There’s nobody left who doesn’t believe solar energy is a good thing for the environment. The main problem is that the cost of solar, even with tax incentives, is still too costly for the overwhelming majority of the population. It turns out that there may be a way to bring those costs down.

solar panels

The concept of solar neighborhoods isn’t new, but it’s not something that’s pervasive either. The basic principle is that multiple households within a neighborhood to get together and decide to purchase solar panels and services as a group. This allows a discount because of volume buying, and offers a lot of other opportunities as well.

The basic principle behind getting solar panels is to generate electricity that your home can use during the day instead of using energy from your local utility provider. Most people will remain connected to the grid so that once the sun goes down they’ll start drawing power from the grid again.

The utility draws in your excess power during the day and uses what it takes to add a credit to your bill when you start taking it back. This amounts to savings that average around $50 a month, although it could be much higher if your power consumption isn’t that much. This is how some people end up getting paid for power.

The first consideration is purchasing solar panels. The estimated costs for this is between $15,000 and $30,000, depending on the size of the home and the estimated capacity a consumer would need to power their home without having to borrow from their utility company during the day. Luckily, there are both state and federal incentives that can help bring down the cost, but the price can still feel prohibitive.

This is where the concept of solar neighborhoods come in. Like pretty much everything else, rates go down when you can purchase solar panels in bulk. The more homes that participate, the lower the costs will be. In one instance, a neighborhood was able to get so many participants that the cost of solar panels came down to under $2,500 per household. This was an extreme case where one family was able to convince 350 others to go the solar route, which then gave them extraordinary leverage in getting other price breaks, but it does show the power in numbers.

The second consideration is the equipment that needs to be set up to capture solar energy for household use. To save on costs, most people lease or rent the equipment and pay a monthly fee to the company that installs the units. With enough homes in a solar neighborhood, the ability to negotiate a lower rate can add to the overall savings, making the move to solar even more affordable.

In rural communities, it’s possible to build what’s known as a solar farm. In this instance what happens is that one family willingly gives up at least an acre of their land to install solar panels to generate power for an entire community.

In cases like this, the family giving up the land will also be paid between $1,500 and $3,000 a month for doing it because a set up like this more often than not generates so much energy that the companies building them will turn a profit. This means that none of the users of this energy profit from the excess power generated, but the overall savings is worth it because the savings occur during both day and evening hours.

The third consideration is deciding whether one wishes to even remain on the grid. Solar battery technology is getting better, but it’s not to the point yet where most people could afford a battery large enough to power their homes at a low enough cost to make it worth doing. Not only that but right now these batteries need to be replaced every 3 to 5 years. Purchasing batteries in bulk can bring the costs down, but the savings might not be enough for everyone to buy one, so it wouldn’t work well in this instance.

Buying a few large batteries for the neighborhood could allow for powering things that some communities don’t have. For instance, a large centralized solar battery could power night lights in areas that don’t have them.

It could also be used to power heating coils embedded in driveways in areas of the country that deal with a lot of inclement weather to help melt snow and ice and save each family upwards of an average of $300 a year in snow removal costs. These are only a couple of ideas, as the participants of solar neighborhoods could determine on their own how they wish to use the power if this is something they’re interested in.

The power is in the number of households that decide to participate. Villages could vote to do something like this, and on some parts of the country co-ops and planned communities could decide to do something like this as well. What this offers is the chance to not only negotiate better rates with the companies providing the solar materials, but to negotiate even better incentive rates and potential tax breaks with local and state governments.

This concept is growing across the country. Recently one home building company installed solar panels on each house they built in the 185 subdivision they created in a Las Vegas neighborhood, and the cost of the solar panels is built into the mortgage rate and makes it easier to pay for, as well as realizing immediate savings on energy. There’s also a former professional basketball player who’s not only trying to bring free solar energy to low income neighborhoods, but is creating jobs for those in the community to install the panels and save on costs that way.

Solar works no matter how much sun a region receives, and by staying on the grid the savings will still vary based on each person’s usage. This makes it possible that not only will some people save more money within the solar neighborhood concept, but the return on investment purchasing the panels and any other equipment could pay off much sooner than the average of 7 to 15 years. This makes the solar neighborhood option worth pursuing for those communities that can bind together for a common cause.
 

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