Community-led versus Community-based Solar
Solar can be integrated into communities in more than one way. Two major frameworks of community solar integration are “community-led” solar and “community-based” solar.
Figure 3. Community-led vs. Community-based solar diagram.
Community-led shared solar projects are when the benefits of such a project stay in the area where the solar conversion devices are placed. The local community comes together to build, own, and utilize the local solar resource. Due to the locally derived nature of community-led solar, the projects have the ability to incorporate a broader range of incomes. Purchasing PV systems through local taxes or simply group financing makes projects available to families that were previously excluded from solar because of income. Among the obvious benefits of sustainable, locally generated power, community-led solar builds a sense of togetherness that can raise the local standard of living.
Unfortunately, community-led solar is not as often utilized; as a result, there are few cases to analyze the benefits this may bring to a smaller, less affluent community. The lack of use for this model means many communities that would be able to employ such a project are not even aware it is an option. External efforts may be required to enhance awareness of community-led solar before a project may begin in a community.
Community-based solar is when a group invests in a solar project that is not local; this means that most of the benefits of the solar project are leaving the community in which the power is generated. Of course, community-based solar projects still offer a source of renewable power; they also can accommodate the three-fourths of citizens that do not have a roof suitable for PV systems (from shading or structural concerns). The group investment is more affordable and posses less pressure on any single individual. The community-based approach offers many of the benefits that can increase solar diffusion in the United States; However, this method may lead to some negative externalities.
There is evidence to suggest that locals become agitated in a community-based solar system. The local community sees many of the benefits leaving the area and become averse to the technology. Creating tension to solar technology within communities could dramatically inhibit the widespread use of solar energy. A further problem is perpetuated by the community-based approach. Most community-based projects are developed by high-income individuals. Often lower to moderate income families are excluded from technology innovations, and a community-based project may encourage this trend. In order for solar to make significant contributions to the domestic electricity grid, solar must be accessible to a wider population.
Brownson, Jeffrey R.S.; Lear, Jennifer; Blumsack, Seth; Fowler, Christopher; Lei, Zhen; Fowler, Lara (2016). Community-led Solar in Shrinking Cities: Diffusion of Solar Projects for Low and Moderate Income Communities. The Pennsylvania State University, Energy and Mineral Engineering, University Park.