Where Are the Neighborhood PV Systems?

I recently visited an off-grid, net-zero home out in the boonies of Vernon County, Wisconsin. The owner/builder, Jon, installed a 3 kWh photovoltaic system, and created a useable, comfortable home. It would have cost $10,000, he said, to hook up to the grid, so he skipped it.

It got me thinking, though. PVs are about $1/watt right now, thanks to massive excess production capacity, especially in China. The installed price will vary but should be $5-6/watt. If demand is less than supply, as is the case right now with PV panels, we should see low prices for a time, then production capacity (supply) diminish to meet demand. Now would be the perfect time for Jon, for example, to buy PV panels, hook up to the grid, and start selling electricity. Plus, there are still federal tax credits for these systems.

Even better would be a neighborhood PV system. In a new development just being built, it seems like it would make sense to put those rooftops to work with PVs on every home, all grid-tied. The PV system could be owned by all homeowners together, and maintained by the association. The PV system would be a valuable asset that’s part of the house, and the homeowners get the benefits of PV power with little hassle.

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I’ve also read about this project in Ithaca, New York, where a housing co-op added panels to their existing development, and self-financed the project. In this case, the PV project generates 55% of the electricity needed. I think it would be great to have developments and neighborhoods that generate a surplus.

For that to happen, it’s important that every state adopt net-metering, so that homeowners and developers are adequately rewarded for their investment. This idea is essentially a distributed power system that requires little maintenance and produces no pollution. An added benefit: the utility companies will need to build fewer new power plants in the future.

Where else is this happening? I have seen few examples besides these two.

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