CORVALLIS, Ore. – Part of the future of solar energy, especially for residential use.  So small “community solar” systems in which neighbors join together. Then they build a large array and each section you build becomes your percentage.  Then you get a piece of the community solar energy savings.

Community solar

Research by engineers at Oregon State University indicate optimal development of community solar energy. It will increase the total electricity produced by 5-10 percent. That’s a significant gain by the standards of solar energy efficiency. At the same time, it reduces variability and unpredictability of the solar resource.

With this approach, the use of various rooftops and land used for solar energy production may vary from house to house. All depending of course upon such issues as the home’s orientation, roof slope and shading from trees or other structures. Quite simply, some structures lend themselves better than others to solar energy.

The conventional approach to residential solar energy is to look at each home as an individual package.

Then building its own solar system whether or not that’s a good site.

However, by grouping 10 or 20 houses in a neighborhood. Then all of whose owners interested in solar energy, can optimize the use and placement of solar panels. Then as well and more importantly you let everyone get in on the crazy energy savings.

Findings on this issue published recently in the journals of Applied Energy and Data in Brief. Also a “decision support model” has been created. One that homeowners could use to help consider the best options for their neighborhood. Free software to help carry out such a strategy is also available from the U.S. Department of Energy. Collaborating on this research was Hyun Woo Lee at the University of Washington.

Initial solar installations can be expensive. Thereby making it all the more important to maximize the long-term output of the systems. But such systems are also durable and pollution free. More importantly with a performance guarantee of up to 25 years. So using a technology that produces no greenhouse gases.

Residential energy use is also a big-ticket item. So in the United States, the building sector accounts for 40 percent of total energy consumption. Plus residential buildings consume more than half of the energy in the building sector. So by 2035, the federal government estimates 74 percent of the energy consumed in residences will be in the form of electricity. That’s even as two-thirds of the nation’s electricity is still produced by coal or natural gas. All those are helping to cause global warming.

This approach has long been used in the stock market.  In the form of portfolio investment. It’s to maximize profit while reducing risks. Given the high upfront cost of some solar systems. Systems averaging about $20,000 for a 4 kilowatt residential system. So reducing risk is of much value. Value to many people interested in the technology.

Studies done at OSU included a case study of collaborative solar energy. It’s among 24 homes in a neighborhood in Corvallis, Ore.

All which offer sunny summers and often-cloudy plus rainy winters. So they say, not exactly the nation’s best bet in terms of solar energy production. Even there, this approach increased the annual electricity output of the homes by 4.6 percent. As well as reducing the volatility in electrical output by 4.3 percent.

In conclusion, using solar approaches may become more common. Especially once efficiency of solar technology improves. Finally, because more people become aware of its potential. Also legislation or policies change to better enable community solar projects, researchers say. More work also needed, determining how to contractually share expenses, profits and benefits. Finally and that also goes among cooperating neighbors.

Source: The OSU College of Engineering, 3-30-16