Solar-powered, community-owned solar charging stations on Samsø Island, Denmark, are one example of an owenership model that could lead to energy solutions for Maine islands.Solar-powered, community-owned solar charging stations on Samsø Island, Denmark, are one example of an owenership model that could lead to energy solutions for Maine islands.

“Every hour the sun beams onto Earth more than enough energy to satisfy global energy needs for an entire year,” according to National Geographic.

Until the birth of photovoltaic technology in the United States at Bell Labs in 1954, energy from the sun was used as early as the 7th century BC to create fire by using magnifying glass to concentrate solar rays, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Photovoltaic technology has since then evolved in its size, shape, appearance and performance — increasing its energy conversion efficiency from 4% in 1954 to nearly 20% at present in 2014. Several governments, including the U.S., have dedicated research grants as well as research facilities to further develop solar energy technology.

While scientists strive to create more efficient solar technologies, investors, corporations, utilities, and citizens have taken it upon them to start using the available technology.

According to Solar Energy Industries Association, in 2014, “there are now more than half a million homes and businesses nationwide with a solar installation,” which is currently growing at a rate of one new solar installation every 3.2 minutes, producing electricity enough to power more than 3.2 million American homes.

Solar energy in the US is mostly consumed by people through commercial and residential rooftops or through large-scale solar production projects that generate in megawatts of electricity.

According to a study by National Renewable Energy Laboratory, only 22% to 27% of the houses in the US are suitable for mounting solar PVs. Not long ago, maybe seven or eight years, this implied that people with unsuitable roofs only had two options for benefitting from solar PVs: constructing a structure on an open space to mount solar panels or investing in utility-owned solar facilities, which are mostly installed in areas that are environmentally sensitive or even undisturbed.

The fact that not everyone had the money and property to construct a mount or invest on large-scale solar power plants made it impossible for interested homeowners to invest on solar energy. As time passed by and the solar technology advanced, community wide resistance to solar ownership was seen as a threat by lawmakers, thus, introducing community level solar energy production.

Community level solar energy production is a process designed to encourage community participation in and throughout the project, as well as to motivate energy independence. The term coined to represent the proposed solution and to drive solar energy production is called “community solar” or “community shared solar.”

Community shared solar is a PV array installed and mostly owned by a community of homeowners or renters on rooftops or a communal piece of land. In this concept, every member receives benefits from the installed panels depending on his or her share in the project.

Being able to rely on the stability of solar production when a homeowner with a shaded rooftop, allows individuals and families, people who would not usually have the opportunity, to participate. Among the many benefits of being involved in the project is the ability to light homes with clean and steady energy; encouraging participation of any member of the community, including homeowners as well as rent-seekers; and the availability of receiving energy credits from the utility to offset individual electricity consumption.

There are several specificities that have to be taken into account in order to produce a successful community solar project.

Government incentives such as Business Investment Tax Credits (ITC) and Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) are a massive advantage for individuals who are attempting to establish a community owned solar installation. The access to certain government incentives — if particular community solar projects are established as tax paying entities —  can be incredibly beneficial. Another aspect that needs to be covered and understood is the establishment of lease or ownership-related issues for the construction of jointly owned or cared for solar projects. Along with this, the understanding of how this particular installation would be attached to the grid, the interconnection process, as well as the transmission and storage for the project.

Other factors that have to be taken into account are the long-term financial repercussions of the particular solar model and the various incentives that are offered at the state and federal level.

There are varying degrees of separation between systems sizing, which go hand in hand with the regulations that surround them. For example, smaller-scale solar models call for creative applications for land-use and financing options, which are completely juxtaposed with the options afforded to large installations. The solar model that a community is trying to establish needs to be accounted for in order to successfully establish a model that works for the needs and wants of that particular community.

This community solar concept is relatively new and hasn’t fully matured. It has its drawbacks — including difficulties for a normal citizen to benefit from federal incentives, and a need for easing investment regulations.

But it also has its high potential of revolutionizing energy ownership in the US. It was primarily designed to encourage community involvement in energy projects around the US, and to make solar a viable option for individual house owners and rent-seekers that don’t have good roofs or enough space for mounting PVs. Therefore, its success lies in the hands of general citizens of any particular community that either have interest in energy independence, low cost green energy or return on investment on his/her financial contribution.

Community solar projects in the USA have a similar ownership model like that of districting heating plants on Samso Island in Denmark, where majority of the plants are owned and controlled by communities benefitting from any such system. This ownership model helped reduce fossil fuel consumption on Samso and has the same potential in the United States of America.

Surya Karki, a third-year student at College of the Atlantic from Madi Mulkharkh, Nepal, was one of only 50 applicants chosen from 5,000 students in 180 countries to attend the UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development Youth Conference in Okayama City, Japan, on Nov. 7. Karki, a Davis United World College Scholar at COA, also spent several weeks studying sustainable energy this fall in Samso Island, Denmark.