Understanding Your Solar Energy Options
As solar power becomes more abundant, efficient and economical, more electric cooperative member-owners are exploring this renewable energy option. Some are buying or leasing an individual system and installing it at their home or business. Others are investing in a community solar option and allowing their local electric cooperative to manage all aspects of the generation resource.
If you’re considering investing in your own form of solar energy generation, there are several options, each with pros and cons. The following information provides a glimpse into the most common options and a few things to consider with each type of system.
Rooftop Solar vs. Ground-mount Solar
The area available for either a roof- or ground-mounted solar array is often the primary driver in selecting the best location for a solar array. Capturing the sun’s energy primarily depends on the area of solar cells exposed to the sun’s rays. In Iowa, facing panels toward the southern sky is most efficient in generating the most energy. The availability of roof space or ground area that is free of shading may dictate which type of system will yield the most energy output. Solar panels operate most efficiently when they are clean and free of snow buildup, leaves, and dirt. You’ll need to be able to access your panels to keep them clean or hire a maintenance company to perform this task for you. For a ground-mounted system, an analysis of the soil will be necessary to ensure it is adequate for the footings that are required for the racking system to hold the panels. Maintaining the area below the panels can be a challenge in terms of mowing and weed control; however, placing rock under the array can alleviate this concern.
When considering a roof-mounted system, the condition of the roof must be closely examined for structural deficiencies, remaining life, and existing or the potential for leaks. The structural integrity of the roofing system will be critical to ensure the roof can handle the weight of the solar array.
Community solar can be an attractive option if you want to participate in solar energy, but don’t want the individual research, construction or maintenance required of a stand-alone system. Member-owners pay a monthly or up-front price to participate in the program by subscribing to one or more of the panels and in doing so, acquire rights to sufficient energy to offset a portion of their energy use. The payback varies depending on how many panels are purchased and overall energy use. A handful of cooperatives in Iowa recently began offering a community solar program. Your locally elected board members and cooperative staff are currently exploring if this option is a good fit for our local member-owners’ needs.
With utility-scale solar, you also share in the ownership of as a member-owner of your locally owned and controlled electric cooperative. This scenario is similar to how your cooperative has invested in large-scale wind generation through Central Iowa Power Cooperative, who is our power supplier. Member-owners receive the benefits of a diversified energy portfolio that combines renewable resources with base load sources – those that are available 24/7, 365 days a year. T.I.P. Rural Electric Cooperative has a diversified portfolio, as we are part of Central Iowa Power Cooperative-owners, that is generated from carbon-free resources. CIPCO is in the process of adding 5 megawatt solar installation in 2016.
If you are considering investing in a solar energy system, it’s important to do your homework to determine if solar is right for you. At the outset of your process, talk to us. We’ll discuss your goals for the project and go through various options with you, in addition to determining if your electricity rate structure will be impacted by a solar investment. We’ll also recommend you also talk to credible, reputable sources of information who are skilled professionals and knowledgeable in solar generation systems.