Climate change has been considered a middle class issue. When a community is faced in survival mode, there tends to be a gap as far as what you can actually do.
These are the type of neighborhoods that deal with higher asthma rates and are considered front line communities, They’re closer to the incinerators. They’re closer to the railroad tracks.
Is community solar bringing renewable energy?
However, they’re left out of clean energy. Kristal Hansley is trying to expand the reach of renewable energy, and address systemic imbalances in the process.
She’s the first Black woman to run a company specializing in community solar – a fast-growing part of the industry that she hopes will make it easier for marginalized communities to go green, and see economic benefits in the process.
My vision is to bring solar to every city in the country, and so cities like Baltimore City will be able to be a part of that just transition across the nation.
Solar energy and community solar for the people
Solar is going to be fairly critical to the overall decarbonization goal. It’s one of the cheapest forms of clean energy around. And costs are steadily declining.
To really get a sense of what how far solar has come need to look at over the last sort of 10 years. In the early 2010 or so, solar electricity, it would cost you about $300 per megawatt hour.
More about electricity and solar community
Today, you can get that electricity for around $30 a megawatt hour. And what has really driven that is a sort of fall in the cost of the solar panels. Manufacturing efficiency has steadily improved as well as well as the efficiency of a panel.
Those cost declines have turned solar into a booming industry in recent years. In the U.S., not even a pandemic could stop 2020 from becoming a record year for new installations. But those gains haven’t been evenly distributed.
Traditionally, there’ve been barriers that precluded African-American communities, underrepresented communities from accessing solar for a simple fact that you needed to own a home or have 700 credit score to get a nice interest rate on a solar loan.
As a result, many minorities are left out of the savings that can come with switching to solar. Now, a new type of solar business is looking to solve that problem.
What is community solar?
Community solar is a model in which anyone who might consider putting solar on their roof but is not able to do so for whatever purposes, signs up to receive a share of the electricity from a larger project.
So, community solar is an approach that lets everybody participate in the benefits of solar. Tom Hunt’s company, Pivot Energy, is based in Denver, Colorado, and has deployed around 50 megawatts of solar across the country.
You know, that might serve something between 5,000 and 10,000 customers total. He estimates at least half their business is in community solar. It’s growing very fast for us.
I would guess in 2021, we might deploy double the amount of community solar that we deployed in 2020. Community solar started right here in Colorado, actually back in about 2010 or so.
Colorado is a great place, obviously, to develop solar, you have lots of sunshine here. But even more so, you have a really strong foundation of experts in the technology and the commercialization of solar.
A lot of that, I think, comes from having the National Renewable Energy Laboratory here, there out in Golden and have been around for decades. And so, I think that set a really strong foundation to have the solar industry grow here and make impact on the world.
We are at the site of one of Pivot’s community solar gardens on the outskirts of the Denver metro area. The subscribers are a nice mix of local governments, juts regular individuals that want to participate and a few organizations that serve low-income community.
Benefits of community solar
Obviously, we produce clean energy, but with community solar, we’re also engaging a wide set of the community in participating in that solution. From its origins in Colorado, community solar started picking up steam in 2016, and it’s since spread to nearly every state.
One up-and-coming hotspot is the greater Baltimore area. This farm on the city’s outskirts, built in 2020, was developed by Bithenergy, whose CEO, Robert Wallace, is one of the few Black business owners in the solar industry.
Baltimore, like every other city, in my opinion, need solar energy. It reduces the carbon footprint. But it also is an economic engine. Our process involves using local minority and women businesses to help build the projects.
Baltimore’s about two thirds African-American. I believe that solar energy, like every other industry, should reflect the communities in which it serves. And that is a smart business principle.
I think it’s the right thing to do and the moral thing to do. Wallace says his company has three community solar farms currently serving the Baltimore area, with another seven in the works.
Kristal Hansley working for community solar
Meanwhile, Kristal Hansley of WeSolar is working to make sure Baltimore’s poorest residents can reap the benefits of community solar.
State subsidies allow low-income residents to save up to 25% on their electric bill if they make the switch. So that’s really huge for folks who are still, you know, struggling while we climb our way out of this pandemic. But it’s often easier said than done.
Main challanges in community solar
The main challenges that’s associated with my role in the industry, which is managing a subscribing customers for these type of solar projects, is the trust.
Folks typically do not believe that those savings that you’re promising will exist, It’s new, no one’s seen it before, coupled with they’ve been bamboozled and lied to in the past.
To overcome those barriers, Kristal partners with local community leaders, such as Reverend Cleveland Mason, who opened his church to Kristal to make her pitch to his congregation.
Some talks about community solar
How you doing, Rev? Doing great. I’m always looking for something that’s gonna benefit our people. As long as we can help our people understand benefits like this that are available to them, we’re helping them to save money.
We’re helping them to make their life a little bit easier. But COVID has made those outreach efforts more challenging, especially since low-income and elderly residents are less likely to have internet access.
You know, I’m still bringing people online for worship services. But it’s a process. You know, these people are just new to the technology.
Most of them are not doing something different simply because they just don’t know. And I think it’s our job to help make sure that they are aware and, hopefully, improving their lifestyle along the way.
Final words for community solar
Ultimately, community solar is just one part of the remarkable success story of the solar industry, which has become an undeniable bright spot in the fight against climate change.
But it isn’t yet clear how big a part this new business model will play. In terms of the scale at which solar more broadly can grow, a lot of the growth rate is actually coming from like utility scale power plants.
In terms of adding more clean energy to the grid, overall, those projects are definitely doing more. But community solar can definitely allow more companies, more people to get access to sort of the benefits of solar.
You know, my my company has begun doing projects globally. We just kicked off a project in the Virgin Islands. We’ve we’ve done we’ve marketed in West Africa and Latin America.
This is an emerging global market. We have a burgeoning middle class. I think that to the community solar model is the perfect model to accelerate the penetration of solar in those markets.
More about solar industry
The solar industry is in a really strong position. At this point, solar is just about the cheapest form of energy possible for electricity.
For those of us who have been in the industry for quite a while, it’s something we knew we would get to but had to fight quite a bit to make it happen.
I expect that by the end of my working career, solar will be the largest source of electricity in the United States. It’s is cool and awesome like to say that you have a company that’s not only fighting climate change, but also saving low income families money.
My end goal is to be able to bring solar to every single household in the country. That’s my goal and I think it’s definitely viable and feasible.
In this article, we have talked about solar energy and Community solar. How community solar is bringing renewable energy to people’s. Solar industry are really working very good and making our environment better. Read this article fully and you will learn everything about solar energy and Community solar.
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