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Community solar vs. Rooftop solar: Which is right for you?

Last updated 2/28/2019

Community solar power is a good option for renters or home & business owners with unsuitable roofs to produce their own clean energy. In some rare cases, participation in a community solar project may even be an alternative to rooftop solar where the property has a viable roof for installing solar panels.

“In some cases, participation in a community solar project may be an alternative to rooftop solar even where there the property has a viable roof for installing solar panels.”

Community vs. Rooftop solar comparison table

The table below examines the main differences between the two approaches to going solar. Keep in mind that program parameters and models vary between companies, so it is critical to understand precisely what deals are on offer in your area in order to be well-informed before making a decision.

Community Solar Rooftop Solar
Program Models

1. Ownership Model: Participants may purchase or obtain financing for their share of project under ownership-based programs

2. 'Subscription-based' programs: System is owned by utility or the solar company and participants buy electricity at lower cost

You can own the system, finance it with solar loans, or sign up for a solar lease or PPA
Billing and benefit payout

Billing administered by utility, solar project administrator or combination of both

Benefits delivered via either:

A. Virtual Net Metering credits on monthly electricity bill or

B. Arrangement with community solar supplier whereby utility bill is reduced via solar credits and community solar developer sends separate bill (2 bills total)

Administered by utility

Benefits generally paid via solar Net Metering credits on participant's power bill or through avoided electricity purchase

Contract duration (for non-purchase options)
Variable. Some allow easy entry and exit from programs; others require long-term contract comparable to rooftop solar lease Solar lease/PPA, contracts are for 20-25 years
Maintenance and parts replacement
With both purchase and subscription, maintenance is the responsibility of the project developer/administrator If PV system is owned, you maintain the system. If leased, system maintenance is responsibility of solar company that owns the PV system
When selling the home
Solar benefits unaffected by relocating if the participant remains in the same utility service area. Moving out of the utility service area may require an early termination fee

If owned, systems add to sale price of house

If lease/PPA, may be take over by next occupant (read more)

Location options
Can be built on communal-property (land or even roof) or third-party owned property. However, in most cases project built as ground-mounted on open land for optimal solar access On roof or elsewhere on property owned by the home or commercial property owner
System lifespan
Typical expected life of system is 25-30 years, although some projects may extend longer Typical expected system life is 25-30 years
Property value impact
As agreements are between customer and utility, any value associated with system (subscription or purchase) would not transfer to residence of the participants Rooftop solar has been shown to improve property values
Environmental considerations
Best practice is for projects to be located in proximity to existing grid infrastructure and on otherwise unusable land (e.g. former landfill) to maximize environmental outcomes. Read more Rooftop solar makes use of otherwise 'empty' space and located close to point of power consumption (i.e. home or business)
community solar options

Decision-making tool: Is community solar right for you?

The graphic below is designed to aid those who are not certain as to whether rooftop or community solar is the better choice for them in making a decision.

community solar options

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