in 2018

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Since the turn of the 20th century, a succession of outspoken voices has warned of an imminent crisis referred to as “peak oil”. The idea is that once we’ve reached the apex of available oil reserves, oil production can only plateau or decrease, causing energy prices to skyrocket and limiting the development of modern society

These predictions were often overblown in the popular imagination, and old estimates of remaining oil supplies have been rendered obsolete by new technologies and drilling techniques. After decades of controversy with no actual catastrophe, many folks have been led to believe that oil, and other fossil fuels, will never run dry, and that humankind will be able to continue to utilize them indefinitely.

RELATED: Community Solar Brings You Savings Without the Hidden Charges. Here's How.

Peak Oil: Fact or Fiction?

We still can’t keep drilling forever. As with any finite resource, running out of extractable fossil fuels is inevitable. However, the most recent data suggests that this may not occur for centuries.

That doesn’t give us free reign to keep burning fossil fuels, though. We know that fossil-fueled air and water contamination cause millions of premature deaths every year. Greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuels are already warming our planet at an unprecedented rate. Related sea level rise and flooding already threaten roughly 760 million people in coastal areas – numbers which will only increase as the impact of climate change becomes more apparent.

With millions of people losing their homes and millions more lacking adequate access to food and clean water, continuing to use fossil fuels indefinitely is, very simply, not a morally acceptable option. These far-reaching and potentially irreversible consequences will affect generations to come, and the decisions we make now will define the world our kids and grandkids inherit.

To fully deplete the supplies of available and extractable fossil fuels – no matter how long it would take – would wreak havoc on our natural world and on the most basic necessities of human life: clean air, clean water, and fertile land.

Alternatives to Fossil Fuels: Renewable Energy

There’s one thing that 20th century peak oil scares never took into account: renewable energy. Even as oil companies were developing the techniques for modern fracking, renewable energy was becoming more efficient and reliable – so much so that we are now well on our way to a society powered by the wind and the sun.

RELATED: Local Concerns: How Community Solar Farms Can Be Developed to Protect Their Local Environment

The Divest Movement on college campuses around the country is just one example of the push towards cleaner, more sustainable energy sources.

The Divest Movement on college campuses around the country is just one example of the push towards cleaner, more sustainable energy sources.

Clean, renewable energy sources do not cause pollution nor emit greenhouse gases. These benefits are enough to justify replacing old fossil fuels with wind, solar, hydro, biomass, and geothermal, but there’s far more at play. Cost reductions in wind and solar have made them economically competitive with fossil fuels, so much so that countries like China and India have cancelled hundreds of megawatts of planned coal plants. In some places, renewable energy prices are expected to plunge so low that they will actually be cheaper to run than existing fossil fuel plants.

The Time Is Now

Instead of continuing to seek out ever more dangerous and expensive reserves of fossil fuels, we must continue to invest in the clean, renewable technologies that will take their place. Not only is the development of renewable energy good for our environment, it’s also an investment in plentiful energy supplies for the coming generations.

We see more stories every day of countries, businesses and individuals shifting away from fossil fuels, and one thing is clear:

The clean energy transition has begun, and it cannot be stopped.

Interested in supporting clean, locally produced energy for free?.

Community Solar Brings You Savings Without the Hidden Charges. Here's How.

By Nina DeSilva

What if you could sign up for solar energy without paying any extra costs?

Millions of Americans can't afford the upfront costs of a rooftop solar array, and thousands of others have been disappointed by the pricing schemes of third-party energy providers (or ESCOs). After thousands of conversations with residents from across Massachusetts and New York, we know that many have written off solar altogether—little knowing that they could enroll in a local community solar garden for free.

RELATED: What is Community Solar?

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Community Solar Brings You Reliable Savings on Your Electric Bill

A community solar garden is an array of grid-connected solar panels, like the one pictured above, that allows renters and homeowners—regardless of the how much sunlight hits their roof—to support local, clean energy. Community solar also brings subscribers a discount on their electricity costs, putting dollars back in their pockets.

RELATED: What are the Benefits of Community Solar?

Is Community Solar Really Free?

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There aren't any extra costs associated with community solar. When you subscribe to community solar, you get credits on your utility bill for the energy your panels produce. We allocate you just enough to zero out your NYSEG bill with these credits, and then you pay for that energy—and here’s where the savings come in—at a discounted rate.

It’s almost as if the panels were up on your own roof, except for the fact that you don’t have to worry about any installation or ongoing maintenance—that means no costs for hardware or installation. And with community solar developers increasingly leaving behind cancellation fees (or most recent projects have none), community solar customers are free to come and go as they please.

So, how much do you pay? You won't see any extra costs associated with community solar—not when you switch, and not further down the line. Though the amount you pay for your energy will fluctuate from month to month (depending on how much energy your panels produce), you’ll see annual savings of around 10 percent, year after year.

RELATED: Here’s How Much You Can Save With Community Solar

How Do Bill Credits Help You Save?

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Your utility will grant you energy bill credits in proportion to the energy generated by your share of the solar garden. In other words, if your share produces 8 kilowatt hours (kWh) of power, you will see a corresponding amount of credits go to your monthly electric bill.

If your credits are greater than your electricity charges for a given month (like when it’s sunny and in months when you use less energy), then the credits will carry over to reduce your next month’s bill. On the other hand, if you use more energy than your share produces credits, you will use up any roll-over credits, and then the rest of the energy you use will be regularly priced.

In the end, though, there’s no need to worry about these fluctuations, because we use your energy usage history to give you just the right amount of solar production. That way, your share is just enough to cover your electric bill, and you’re paying the discounted community solar rate for as much of your energy supply as possible.

RELATED: Solstice Makes it Easy to Sign Up for Community Solar

Paying it Forward

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The movement for universal access to affordable, clean energy depends on your support. When you make the choice to put your bill towards your local solar garden, you directly support our shared transition to renewable energy.

So, tell your neighbor. Spur the transition. Joining a solar garden will bring you utility bill savings, but bringing sustainable solar energy to every American resident—regardless of that resident’s housing location or financial limitations—is priceless.

WANT TO GO SOLAR FOR FREE? LET US KNOW!

EnergyScore: For a More Inclusive Solar Future.

By Forrest Watkins

American solar energy is at a crossroads. Even as the current administration mulls tariffs that could jack up prices and temporarily check solar’s momentum, new innovations are making solar energy more accessible than ever. One of these is Solstice’s new community solar qualification metric, the EnergyScore. Leveraging data from nearly 875,000 customer records, the EnergyScore is projected to predict future payment behavior more accurately than FICO credit scores, while simultaneously including a larger proportion of qualified low-to-moderate income customers.

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A Slanted Solar Landscape

Today, approximately four out of every five American households can’t get rooftop solar. The reasons for their exclusion vary, from the eligibility of the individual rooftop, to homeownership status, to one’s access to financing.

READ MORE: WHY 90 MILLION AMERICAN HOUSEHOLDS CAN'T ACCESS SOLAR ENERGY 

Nevertheless, these factors create a clear division along lines of socioeconomic class: while 40 percent of American households earn less than $40,000 per year, they make up less than 5 percent of solar installations.

Community Solar: A More Equitable Model for Solar Energy

Solstice was founded on the conviction that community solar could help build a more equitable energy system. This innovative model, now established in 14 states and Washington, D.C., allows households to subscribe to a local solar farm and see savings on their electric bill.

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In theory, this should make it possible for households to support solar energy regardless of their roof’s eligibility; and solar developers’ ability to swap customers out when one customer defaults or moves should allow for looser credit requirements and shorter contract lengths. Unfortunately, solar financiers, accustomed to credit-rich commercial offtakers, have so far required high credit score minimums that have disproportionately excluded low-to-moderate income Americans from participating in community solar.

A Scalable Model for Solar Inclusion

Solstice’s founders conceived of the EnergyScore as a scalable way to increase the inclusivity of community solar farms. Leveraging utility payment history and other customer data, the EnergyScore aims to provide solar developers with a metric that is more accurate and inclusive than FICO credit scores in predicting the rates at which subscribers default on their bill. If it fulfills these goals, solar developers will be motivated to adopt the EnergyScore because it expands their customer pool and lowers customer turnover rates—and more importantly, a higher proportion of LMI individuals will be qualified to participate in solar energy projects that bring them savings on their electric bill.

Early results are positive: after analyzing nearly 875,000 customer records, Solstice and its partners at MIT and Stanford have produced a final version of the EnergyScore. Customer data suggest that it will be nearly 40 percentage points more accurate in predicting customer default rates, even as it increases the proportion of qualified LMI households that are included in community solar by 11%. Solstice is currently seeking partners to carry out low-income focused pilot projects to test and refine the metric.

Access the full EnergyScore results by filling in the form below:

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How Long Do Solar Panels Last?

By Christie Young

When families choose solar - whether it’s rooftop panels or community solar - they’re making a decision that will have a long-term effect on their pocketbooks and the environment. But just how long will these solar panels last?

Life Expectancy of Solar Panels

Unlike cars, solar panels are still highly productive after 30 years with little-to-no-maintenance!

Unlike cars, solar panels are still highly productive after 30 years with little-to-no-maintenance!

Because we’ve come to expect only a few short years out of our smartphones and computers, it might be a surprise to learn that solar panels, even when exposed to the most extreme wind and snow, can be expected to last several decades. Warranties typically last 25 to 30 years. And unlike other appliances, solar panels are likely to continue working even after the warranty ends, albeit at a slightly reduced efficiency – usually only a 10-20% loss.

There are high standards for durability in the solar panel manufacturing industry, including the ability to withstand winds of over 80 miles per hour and hail pellets measuring up to an inch. In the wake of hurricanes that level buildings and leave neighborhoods without electricity for months, solar panels are often found to be fully functional and barely affected by the storm. This is made possible by a thick glass casing – much stronger than what’s used for windows – which protects the silicon cells that convert sunlight to electricity.

RELATED: What are solar panels made of?

This durability has translated into surprising longevity for real-life solar panels. Kyocera, a Japanese company and pioneer of the solar industry, cites the fact that their oldest solar panel installations from 1980’s are still functioning at high capacity, and there are plenty of thirty- and forty-year-old solar installations functioning at high capacity around the world.

With Community Solar, There’s No Need To Worry About Solar Panel Durability

The good news for community solar participants is that they do not need to worry about their solar panels’ lifespan. Our solar developer partners have already done their research to ensure that they can keep their solar projects running for decades, from initial connection to the electric grid to the panels’ eventual decommissioning. It makes simple, economic sense for them to invest in panels that will survive at least two-and-a-half decades.

RELATED: Who pays for community solar farms?

We live in a time of “planned obsolescence,” when consumer electronics are built to break. Where our smartphones, toasters and televisions might need replacing every few years, it’s a relief to know that solar panels are a reliable purchase that will outlast the rest.

Go Solar Today: No upfront cost & no rooftop required.

Here’s What the Solar Tariffs Mean for a Booming Solar Industry

By Forrest Watkins

Last Thursday, NASA reported that our planet had just experienced its four hottest years in human history. Clean energy’s massive growth and popularity over the last decade have demonstrated that Americans care about our environmental future. At Solstice, we’re proud of the work we’ve done to enable communities around the U.S. to take leadership in combating climate change.

Needless to say, this is no time to throw roadblocks in the way of sustainable solutions.

Our newest New York projects will not be affected by the tariffs - they're already built, and just waiting to be connected!

Our newest New York projects will not be affected by the tariffs - they're already built, and just waiting to be connected!

But today, the Trump Administration did just that, releasing its answer to a trade case that has been hanging over the American solar industry for nearly six months, and generating backlash from industries responsible for the majority of U.S. solar employment.

The Administration announced that it would impose a 30% tariff on solar panels imported in the first year, with declining tariffs over a four-year period. An initial 2.5 gigawatts of imported solar cells will be exempt from the tariff.

RELATED: How Does Community Solar Help the Environment?

Tariff Announcement Marked by Widespread Backlash

The chorus of opposition was broad, drawing in solar installers and climate activists, but also conservative think-tanks, and even ten domestic solar manufacturers. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), which represents domestic manufacturing and installation companies alike, pushed back against the tariffs, arguing that they will hurt the industry far more than they will help.

Bill Vietas, president of RBI Solar, a solar racking manufacturer in Cincinnati, believes that even the manufacturing sector could end up worse off under the new tariffs. “The U.S. solar manufacturing sector has been growing as our industry has surged over the past five years. Government tariffs will increase the cost of solar and depress demand, which will reduce the orders we’re getting and cost manufacturing workers their jobs.”

RELATED: The Real Deal on Solar Subsidies

There are many more U.S. jobs related to solar installation than manufacturing.

There are many more U.S. jobs related to solar installation than manufacturing.

Weakened Tariffs Cause for Relief

The solar trade case was triggered last year when Suniva, a foreign-owned panel manufacturer operating in the U.S., submitted a complaint to the International Trade Commission (ITC), claiming that they could not compete with the cheap manufacturing costs of countries like China and Taiwan. German panel manufacturer SolarWorld soon joined the suit, arguing on behalf of their U.S. manufacturing plant.

Both companies had been struggling to compete on an international stage, with Suniva filing for bankruptcy and SolarWorld announcing significant layoffs in the latter half of 2017.

The Commission issued its own verdict before year’s end, ruling that the companies had been harmed by low panel prices, but recommending penalties representing only a fraction of those demanded by the petitioners.

The penalties released by the Trump Administration today were weaker still, causing many to voice continued confidence in the industry. Said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s President and CEO, “Our industry will emerge from this. The case for solar energy is just too strong to be held down for long, but the severe near-term impacts of these tariffs are unfortunate and avoidable.”

RELATED: Who Pays for Community Solar Farms?

Community Solar’s Time to Shine?

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Drops in panel prices mean that installers are less threatened by the tariffs than they would have been even a few years ago: today, the cost of panels makes up only around 30 percent of utility scale system costs and 20 percent of rooftop ones. With the solar tariffs projected to increase panels costs by 10-12 cents per watt, solar companies will certainly face new challenges over the next few years, but the results will hardly be catastrophic.

Fortunately for Solstice, community solar is perhaps best positioned in the solar market to weather this storm and come out stronger on the other side. Community solar gardens offer effective economies of scale in comparison to smaller rooftop installations, and residential participants also see higher compensation rates for the energy they generate than solar farms that sell directly to utilities or commercial entities. It will be more important than ever for community solar developers to find ways of lowering customer acquisition costs (which has long been one of our main areas of focus), but in a market of tightened margins, these factors could give community solar the edge and allow it to reach its full potential sooner rather than later.

RELATED: Solstice Makes it Easy to Sign Up for Community Solar

The Path Forward

We’re more confident today than we were yesterday in the future of American solar energy. Don’t get us wrong—we don’t expect this new policy to boost domestic manufacturing. But we spend every day working with the 89 percent of Americans who want to put more solar in the ground, right here in America. In the years since Solstice was founded, we’ve gotten to know these folks—the entrepreneurs, the technicians, the installers, the policy wonks, and above all, our community partners and customers. To a person, they are smart, hard-working, and completely committed to making our future solar-powered. This industry has seen astonishing growth in recent years, even in the face of adversity, and we know that in spite of this setback, we’ll be right back at it before long.

Yesterday, there was a cloud of uncertainty hanging over us. Today, we know what we’re dealing with, and we’re getting back to work—to bring affordable solar energy to every American.

RELATED: Our Mission - Solar for Every American.

Solar too expensive for your household? Not anymore.

By Christie Young

Since the advent of solar energy, one factor in particular has fueled criticism and prevented even the most enthusiastic would-be solar customers from “going solar”: the upfront cost. Despite the fact that panels ultimately pay for themselves through electric bill savings, high initial costs have historically meant that only a few could afford to install panels on their roof.

History of solar panel technology

Solar panels are used to power satellites, such as in this photo of the International Space Station solar array (2008).

Solar panels are used to power satellites, such as in this photo of the International Space Station solar array (2008).

The first usable solar panels were invented in the 1950’s, but they weren’t cheap by any standards: a system supplying the same energy as today's average home system would cost $14,000,000 in today's dollars. These first panels were only cost-effective multi-million dollar space programs, as this was virtually the only way to powering satellites and spacecraft.

By the 1970’s, technological advances had dropped the price enough for early adopters to begin installing panels on their rooftops. But solar arrays were still expensive enough to prevent widespread adoption, and it has only been in the last decade that economies of scale and innovations in automation and efficiency of manufacturing have caused prices to plummet within reach of many Americans.

RELATED: What are solar panels made of?

Still, a five-digit upfront cost doesn’t fit the balance sheet of the majority of Americans. And even if you have the credit score to qualify for financing options like leases and loans, you still have to own your home, have an optimal roof, and commit to paying down your panels over a period of years. Only one in five Americans can actually install rooftop panels.

Going solar for free

Community solar gardens are renewable energy for the rest of us, allowing households to sign up for a solar farm in their area. And it’s absolutely free! By doing away with upfront costs, the rooftop installation, and the long-term commitment, we’ve made it that much easier for everyday Americans to go solar. Better yet, families who sign up will see a 10% discount on their electric bill.

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RELATED: Are solar panels really as green as they say?

Sound too good to be true? We hear that a lot. Community solar is free because you’re not buying your panels, you’re subscribing to the electricity they generate. You don’t need to worry about maintaining, cleaning or recycling them, nor paying a steep cost. Our solar developer partners take care of all of that, and you get the credit for supporting local solar energy.

There’s never been a better time to go solar.

 

Want to learn more? Get in touch with us today.

 
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Here’s How Solar Developers Can Maximize Solar’s Positive Impact on the Environment

By Forrest Watkins

For well over a century now, coal- and natural gas-fired power plants have spewed pollution into the air around them. Coal ash and fracking have contaminated groundwater, and coal mining has famously destroyed once-mighty mountains.

Solar energy lifts this burden significantly. In fact, once they’re installed, they are entirely neutral to their surrounding environment. Panel manufacturers use specialized processes to recycle excess manufacturing materials to make sure that they never leave the factory, and some even include an end-of-life recycling plan in the purchase of their panels.

A community solar garden in Dover, MA, developed by BlueWave, was built on the top of a capped landfill.

A community solar garden in Dover, MA, developed by BlueWave, was built on the top of a capped landfill.

Responsible Development Can Mitigate Any Negative Impacts of Solar Energy

Those of us who know the value of land—both natural and cultivated—know that preservation will always trump restoration. A tract of cleared forest can take several decades to regain the social and economic value of lost biodiversity. Similarly, farmers put great care into maintaining the health of their soil in order to bring you healthy and cost-competitive food.

This same principle is why the solar industry must do its part to preserve rural land and contribute to the communities where these projects are sited. These four principles can ensure that the solar industry has a positive impact on our rural lands and keeps natural habitats intact.

  1. Build solar farms and gardens where we can’t build anything else. There are sites around the country, like capped landfills and superfund sites, where concerns about contamination make it illegal to use the land for other purposes. Where possible, these sites are optimal for solar gardens.

  2. Always build on brownfields. Brownfields are sites that have previously been developed for human use. It doesn’t make environmental sense to destroy ecosystems and fell trees to build solar farms, so they should always be built on brownfields. Encouragingly, states like Massachusetts now have policies that give community solar projects extra compensation to build on brownfields and capped landfills.

  3. Care for the land. Leaving land fallow is a common way to restore soil health. This means that solar plants can have a positive impact on soil health, and this restorative effect of solar plants can be enhanced by putting in soil-restorative plants around the bases of the solar panels, and by allowing animals to graze around the periphery.

  4. Make sure landowners and local communities see the benefits of community solar gardens. Our partner for our most recent New York projects is Delaware River Solar (DRS). Rich Winter, the President and founder of DRS, raises grass-fed cattle in the area—in fact, DRS’s very first project was located on Rich’s own land in Callicoon, NY. Many of the companies’ upcoming projects will be located on the land of other cattle farmers in the area, who have been looking for ways to supplement their income after a recent downturn in dairy prices.

Our newest solar garden with Delaware River Solar, near Elmira, NY.

Our newest solar garden with Delaware River Solar, near Elmira, NY.

Small farmers and healthy rural communities are key to preserving rural lands—after all, who better to safeguard that land than the people who actually know it? From Massachusetts to Texas, solar has become a way for small farmers to pay down property taxes and keep their farms, preserving the strength local communities and providing clean energy for the region. And community solar gardens have a host of other benefits, bringing jobs to small towns and revenues to local governments and tax districts.

Read More: Solstice and NY Solar Companies Help Local Communities Thrive

The solar industry, by its nature, tends to be made up of people who care about the environment. It’s encouraging to see so many solar companies developing projects with an eye towards preserving the local environment and supporting local communities, and we pledge to do our part in helping this awareness grow.

Manufacturing: What Are Solar Panels Made Of?

 
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As we’ve highlighted in the past, there is plenty of misinformation out there that blurs the truth about solar energy. While it’s broadly considered one of the cleanest sources of electricity available, rumors about toxicity and local environmental contamination have caused many Americans to wonder just how solar panels are made.

You don’t have to be an engineer to understand what solar panels are made of and how they’re produced. Learning the basics will help you understand where things can go wrong in solar manufacturing, as well as the measures that legitimate manufacturers take to preserve their local environment.

RELATED: 7 Cons of Solar Energy

Manufacturing: What Are Solar Panels Made Of?

At the most basic level, solar panels are mostly composed of silicon, which interacts with the sun to create a flow of electricity. Aluminum or copper wiring gives that electricity a channel to flow out of the panel and into your home (or the grid). Aluminum is also used for the framing. These elements are literally as common as dirt – after oxygen, silicon and aluminum are the two most common materials in the Earth’s crust, making up about a third of all soil.

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In refining natural silicon into its usable form, a compound called silicon tetrachloride is created as a byproduct. This compound is toxic, but using the right equipment, it can be recycled to create more panels. When China experienced a massive and abrupt solar manufacturing boom in the early 2000’s, smaller factories didn’t invest in this equipment, and some dumped the toxic waste into villages and rivers, causing soil infertility and health abnormalities in the local population.

These practices are unacceptable for us, and the solar industry has shown that they agree, because we’ve seen major improvements in manufacturer accountability in the last nine years. The international community has developed a tiered ranking system for just this purpose. Tier 1 manufacturers are generally safe bets, as these large-scale manufacturers put substantial effort into increasing manufacturing efficiency, and byproduct recycling brings them substantial savings in the long-run. Solstice relies on its partners to design and build solar gardens, and those partners only source from Tier 1 companies.

RELATED: What is Community Solar?

The Shift to Net-Zero Starts Today

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We will always seek a world where we can get our energy without consequences for the environment. This means improving manufacturing processes for solar panels, holding companies to account for panel recycling, and making sure that clean energy is used as much as possible in panel shipping and installation.

This is what we can do, today, to start shifting away from the massively harmful energy systems of the past. Today’s solar industry certainly has areas for improvement, where it can further widen the environmental gap between it and the fossil fuel industry. We’re heartened to see solar companies proactively taking those steps – and hopeful for a future of clean energy production.

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Solstice and NY Solar Companies Help Local Communities Thrive

By Forrest Watkins

Seeking to go solar with a local New York solar company? Solstice is a non-profit that helps local community solar developers to fill their solar gardens.

As we’ve written in the past, the Solstice team cares deeply about supporting local communities and helping their economies thrive.

Solstice team members Taro and Sean visit the DRS solar garden in Lowman, Chemung, NY

Solstice team members Taro and Sean visit the DRS solar garden in Lowman, Chemung, NY

We call both New York and Massachusetts home – we couldn’t be effective in our mission of making affordable solar accessible for every American if we focused only on one area – but we choose to partner with local solar developers and organizations to make these projects happen, and we make sure that our farms provide real, direct support to their local communities.

RELATED: SNOW, SLEET, AND HAIL, OH MY! WHY SOLAR STILL WORKS IN COLDER CLIMATES.

Solstice Builds Strong Community Ties

We take the time to build relationships with the communities where we operate, so we can make sure that our projects truly meet their needs. In recent months, we’ve partnered with Callicoon, NY solar developer Delaware River Solar (DRS), helping them to fill their solar gardens with local households.

DRS was established by Callicoon-area farmer Rich Winter, and its solar gardens are planned for locations around Upstate New York. Our newest project with them is as local as it gets: it was built on Rich’s own property and will serve households in the surrounding area.

We also put the time in to build relationships with community-based organizations. In Chemung County, the site of another DRS project, we formed partnerships with the Environmental Management Council (EMC) and Community Arts of Elmira, and co-hosted events with Mothers Out Front, Solarize Chemung, and Catholic Charities of Chemung. Talking with folks at these events and understanding the work of these amazing local organizations helps us to better appreciate and serve the communities that help make community solar gardens happen.

Community Solar Brings Tangible, Local Benefits

The Community Arts of Elmira headquarters.

The Community Arts of Elmira headquarters.

These relationships are vitally important to us. At the same time, though, we do our best to maximize the material benefits that solar gardens bring to their communities. When we partner with communities, we make sure that the economic benefits of community solar are flowing right back into the local economy. On top of the direct savings that community solar provides to the households that subscribe, we make sure that some of the revenue goes to the organizations that help us to raise awareness. For instance, for every three people who subscribed after joining us for our Elmira event with EMC, we paid for a local child to go to summer camp and learn about their local environment.

Solar gardens also bring benefits to their broader communities. They generate clean, renewable energy and good, local jobs. Moreover, they bring revenues to the town, county, and local school district, and to the owners of the land where the projects are sited – providing a second stream of revenue to farmers who have had to deal with shrinking and disappearing margins in recent years.

READ MORE: OUR BEST COMMUNITY SOLAR PROJECT YET IS NOW AVAILABLE TO NEW YORKERS

Here’s one reason we love community solar: it will always be a local affair. Unlike ESCOs and third party providers, you can only sign up for a community solar garden if it’s local to your utility zone. And as we’ve seen over our years of working on these projects, it’s local communities that make these projects happen. By helping them organize to bring solar to their town, Solstice provides support for these efforts and brings the benefits of solar energy to more Americans.

RELATED: ENERGYSCORE: FOR A MORE INCLUSIVE SOLAR FUTURE.

Are Solar Panels Really As Green As They Say?

 
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While environmentalism isn’t explicitly codified into Solstice’s five company values, it is a guiding light for our team and the work we do. And over the last few years, thousands of conversations have taught us that environmental stewardship is a value that we share with our customers.

We’ve faced tough questions in our conversations with our customers, and we appreciate this healthy skepticism: Americans want what’s best for the planet, and will take the time to ensure that committing to solar is a decision in line with their environmental values.

RELATED: Community Solar and the Local, Sharing Economy

Do Solar Panels Emit Toxins?

While some solar panel manufacturing does involve toxic compounds, solar panels themselves can be manufactured without toxic elements. Once in operation, solar panels are completely stable. It makes sense: fossil fuel emissions are caused by the fuel is being burned. Solar panels don’t employ any fuel nor chemical reaction, and emit no greenhouse gasses nor toxic chemicals while operating.

End-of-Life Waste: Solar Panel Recycling

Many of the first operational solar panels are still in use after thirty or forty years, with their only deterioration being a moderate drop in efficiency. But a sharp increase in solar energy adoption over the past five years has led many to think about the eventual need for thorough recycling processes. Experts have estimated that in 2050, the value of recyclable solar materials will be to the tune of $15 billion. Currently, 90-97% of a decommissioned panel’s materials can be recycled into new panels or sold onto the commodity market. Put another way, panel recycling is set to be a lucrative and booming business in the coming decades. Nevertheless, it is important that solar manufacturers and installers ensure that there is a recycling plan (and a way to pay for that plan) for every panel they sell.

RELATED: Who pays for community solar gardens?

Livestock, like sheep and chickens, can graze safely in a solar field, which helps farmers maximize their land.

Livestock, like sheep and chickens, can graze safely in a solar field, which helps farmers maximize their land.

Agreements between municipalities and solar installers mark out responsibilities and funding for their eventual retirement. In fact, the project developer will pay into a decommissioning fund over the life of the solar farm—although the value of the materials and the relative ease with which they can be recycled mean that there may be little need for this fund.

Moreover, we know these folks, and they’re motivated by their environmental impact just as much as we are. Rich Winters, the CEO of Delaware River Solar, is a farmer in the Callicoon area, and the company’s first project was sited on his own land. Perhaps even more than most, he knows the value of land, and developers like these do everything they can to make sure our solar farms protect their local environments.

RELATED: Snow, Sleet, and Hail, Oh My! Why Solar Still Works in Colder Climates

 

Interested in going solar for free?

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What is Energy Democracy? An Interview with Prof. Jennie Stephens

Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University

Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University

By Forrest Watkins

Energy Democracy is a term that means many things to many people. For many, the focus is getting people more involved in decisions around where and how they get their energy. For others, green jobs are key. Solstice contributes in its own way by expanding solar access to communities that have so far been excluded.

This can all seem a little abstract, though – so we wanted to put a face on this work and let the experts speak for themselves.

Jennie Stephens is a Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy at Northeastern University, and her most recent work has focused on the energy democracy movement. We sat down with her to talk about her work and the future of energy democracy.

FW: What does energy democracy mean to you, and why is it important?

JS: Energy democracy is an emerging social movement that connects the renewable energy transition – moving away from fossil fuel reliance – with the redistribution of social, political and economic power. It is important because it connects social justice with energy and climate policy. We can no longer think about energy and climate change as issues that are separate from the other problems we face. The transition away from fossil fuels toward a more renewables-based system has so much value beyond climate mitigation and carbon emission reductions.  We need to focus on the social benefits, like jobs and cooperative ownership, that a renewable-based energy system provides to households and communities. The positive potential of more distributed, renewable energy is under-recognized, but the energy democracy movement is changing that.

RELATED: EnergyScore: For a More Inclusive Solar Future.

FW: What is at the core of the discussion around energy democracy and the policies that support it?

JS: Right now, the US federal government is embracing a national energy policy focused on “energy dominance” rather than “energy democracy”.  Energy dominance can be viewed as the antithesis of energy democracy, leveraging concentrated, hierarchical power to benefit [a select few], as opposed to distributed power that can benefit everyone. In most energy policy discussions, the societal value of transitioning to a system of abundant, plentiful and perpetual energy is not fully acknowledged. Once we invest in harnessing the sun, wind and other renewable sources, there is huge untapped potential for energy resilience.

FW: What's the most exciting thing you've seen happen in the space in the last year?

JS: We just published the first review of energy democracy and associated policies, so we hope our work will contribute to advancing these ideas and helping people advocate for changes in energy that benefit society. Growing resistance to the power of the fossil fuel lobby responding to revelations of the decades-long exploitative, strategic misinformation campaign of fossil fuel companies has also been exciting.

RELATED: Why Community Solar Can Solve the Solar Energy Equity Problem

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The paper looks at energy democracy in the United States, trying to understand how the mix of policies currently proposed by energy democracy advocates corresponds to the overarching goals of the movement. We found that the policies that we examined have the potential to advance renewable energy transitions that meet the goals of the energy democracy movement. At the same time, current policies focus more on promoting renewable energy and less on resisting fossil fuels. Advancing energy democracy will likely require new policy development, a strengthening of existing policies, and further integration of efforts to resist dominant energy systems with those supporting their democratic and inclusive replacements.

You can read Professor Stephens’ full paper here.

Solstice is Not an ESCO

By Forrest Watkins

New Yorkers have been hit hard by shady energy companies known as ESCOs. We spend a lot of our time on the phone with people from around the state, raising awareness about local community solar gardens--and based on that experience, we can tell you two things:

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1. If you’ve been burned by an ESCO, you’re not alone.

Seriously. We hear these stories every day. And papers like the Village Voice have backed them up with hard facts. Representatives of ESCOs (also known as “third party providers”) have been known to:

  • Pose as employees of the local utility company, offering a discount to switch their energy provider to one with “fixed rates”.

  • When drastic rises in utility rates don’t materialize, customers end up paying more for their energy, and worse, ESCO customers often find that discounted energy costs are replaced by inordinately high prices within months of them signing up.

  • Worst of all, some have alleged that ESCOs target low-income communities, elderly groups, and communities where English is not the primary language.

Some of the worst offenders have even faced class-action lawsuits over their shady practices.

These practices are wrong. They take advantage of the good intentions of people who want to protect the environment and save money to support their families, and instead leave these individuals worse off.

 

2. Solstice is not an ESCO.

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Community solar providers are different from ESCOs. Like their name would suggest, ESCOs offer the option of choosing where your energy supply comes from. Community solar acts more like rooftop solar: you get credits on your electric bill for the energy your panels produce, and instead pay your community solar provider.

The difference on your end? This structure means that instead of offering a fixed rate energy price--or one that rises at a fixed rate over time--community solar offers a guarantee rate of savings on the energy your panels produce. So while your energy costs may fluctuate from month to month, at the end of the year, you’ll see savings on your energy costs.

And if you ever want out, you have that option. Our most recent projects have no cancellation fees (or any other hidden fees). All you’d have to do is provide two month’s notice so we can find someone else to fill your spot, and we would go our separate ways.

LEARN MORE: HOW COMMUNITY SOLAR BRINGS YOU SAVINGS YOU CAN RELY ON.

A different approach

So Solstice is not an ESCO, in legal terms, or in practical ones. But there’s more to it than that. We make a constant effort to be upfront with our customers. We try educate you about the energy issues that can affect you, to understand your priorities, and to inform you about your options and the costs and benefits of each. We’re not looking to give you the hard sell--we’ll take the time to walk you through the contract and answer any questions you might have.

You Can Go Solar Today

Get in contact to learn more.

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Who pays for community solar farms?

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Community solar is one of the newest and most innovative avenues for everyday people to access and support renewable energy. Solar gardens provide significant savings on electricity costs to the households and small businesses that subscribe to them, even as they generate revenue for the towns where they’re located and drive revenue to the project’s developer. But it can sound too good to be true: if community solar subscribers are earning a discount from the very beginning, then who is paying for the community solar farm?

Financing Community Solar

Like any other business venture, community solar projects need investors. The majority of financing for community solar projects comes from the private sector, and dozens of firms have sprung up around the country that focus specifically on these projects. In New York alone, their numbers include Distributed Sun, Lever Energy Finance, and C2 Energy Capital. As community solar continues to grow, household names like Morgan Stanley are also getting into financing community solar projects: one of its subsidiaries has dedicated $100 million to community solar.

Solar developers employ this initial financing to build the project, earning money to pay back their investors from three key sources:

  • Customers’ subscriptions - When you subscribe to a portion of your local solar farm, your energy bill goes to support the project. This provides a consistent source of revenue for the projects.

  • Renewable energy credits - In states like New York and Massachusetts, utilities are required to have a certain proportion of the electricity passing over their grid come from renewable energy. In both of these states, they get credit for this through the purchase of credits from renewable energy producers.

  • Tax incentives - In the short term, tax incentives may continue to provide security for investors. Often paid out over the first years of a project’s existence, these are a guaranteed return for investors, and thus can help drive more financing for these projects.

RELATED: Our Best Community Solar Garden Yet is Now Available to New Yorkers

Why give incentives for solar?

Tax incentives exist not because of some special interest connection (fossil fuel lobbyists still vastly outnumber clean energy lobbyists in Washington), but because they pay for themselves many times over. Increased solar investment makes our air cleaner, lowers our dependence on imported fuel, creates local blue-collar jobs in installation and maintenance; and these and other benefits mean that for every dollar invested in solar through these tax credits, the taxpayer has seen approximately $2.20 in economic benefit, according an NREL study.  If you’re interested in a deeper dive into government subsidies for solar energy, our blog post from September covers this thoroughly.

Solar energy: the cheap fuel of the future

Moreover, unlike fossil fuels, solar tax credits are scheduled to be phased out over the next five years. Solar is already cheaper than fossil fuels in many parts of the world, and given that a rising proportion of these costs come from customer acquisition and permitting processes, there is substantial room to lower costs in the US. With continued innovation by companies like Solstice that are working to reduce the "soft costs" of solar, solar will thrive without subsidies–providing substantial economic and quality-of-life benefits to communities around the world.

Here’s How Much You Can Save With Community Solar.

By Forrest Watkins

Saving money is one of the biggest reasons that Americans are increasingly choosing to switch to solar energy. In fact, Solstice was founded for this very purpose: to bring affordable renewable energy to every American.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. It’s true, if your main goal is to maximize your long-term savings, that rooftop solar is probably your best bet--just as long as your roof is suitable and you’re okay contending with a $10,000-40,000 upfront bill.

Community solar, on the other hand, will bring you substantial savings as soon as your subscription goes live. All you have to do is sign up, and you’ll start seeing reliable savings without installing anything on your property and without worrying about any extra costs.

How much can I save?

The amount of money that you’ll save with community solar depends on the size of your monthly energy bill. We made an infographic that delves deeper into the topic in an easy-to-read format.

Fill out the Form Below to Get Access to the Infographic

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Other Solar Options

There are other forms of renewable energy that various groups offer to U.S. households, but frankly, few of them compare to community or rooftop solar.

Electric utilities often offer the option of using your bill to support renewable energy, but it inevitably involves paying a few cents extra for each kilowatt-hour instead of saving. National Grid, for example, offers an “Energy Choice” program to its customers which adds an extra 6-20% to the typical energy bill.

Similarly, in states with deregulated electricity markets, households can choose to get their energy from a “third party provider” (Also known as an Energy Service Company, ESCO, or TPP). Some of these companies offer purportedly clean energy to their customers, allowing them to “lock in” a rate of electricity. If you read the fine print on those contracts, the rate will increase modestly over time (what the industry calls an “escalator”).

Unfortunately, the energy that these providers are selling are often produced in faraway places where wind and solar are much cheaper. And the reality is that a wind farm in Texas doesn’t pass its electrons 1500 miles to a home in upstate New York. It powers the surrounding area. Even if that were the way our energy system was set up, it would be highly inefficient--anyone in the power industry will tell you that you start seeing significant voltage losses after a few hundred miles. Needless to say, these companies are often offering their customer renewable energy that isn’t at all connected to the energy systems that they use on a daily basis.

Moreover, in their early days, these types of contracts were proffered as a way to guarantee that your energy rates stayed relatively constant while the prices of fossil-fueled sources fluctuated and increased over time. Unfortunately for some, the U.S. fracking boom has led to decreased energy prices in areas powered by natural gas, and many of those who signed contracts with these providers are stuck paying comparatively high prices.

This is the kind of graph that these providers would show their prospective customers. Looks good, right? (This graphic pulled from American Sentry Solar's website.)

This is the kind of graph that these providers would show their prospective customers. Looks good, right? (This graphic pulled from American Sentry Solar's website.)

Unfortunately, as RMI explains in this informative blog post, energy prices don't rise in a predictable curve. They've actually fallen in many places around the country as renewable energy and natural gas prices have plummeted, leaving many customers to pay artificially high power prices.

Unfortunately, as RMI explains in this informative blog post, energy prices don't rise in a predictable curve. They've actually fallen in many places around the country as renewable energy and natural gas prices have plummeted, leaving many customers to pay artificially high power prices.

Community solar is different. Rather than locking in a specific price schedule for their energy, with community solar you lock in savings. The number can vary by project, but with community solar, you save around 10 percent on the energy that your panels produce, so that no matter how the price of energy fluctuates, you’re paying less on your electric bill than you would if you weren’t a subscriber.

Best of all, you support local renewable energy--and you can cancel any time you want (with two month’s notice).

Our Best Community Solar Garden Yet is Now Available to New Yorkers.

Community solar is an easy way to ensure future generations inherit a healthy Earth.

Community solar is an easy way to ensure future generations inherit a healthy Earth.

By Forrest Watkins

There’s been a hum of excitement around the Solstice offices these past few weeks—and we can finally share what we’ve been working on. Today, we’re ready to announce we are offering you one of the best community solar deals we’ve seen.

Community solar allows households to subscribe to a solar farm in their area, supporting local renewable energy without installing anything on their property, and consistently saving on their electricity costs.

Solstice is ready to provide residents of Central New York and the Southern Tier, including the cities of Ithaca, Elmira, and Binghamton, with solar subscriptions that save them 10 percent on their electricity costs. And our favorite part: you don’t have to commit to the 20-year contracts that most projects require. This project signs you on to the same 10 percent savings, but you only have to commit for 6 years—and what’s more, there are absolutely no cancellation fees.

This is, without a doubt, our most accessible community solar project to date.

WANT TO GO SOLAR? LET US KNOW!

There is only room for approximately 400 households in the projects, which are under development by local New York company Delaware River Solar. Each will be sited on former farmland, on two separate parcels near Chemung Road in Baldwin, New York.

 

Beyond the savings they provide and the renewable energy that they feed into the New York electric grid, these projects will also bring benefits to their communities. The project will provide additional revenues for the town, county, and school district, building the community through trusted local institutions. 

Delaware River Solar is a community solar developer based in New York, and will manage the project development and construction process. Ampion manages the software platform for the project that allows customers to sign up and pay their bills, while Solstice is raising awareness about the project and plugging communities into solar gardens in their area.

There's never been a better time to go solar.

There's never been a better time to go solar.

Solstice was founded to make solar easy and affordable for every American. Long contracts still prevent many people from participating in community solar, and that’s why this project is so exciting for us. We are beyond excited to bring you the utility bill savings that you need with shorter, easier contracts, and to work together with our community to bring renewable energy to more New Yorkers.

For individuals interested in owning their solar allotment, Solstice is also offering an option to purchase solar garden panels upfront. Those who pursue this option will be able to take advantage of tax credits as well as the standard energy production credits.

 

Don't miss out on this opportunity.

Get in touch with Solstice by filling out the form below.

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Meet solstice customers

 
 

Snow, Sleet, and Hail, Oh My! Why Solar Still Works in Colder Climates

By Christie Young

If there’s one aspect of life in the Northeast that everyone here has experienced, it’s the crazy weather—blistering winters, rainy springs and autumns, and weather that continues to surprise you no matter how long you’ve lived here.

 
It’s always been like this.

It’s always been like this.

 

So if you’re considering solar energy for your home or business, it might seem like a stretch to think that solar panels can power the Northeast. They just seem better suited to sun-drenched southern states. But there’s less sun hitting Germany than the Northeast, and it is still a world leader in solar adoption. In fact, with just 1% of the world's population, Germany currently has 16% of the world’s installed solar capacity, providing approximately six times the proportion of national energy generation as compared to the US (and that includes sunnier US states!).

China presents another interesting example. With approximately the same geographical size and latitude of the US, it includes a similarly large range of climate conditions. And while we commonly associate China with air pollution, it actually leads the world in solar panel installations. Many of these gigantic solar farms are to the north and west, in areas like Shanxi and Inner Mongolia, at virtually the same latitudes to New York or Vermont. Beijing’s major investments in solar show that renewable energy can compete on the largest of scales, and across all sorts of geographies.

At the end of the day, while the New York you know isn’t always the sunniest, the reality is that solar panels are still economically viable and productive in areas across the state.

RELATED: 7 Cons of Solar Energy

 

Solar panels in New York?

It may also seem counter-intuitive that solar panels are more efficient in cooler climates. But it’s true—the lower temperature allows the electrons produced by the panels to travel through an electrical circuit faster and with less resistance. Some desert systems even use cooling systems to avoid overheating.

Snow can be tricky. It’s true that a snow-covered panel functions at only a fraction of its normal efficiency. The good news is that in reality, this doesn’t have much of an effect: snow generally slides off tilted rooftop panels quickly, especially when the sun shines and it begins to melt away. In particularly snowy conditions, though, cleaning may be required. Convenience is one reason that individuals are increasingly choosing to source their electrical use from community solar gardens, where panels are aggregated in a central location.

Related: Where are the best places for solar gardens?

 
The sun still shines in the winter.

The sun still shines in the winter.

 

Going green without the hassle

With community solar, you don’t have to worry about maintenance or weather. Solar gardens generally employ someone for full-time maintenance work, and this includes clearing panels of snow, dust, and debris, so that the solar garden operates at full potential, 24/7/365. (And it creates a loca job in the process!)

With the right maintenance and integration with emerging energy storage technologies, solar energy can power states across America.

Community solar has many other advantages over rooftop systems: no expensive installation, no upfront costs, and no maintenance or worries.

Solstice Helps Local Institutions Spread Solar in Their Community

By Forrest Watkins

An energy system that is renewable and fair for everyone will put communities first—and your community can help.

The Bridgewater Parish Church had always been dedicated to serving its community and protecting the environment. The organization’s leadership recognized the rising threat of climate change and the injustices introduced by environmental pollution, and wanted to find a way to bring more renewable energy to their community.

Leaders in the community encouraged members to “go green” by making energy efficiency improvements and by switching to solar energy. They discovered, though, that many of their members weren’t eligible to install panels on their roof.

That’s when Solstice came along. We informed them that their members were eligible to subscribe to a local community solar farm, saving 10% on their electric bill while supporting local renewable energy.

For the Bridgewater leadership, it was a no-brainer. With Solstice helping them to spread the word through events and follow-up support, they:

  • Fulfilled an important component of their mission: supporting clean, renewable energy and improving life in their community

  • Strengthened their community ties through leadership and shared work on an issue important to their members

First, the church committee signed up the church. Then, the pastor signed up his own home. And then congregants followed suit.

 
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Learn More About How Solstice Can Help Bring Solar to Your Community

Fill out the form below to access the case study

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Solstice Helps Your Constituents Go Solar

A recent Yale study showed that the #1 reason that people go solar is because a friend or neighbor did. This means that solar spreads through communities, and that local leaders have the power to make a difference.

Moreover, the members of the Bridgewater Church aren’t alone. Approximately four in five American households can’t install solar on their rooftop, because their roofs are shaded or facing in the wrong direction, because they rent their homes, or because they can’t afford the upfront costs.

With Solstice, local organizations and businesses have a chance to have a positive impact in their community and strengthen their relationships with their members and constituents. We work hard to make community solar easy, organizing events, providing informational materials, and providing ongoing support to solar ambassadors in your community.

Community Solar and the Local, Sharing Economy

By Christie Young

It can feel like a contradiction: In an era of cheap air travel and video conferences, communities from around the world are taking up the call to go local.

As the harmful effects of globalization have become increasingly apparent, resistance has taken many forms. People trade their cars for ride sharing apps and public transit, or buy used goods from Craigslist instead of shiny new ones at the department store. Approximately 100 million Americans belong to one of our country’s 30,000 cooperatives.

In bringing things back to this smaller scale, re-localizing the economy gives people an opportunity to divorce themselves from faceless corporations and deal directly with people in their communities. And besides keeping dollars in local communities, this trend is modestly contributing to a decline in fossil fuel emissions.

Community Solar: Subscription and Ownership Models Both Bring Benefits to Local Economies

We see community solar as a chance to magnify that impact. Community solar is a mechanism that everyday Americans are using to collaborate on local energy production, gaining control over systems that have historically remained in the hands of large monopolies.

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Most community solar farms operate by allowing people to sign up for monthly subscriptions. This allows households to see immediate savings on their electric bill without any hidden costs or installation on their property, all while supporting renewable energy.

RELATED: Local Concerns: How Community Solar Farms Can Be Developed to Protect Their Local Environment

And while local ownership isn’t part of this model, these projects are in many ways driven by and benefiting their local communities. Financing for the projects is dependent on local engagement with the project: the solar gardens do not get built until households enroll in them. Moreover, projects distribute benefits to individual households in the form of reliable savings, but also to communities in the form of jobs, government revenues, and local clean energy.

Community Solar Ownership: Hurdles and Possibility

Going a step further, some communities have also begun searching for ways of bringing project ownership to local communities.

Colorado’s Clean Energy Collective (CEC; one of the nation’s 30,000 cooperatives!) built one of the country’s first community solar gardens: taking what was, at that point, just an idea, and building a thriving example of community-owned clean energy in Colorado. CEC sold the facility to 19 local homeowners upon its completion. Each member purchased about nine panels (2 kW) on average, and taking into account local clean energy rebates, spent an estimated $3,500.

The extra work involved in this approach can have its rewards. Owning panels can provide increased savings to individuals who are willing to navigate the paperwork involved in redeeming tax incentives and renewable energy credits.

RELATED: The World's 10 Most Beautiful Solar Farms

This ownership model may be the ideal form of community solar for those invested in the vision of a sharing economy: electricity generation for the people, by the people. A local facility produces clean energy, benefits the local economy by creating new jobs and reducing electricity costs, and ownership over the farm ensures that local communities retain control over their energy decisions.

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But many don’t have the savings to pay the costs upfront, and don’t qualify for financing. That’s why Solstice focuses on a subscription model for community solar. We know that low- and moderate-income families typically have higher energy bills than wealthier households, and will benefit the most from electric bill savings. For a local, sharing economy to benefit everyone, it needs to be accessible regardless of economic class—and that means models like subscription community solar.

Community solar is growing by the day. The Department of Energy projects that shared solar resources could comprise 49% of the solar market by 2020. More and more Americans are finding collaborative ways to switch to renewable energy, just like they traded personal vehicles for ride sharing apps. Local, sharing economies are rising to address our social and environmental challenges, and community solar will continue to be at the core of this transition.

Want to go solar? Let us know!

How many solar panels do I need to power my home?

By Forrest Watkins

Whether you’re looking into rooftop solar energy or a local community solar garden, it’s useful to have a rule of thumb to help you figure out how many panels you need to cover your energy usage. Using these simple facts, you can also get a handle on some larger questions about solar energy, like how much energy a solar farm produces and how many homes it can power.

We’ll go into more depth on the considerations behind these numbers in just a moment, but here’s what you need to know:

  • The average US residential solar installation is 5 kW. If we assume 250 watt panels, this means that the average solar home has about 20 solar panels.

  • To cover 100 percent of your energy usage, you may need more panels—especially if you have a large home or an energy-intensive addition like a swimming pool or central air conditioning.

To understand what this means for your household, you can calculate your panels based on how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity you use in a typical month. For a New Yorker, if you divide your total energy use by 1.22, you’ll get the kilowatt size of your system (how much energy your system can produce at its peak). You can then divide this number by 250 to get the number of solar panels that you need. The average New Yorker would thus need an 8.9 kilowatt system (35 panels) to cover their entire energy usage.

A map of the amount of energy the sun can provide in different areas of the earth. Image Credit: SolarGIS

A map of the amount of energy the sun can provide in different areas of the earth. Image Credit: SolarGIS

  • A home in New York will need more panels than a comparable one in Arizona, because southern desert climates see more sun than cloudier, more northern ones. This is less important than overall energy use, but still makes a significant difference. For example, a resident in Arizona that wanted to cover their entire energy usage with solar might use 6.6 kilowatts (26 panels), compared to a resident of New York, who would need an 8.9 kilowatts (or 35 panels).

Seem like a lot of solar panels for one rooftop? This is one of the reasons that the average solar installation is smaller than what would be required to cover an average household’s energy usage—and one of the reasons community solar is a great option for many households. In fact, with most community solar gardens representing between one and five Megawatts of capacity, a solar garden can power between 140 and 715 American households.

Without space restrictions, we can allot to your household the panels that you need to cover your entire energy bill, without installing anything on your property.

The largest project we've helped to enroll can power approximately 3,200 homes! Photo Credit: BlueWave Solar

The largest project we've helped to enroll can power approximately 3,200 homes! Photo Credit: BlueWave Solar

If you’re dedicated to putting panels on your rooftop, you can also squeeze in more energy capacity with higher-efficiency panels. Solar technology has advanced in leaps and bounds in recent years. Panels on the market today will have relatively similar efficiencies, but higher-end panels, inverters, and other equipment can bring incremental improvements in the efficiency of a solar system. This is generally only necessary and cost efficient when your space is limited.

Want to go more in-depth on the technical reasoning behind these numbers? The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PV Watts calculator is a great resource for calculating the output of different solar energy systems.