1-18-12: Crowdsourcing Solar Power
The town of University Park, Maryland, is a small, tree-lined community located close to its more well-known neighbor, College Park. Residents of the town wanted to invest in solar energy – but the amount of shade in the town made that difficult. So, a group of people decided to pool their money and install panels on top of a local church.
In the process, the group formed the University Park Community Solar LLC. Individual members could buy in starting with $2,000. They they sell the energy to the church at a rate slightly lower than the local utility. Then, the company sells excess power back to the grid at wholesale prices.
Those who bought in can expect to make the investment back in 7 years – and then receive an 8 percent return in about 20. That’s similar to the return you’d get from investing in a certificate of deposit, or CD.
The reason the group should be able to make a profit has to do with the incentives available in Maryland. Utilities in the state are required to purchase what are known as renewable energy certificates. That’s a sort of voucher stating the energy comes from a renewable source. This video from the site One Block Off the Grid does a good job of explaining how they work.
Other groups in Maryland are replicating the model. In Greenbelt, a group just installed panels on top of the town’s Baptist church. The group’s president and founder, Dave Brosch, says he’s been contacted by people all over the U. S.
To get an idea of the different crowdsourcing models for renewable energy happening around the country, check out the Community Power Network.