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Fields of free utility bills.

You no longer need to own a solar panel to reap the financial benefits of solar energy

Michael J. Coren
By Michael J. Coren

Climate reporter

For Americans, solar power can now come without the panel.

Solar energy isn’t an option for millions of people living in cities—who have no rooftop to call their own—or without reasonable solar prices. There are 113 million homeowners in markets with competitively-priced solar power—but because of poor credit scores, 90% of them can’t get solar panel installation loans at terms favorable enough to make the panels financially viable, reports Greentech Media.

A startup is now separating solar from the rooftop. Arcadia Power launched a community solar program Nov. 3 that lets customers buy solar panels anywhere in the US—technically, they buy a tiny share of a Power Purchase Agreement from a solar project—and pay their energy bills with sales from its electricity.

Each $350 “panel” purchased by Arcadia’s customers generates about $5 per month through sales to the local power grid. Customers can buy as many panels as they wish, and each generates power for 15 to 20 years. The panels typically pay for themselves within about about seven years, claims Aracadia. For the average household paying $114 in electricity (pdf) per month, 25 panels can zero out their power bill for decades.

Arcadia monitors the grid connection at each solar installation—including projects in Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., and California—and automatically distributes revenue from the solar power through customers’ utility bills with one of Arcadia’s 100 partner utilities (although they can’t exchange those credits for cash). Since Arcadia integrates with utilities in every state, the value of the solar panel can automatically move with most customers no matter where they live.

While other community solar programs exist in Colorado and Massachusetts, this is the first to go nationwide. That will help solar expand beyond grid-scale solar farms in the desert to the ranks of households who don’t want to wait for regional utilities.

Sarah Kurtz, a principal scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, says Arcadia’s program may open up solar for millions of Americans who lack access. “Innovation in financial models have been critical for the growth of the industry and this one could turn out to quite useful if the economics work out,” wrote Kurtz by email.

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