Community solar projects (CSPs) are playing a major role in the global energy transition. However, the true value of these projects can be difficult to understand. The value of CSPs is far greater than simply the value of the energy they produce and includes:
- Inclusive for non-owners.
- Lower upfront costs.
- Allows for reallocation of funds for community programming.
- Provides energy security.
- Education opportunities.
- Critical infrastructure for remote communities.
- Supports local economy.
- Contributes to the global energy transition.
1. Inclusive for Non-Owners
People that do not own their dwelling are often left out of the renewable energy space because they are not able to install and use renewables due to their ownership status. CSPs, such as solar gardens, allow non-owners to purchase a subscription to a solar array which functions the same as if they had installed a solar array on the roof of their building. Each person that subscribes helps to pay for the installation of the array and in return receives the proportional amount of generation from the array as credit to their monthly energy bill. Including the growing number of young people that are renting in the transition is an important step in achieving regional climate targets.
2. Low Upfront Costs
Much like purchasing food at a wholesaler, one large CSP is more cost-effective than several small private solar photovoltaic systems. Much of the cost associated with an array installation is the permitting, design, and logistics involved. Therefore, consolidating into one large community array allows those costs to be paid one time, instead of once on each project, which results in increased value. Equipment costs for the system will also typically be subject to volume pricing if the system is large enough to meet supplier targets for discounts.
3. Reallocation of Funds for Community Programming
After the up-front equipment and installation costs, there are clear savings every month for the community. The money saved on energy bills annually can then be reallocated to increased community funding for various programs which will have a measurable benefit for all members of the community. This is especially pertinent when municipally owned buildings, such as libraries and recreation facilities, can be used for the infrastructure base.
4. Provides Energy Security
As capacity for renewable energy grows in a community, so does the overall energy security. This is particularly true in remote areas, or locations that have their own microgrid. To truly maximize the potential energy security benefits of a solar array, battery banks are needed. This can be a significant increase in system cost but may be worthwhile if there are frequent blackouts or the community is in a potential disaster zone. Luckily, the cost of lithium batteries has decreased by half in recent years and is expected to continue to decrease as production capacity ramps up and battery technology improves. With the current rapid reduction in the price of battery storage, which can be added to an existing CSP, this is likely to become more common, especially in remote or underserved communities.
5. Education Opportunities
Having a CSP in a prominent community gathering place allows for general education about how solar energy systems work and their benefits. The installation phase of the projects could also be potentially used as hands-on experience for installers-in-training at local trade schools and private training facilities in the region. Education on the benefits of solar energy will play a major role in speeding up adoption of the technology. One major goal for all CSPs is to turn detractors into proponents.
6. Critical Infrastructure for Remote/Underserved Communities
A CSP can be used to drive critical infrastructure upgrades, especially in remote communities. When a community chooses to operate a CSP the infrastructure required for transmission and management may not be present. However, there is often funding available to assist in upgrading the current infrastructure to allow for operation of the CSP. Two recent examples in Saskatchewan are the Cowessess First Nation’s and the Muskoday First Nation’s solar-power projects. For more remote communities, such as Port Clements on Haida Gwaii in British Columbia, CSPs are being used to reduce diesel consumption and save money. Haida Gwaii is not a location that would typically be thought of as a candidate for a CSP due to the cloudy, rainy climate. However, due to reliance on diesel generators for community buildings, offsetting the fuel costs through solar generation is still a net savings.
7. Supports Local Economy
Projects such as the Cowessess First Nation’s and the Muskoday First Nation’s solar-power projects support the local economy by creating good jobs for the future. Furthermore, by ensuring the First Nations each maintain control of their systems and energy production, they also gain energy independence and security. CSPs can also act as a springboard into a larger solar enterprise. Once the experience of developing the CSP is gained by the communities, they can use that experience and provide solar installation and maintenance services to the surrounding area.
8. Contributes to the Global Energy Transition
Finally, the global energy transition has already begun. According to the International Energy Agency, the share of wind and solar in global electricity generation is increasing at a pace of several percent per year and is currently nearing 10% of global generation. However, there is still a lot of work to do as we continue to consume more energy generated by fossil fuels each year. Small and large CSPs add to this capacity and can help speed the transition from fossil fuels and help limit the social and economic damage of climate change.
This article was written by Evan Kraemer
 Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2020., Government of Canada announces support for solar projects in two Saskatchewan First Nation communities. Retrieved January 6, 2021 from: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/news/2020/12/government-of-canada-announces-support-for-solar-projects-in-two-saskatchewan-first-nation-communities.html
 Kim Mushynsky, 2016., About the Haida Gwaii Community Solar Project. Retrieved January 6, 2021 from: http://www.swiilawiid.org/clean-energy-news/2016/10/2/about-the-haida-gwaii-solar-panel-project
 IEA, 2020., Global Energy Review 2020. Retrieved January 6, 2021 from: https://www.iea.org/reports/global-energy-review-2020/renewables
 Our World in Data, 2020., Year-to-Year change in primary energy consumption from fossil fuels vs. low-carbon energy, world, 2019. Retrieved January 6, 2021 from https://ourworldindata.org/energy