Rural Sustainability Developments Showcase Models Supporting Growth in Renewables and Energy Resource Transitions
Growth in the sustainability industry is often driven by rural communities interested in building energy and other resource resilience. Besides energy, water and food production can grow as well.
Team Gemini has recently covered a global development framework that can aid farming communities. Worsening resource challenges will make it increasingly worthwhile to integrate at least some sustainability technologies. Food security is a critical component of healthy communities, so adopting better farming methods can help safeguard against present and future health, economic, and environmental issues.
Thousands of farming initiatives and rural communities in the United States have already shifted to solar power for economic benefits. While energy supplies contribute one important factor to ongoing operations, Team Gemini’s variety of technology options offer sustainable methods for food and other resource production and processing relevant to farming communities.
Solar power is still among the most accessible options for creating renewable resources onsite. As one report on solar power being integrated with farms notes:
Many farmers are turning to solar to cut electricity costs. A lemon and avocado grower in California relies on two photovoltaic arrays to save the company half a million dollars a year. Smaller outfits are using solar panels locally to power electric fences, wells, irrigation systems and other equipment. This helps farmers save money on the cost of building power lines to bring electricity to remote parts of their farms. Nationally, around 8,000 farms generate solar power onsite.
Many are leasing their fields to solar developers in need of flat land clear of trees and other obstructions. This practice has become so popular that the Solar Energy Industries Association published a guide for landowners.
The benefits of sustainable agriculture beyond energy components encourage a shift towards improved farming methods. Team Gemini provides many options for building infrastructure for agricultural commodities, with technologies by Artigianfer, Bühler, Bucher, Viscon, and others. Team members like 2G Energy (combined heat and power), Viessmann (thermal energy and more), ABB (resource management and monitoring), and A3 (wastewater treatment and conservation) support all needed utilities. These companies, among others, offer outstanding technology and service choices to fulfill a variety of energy efficiency, resource production, and processing needs.
New Investment Models
Building sustainable infrastructure often requires an upfront capital outlay. However, an increasing number of financial models allows communities to pool and share resources in more uniquely approachable ways. Rural electric cooperatives showcase some examples.
Over 130 rural electric cooperatives in over 30 states are now offering community solar programs at an estimated capacity of 63 megawatts. Municipal and public power utilities have built an additional 29 megawatts of community solar in 22 programs, according to the Smart Electric Power Alliance.
This means that many of the community solar subscribers across the nation are not city dwellers in high-rise apartments — they are people and businesses in the most rural parts of the country. The trend is likely to continue since community solar programs are much more effective in areas with cheap, readily available land and creditworthy subscribers who don’t move often.
Among the successful investment models are:
The Premium-Rate Model
In this model, customers sign up for community solar and then pay a small amount extra per month based on how much of their usage they want to offset. That’s it. Simple and straightforward.
Most programs offer a fixed cent increase per kilowatt-hour charged, and others allow customers to purchase a kilowatt-hour “block” to offset their usage. Additionally, these programs can provide fixed solar costs that offer a hedge against rising electricity costs.
Simply put: if you could offset your fossil-fuel electricity usage with clean solar energy by paying a few dollars extra a month, would you? Many residential customers and businesses are responding to their local utility with a resounding ‘Yes.’
Examples of this structure:
The Pay-Upfront Model (AKA The Block Model)
This model allows customers to pay a certain amount upfront for a portion of the community solar garden. Let’s say a community solar garden has 10,000 panels. A local business could “purchase” 100 panels for $50,000.
All the energy that those panels produce over 20 to 30 years will be subtracted from the owner’s energy bill. With the drop in the cost of solar, these programs can offer customers a hedge against rising utility costs. Customers like this model because they can buy into a large-scale solar array instead of building a smaller one themselves, meaning they can capture the economic benefits of scale.
Imagine if you and all your neighbors could build a large solar array and all use the energy from it — and save money over time. That’s how this model works.
Many municipal utilities and electric co-ops use this model; some specific examples are:
The Bill-Credit Model
We generally see this model at larger investor-owned utilities, but it is worth mentioning. In this program, a third-party solar developer builds a solar garden (at no cost to the utility) and finds subscribers who sign up for free. These subscribers then receive a bill credit from the utility for the portion of their electric usage they offset from the community solar garden. They then pay a portion of that credit to the third-party developer.
Many of these programs are set up in a way that ends up saving customers money on their electricity bill from year one (around 3 percent to 10 percent).
With no upfront cost, these programs are highly popular. But often they are the result of state regulations requiring utilities to put more solar on the grid. This is ideal for a utility that wants to please its customers, but the utility won’t see much of an economic gain.
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