September 27, 2021

What is a Solar Garden?

  • Posted in:   2021-09-27
  • Written by  2021-09-27

A solar garden managed by SunShare sits in a field on a sunny day as SunShare explains what a solar garden actually is

When you hear about community gardens or garden share programs, you might envision rows of carefully-tended fruits and vegetables – but what about a community solar garden?

In this type of community garden, solar panels are placed throughout to cultivate renewable energy. SunShare’s community solar gardens work in harmony with nature as we often plant flowers and forage for pollinators or develop projects with ‘agri voltaics’ – meaning crops can be planted underneath and between the solar arrays so the usable land is optimized. Solar gardens are emerging as an option for individuals, businesses, and organizations alike to reap the benefits of solar energy in a completely new way. Rather than setting up the traditional system of solar panels on the roof of your home or business, participating in a solar garden is now an exciting alternative.

Because solar gardens are so new, plenty of people want to know more about them. So, here are the basics of solar gardens and answers to your questions, including:

  • What is a solar garden?
  • How does a community solar garden work?
  • What are the benefits of community solar?
  • How can I get community solar power?

What is a Community Solar Garden?

A community solar garden is a centrally-located solar photovoltaic (PV) system that supplies electricity to participating subscribers.

Depending on your region, local energy providers, and other factors, community solar gardens may be referred to as “shared solar,” “roofless solar,” “solar farms,” or “community distributed generation.” Whatever name you know them by, they are all based on the same basic concept: a subscription-based approach to solar energy that does not require the placement of panels on the subscriber’s property.

This option is ideal for people that are interested in making the switch to solar power but aren’t able to do so for various reasons, such as:

  • A roof that does not receive enough sun or doesn’t have an ideal slope/shape/quality for solar panels
  • Living at a rental property, such as an apartment complex
  • A lack of space for solar panels at a business/organization’s property
  • The upfront cost and maintenance of a rooftop solar panel system is outside their current budget

How Do Community Solar Gardens Work?

A community solar garden generally located in the same distribution network as their utility provider. Residents, organizations, and businesses in the eligible area of the solar garden sign up as subscribers, and then receive monthly utility bill credits for their participation.

Essentially, community solar gardens are a three-stage system:

  1. Solar PV panels are installed. A solar developer selects and secures a solar garden site and chooses a sunny location with ideal conditions. This part of the process typically takes 9-12 months from start to finish. Once the solar PV system has been connected to the grid and energized, it begins producing renewable energy.
  2. You subscribe to the solar garden. You can then sign up for a subscription to the community solar garden, paying a recurring fee for your subscription. Depending on the provider, you may have varying subscription options.
  3. You receive utility bill credits. Every month, your utility bill will be credited according to the amount of electricity generated by your “share” of the community solar garden.

The Benefits of Solar Gardens

For those considering solar gardens, reviews and information from existing subscribers are an important part of the decision-making process (side note: check ours out here!). Understandably, you want to know the advantages of subscribing to a solar garden vs. remaining a “traditional” utility customer. Why should you sign up for community solar, and what is there to gain?

Solar gardens benefit both you as an individual subscriber and the community – and our environment – as a whole. One of the biggest draws of community solar is that it allows you to reap the benefits of solar energy without ever installing a single solar panel on your property, so it’s really easy!

Here are just some of the benefits of community solar to keep in mind:

Stability and protection from rising energy costs

It’s not unusual for energy costs to experience volatile changes due to utility provider increases, fossil fuel shortages, and other factors. For most people, this means that it’s virtually impossible to know what they’ll be paying for energy month to month. And moving forward, it’s not unlikely that costs will continue to rise at a steady rate.

But when you are a solar garden subscriber, you’ll have a far better idea of what your energy expenses will be in the short and long term. Also, you’ll have a level of protection against unexpected spikes.

An affordable way to access renewable energy

Although garden solar panel systems are a popular option for home and business owners, they are financially out of reach for so many people. The upfront expense of designing and installing a rooftop system can easily climb into the thousands, and there are often complicated fees and surcharges, not to mention maintenance, to consider as well.

However, joining a solar garden means that you can skip straight to the sustainable energy source – no panels needed. It’s a far more budget-friendly option, making solar energy much more accessible.

Support a more sustainable future for our planet

It’s no secret that nonrenewable energy sources are playing a significant part in many of our biggest environmental issues at present. For so many people, their interest in solar energy is (at least partially) tied to their efforts to be more environmentally conscious.

When you choose to participate in community solar, you pave the way for a future in which solar energy continues to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. The more demand there is for solar panels (including solar gardens), the better we are able to implement renewable energy solutions on a state and nationwide basis.

Best of all, we can actually measure the environmental impact of solar gardens in terms of actual, tangible data. The oldest and largest residential community solar provider, SunShare, has 80 community solar energy gardens (Colorado and Minnesota) and counting, which have allowed for benefits that so far equate to:

  • 2.2 billion pounds less of coal burned for energy
  • 31 million trees planted
  • 4.9 billion fewer miles driven

How to Join a Solar Garden

So, your next question might be: how do I join a community solar garden in my area? If you already live in an area served by a community solar garden, it’s as easy as signing up as a subscriber. If there is not a local solar garden currently available for subscription, you may need to wait for one to be built. Typically, SunShare solar gardens take 9-12 months to complete. You will know exactly when you’ve been “assigned” to a new garden, where it stands in the development process, and when it’s activated.

Let SunShare Change the Way You Think of Solar Energy

SunShare manages dozens of community solar gardens (MN and CO), accounting for more than 60 active megawatts in two states. With nearly 20 more solar gardens currently in development, we are expanding at an exciting rate – and our subscribers are reaping the benefits of renewable energy.

If you’ve been considering making the switch to solar, a solar garden may be the right fit for you. Learn more about community solar with SunShare, and how subscribing can benefit you when you contact us today.