Tapping into renewable energy like solar isn't just for homeowners anymore. Renters can get into the game, too.
If you're interested in solar energy but don't own a home, experts say community solar may be the answer. "Your best bet is to tap into some sort of community solar offsite generation -- subscribe to an array," says Alan Robertson, managing director of solar development for BlueWave, a solar and energy storage development company.
Like rooftop solar panels, community solar programs, which let customers buy cheaper energy from nearby solar farms, allow you to reduce your home energy bills, but without the hefty upfront cost of installing solar panels. And since renters typically can't make a rooftop solar installation decision, community solar is a way for anyone to choose renewable energy -- and the cost savings that come with it.
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"Ensuring every community has access to the benefits from affordable clean energy resources like solar is key to President Biden's vision of an equitable clean energy future," US Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said in a press release Thursday. "With today's announcements, DOE is providing an exciting new set of tools and important assistance to support solar deployment across the nation so that all communities can enjoy the economic and critical public health benefits that come with deploying renewable energy."
As part of this initiative, the DOE's National Community Solar Partnership chose 25 teams for a Community Power Accelerator Prize worth $10 million. The competition will strive to promote and fund community solar projects across the nation.
Alternatives to rooftop solar, such as community solar programs, portable solar panels, or renewable energy credits -- or RECs -- are all cheaper and easier ways to take part in the renewable energy revolution. If you're interested in going solar but can't afford the costly rooftop investment or you rent your home or apartment, here's what you need to know to take part.
Solar options for rental homes or apartments
While landlords may have rules around what you can do with a home you're renting, using solar energy through one of the options below may be possible.
Ensure your apartment complex or landlord will allow you to use these options and that there are no rules disallowing solar.
There are large-scale solar farms built locally that power communities. Community solar allows people to buy cheaper solar energy from a solar farm without installing a full solar system at home. You can pay for community solar through subscriptions and, in some cases, through an existing utility company.
"That is the most commercially available and has been tested, tried and true. It works and is a good way to contribute, support the solar industry, and save money on your electricity bill," says Robertson.
- Easy to access solar through community projects.
- Instant savings on your electricity bill.
- Option for people who can't put panels on their roofs.
- Participation in clean energy.
- Not many community solar projects available (yet).
- Hard to find a community solar project.
- Savings aren't as high compared with if you had your own system.
Portable solar panel system
Portable solar systems can be an efficient way to use solar without the cost of having solar installed in a home -- especially a house you don't own. Portable solar systems are mobile and can easily be set up. They can help you save a bit of money and can be taken with you if you decide to leave your home.
- Easier to set up than having solar installed.
- Can help offset electric costs.
- This system might qualify for the 30% federal tax credit. (Check with a tax professional.)
- Small enough that you can take it with you wherever you go.
- Produces less power than a ground-mounted or rooftop solar system.
- Need to use the grid for most of your energy.
- Inverters and storage systems for portable solar systems can be expensive.
Buy renewable energy certificates
The great part of renewable energy certificates, or RECs, is that they allow anyone to participate in the clean energy movement without needing to purchase solar panels. RECs represent one-megawatt hour of renewable energy and can be purchased through retailers and utility companies. They cost extra if you don't own solar panels. Owners of rooftop installed solar systems can sell RECs where markets exist to help offset their utility costs. Renters that don't own panels can only buy them.
- These certificates let you invest in clean energy without setting up solar panels.
- Renewable energy certificates can be tracked and recorded.
- It may take a lot of work to find out where to purchase renewable energy certificates.
- Some RECs can be expensive, depending on where you live.
- You get clean energy but at an additional cost.
Traditional solar panels
You may plan on living in the home you're renting long-term. In that case, you could talk to your landlord and pay for the installation of full solar. It could be a significant investment, but one that saves you more money over time.
- Reduces your carbon footprint.
- Lets you save on electricity costs over time.
- You're paying for a system you won't be able to take with you if you leave.
- It can be expensive to purchase and install a full solar system, especially for a home you don't own.
- You're paying for a system that the owner of the house may not want to buy if you leave.
- Panels not easily transferable.
Is it worth going solar if you don't own a home?
The simple answer is: It depends. "Renters certainly do have options -- there is value in community solar. It's a great way to directly participate and support solar and get the direct benefits of solar, which is a decreased electricity bill," says Robertson.
Even if you don't own your home or you rent an apartment, you have several options to choose from. See which option makes sense for you, and be sure your landlord or apartment complex clears it.