Solar Panels for Apartments January 2024 – MarketWatch

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Can You Install Solar Panels in an Apartment?

Apartment owners or renters who want to use solar energy have fewer options due to a lack of roof space. Even if you live on the top floor of a building, the roof is likely considered a common area where you cannot install solar panels.

Some apartment complexes have solar power systems on the rooftop, but the panels likely belong to the property manager or are shared property. Generally, property owners may use the electricity output from rooftop solar panels to reduce power bills in common areas, not individual units.

3 Solar Energy Options for Apartments

If you’re an apartment owner or renter, there are three main ways to use renewable energy without installing solar panels:

  • You can use a portable solar generator.
  • You can join a community solar project.
  • You can switch to an electricity plan that uses 100% renewable energy.

Purchase Portable Solar Panels

For residential customers, solar installation companies permanently anchor photovoltaic (PV) panels to your home’s roof structure. As an alternative for apartments, you can find portable panels to set up on balconies and windows. You can also take panels on camping or remote trips as an off-grid power source.

Portable solar panels are available to all renters. You don’t need permission from your landlord to set up portable panels since they don’t represent a property modification. However, the small size of portable panels limits their potential savings. Portable panels can only cover a small fraction of your home energy usage, whereas a residential system is large enough to power a home.

For example, a 200 W solar panel can generate more than 20 kWh of energy per month when placed on a sunny balcony, which represents around $3 to $5 in monthly savings. You could use these panels to power small appliances and smartphone chargers, but not to cover a significant portion of your energy needs. However, energy production may vary depending on where you live and your exposure to sunlight.

While portable solar panels generate less electricity than rooftop PV systems they are more affordable. The typical cost of a home solar system ranges from $15,000 to $20,000 before incentives, but you can find portable solar kits capable of powering multiple devices for less than $2,000.

The table below includes top-rated portable solar panel brands, based on our market research.

Portable solar panels are not designed for permanent rooftop installations. You can check out our guide to the best solar panels for homes for residential solar projects.

Join a Community Solar Project

Community solar power is a promising concept that allows several people to invest in a shared solar farm and split the savings. For example, if you join a community solar project with a 5% ownership share, you can subtract 5% of the electricity the system generates from your monthly energy bill. Generally, community solar systems are open to all residential users and small businesses in an established service area as long as the local power company approves the project.

Here’s a quick rundown of how solar community projects can benefit renters:

  • You can join a community solar project even if the system is on another property, not your own. This is an advantage for apartment dwellers who cannot install solar panels on a rental building.
  • Community solar is also an attractive option for transient renters — if you move to another unit, you can transfer the monthly savings to the new address.
  • Generally, you can sell your share in a community solar project if you move to an address outside its service area.

The main disadvantage of community solar projects is their limited availability. According to a Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) market report, the U.S. installed over 20,200 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity in 2022, but community solar only accounts for 1,014 MW.

New York is the leading community solar state, representing 52% of the capacity installed in 2022. Other states currently working on community solar development include Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia, New Mexico, Delaware and California.

Choose a Utility Company with a Green Power Option

If you live in a state with a deregulated power sector, you can choose your electricity provider. While the local utility company charges a transmission and distribution fee for using its power lines, you can pick your energy plan. Rather than traditional electricity generation with fossil fuels, green energy plans generate electricity with renewable energy sources.

Green Mountain Energy and NRG Energy are two of the largest providers of clean energy plans in the U.S. Green Mountain Energy focuses exclusively on renewable electricity plans, while NRG Energy offers traditional plans that combine fossil fuel and renewable generation. However, each company’s service area is limited to the following states:

Keep in mind that the availability of renewable energy plans can vary based on ZIP code. You should also check each company’s electricity tariff conditions carefully — you will only achieve savings if you pick a clean energy plan with a lower tariff than your current electricity agreement.

Benefits of Going Solar as a Renter

Most renters don’t have the option to install solar panels, but can still benefit from renewable energy indirectly. The following are some potential benefits of solar energy for renters:

  • Lowering your energy costs and emissions: Joining a community solar project can save you around 5% to 15% on monthly electricity bills, depending on where you live. And you don’t have to worry about the upfront price of a solar panel installation, which can cost upwards of $20,000. Plus, solar energy can help lower your household’s carbon footprint.
  • Having a portable source of clean electricity: Renters who use portable solar panels can generate their own electricity anywhere, even in remote locations.
  • Solar incentives for renters: Some local governments have developed solar programs to benefit renters directly. For example, the Solar for All program offers free community solar participation for income-eligible renters and homeowners in New York state.

Disadvantages of Going Solar as a Renter

However, several factors can limit the benefits of solar energy for those living in rental properties.

  • No solar federal tax credit: You cannot claim the solar federal tax credit if using shared solar panels or participating in a community solar project.
  • Limited power bill savings: Portable solar panels have a much lower wattage than rooftop systems, which means they generate less electricity. Community solar projects must follow rules established by the local power company, which may limit the cost savings per kilowatt-hour.
  • Limited solar options: Community solar projects and renewable electricity plans are not available everywhere. In this case, portable solar panels are the only viable option for apartment dwellers.

Bottom Line: Are Solar Panels Worth It for Apartments and Renters?

For most apartment renters, the following solar power options are financially viable:

  • Using portable solar panels
  • Joining a community solar project
  • Switching to a 100% solar electricity plan

Portable solar panels offer an alternative to rooftop solar systems and don’t require permission from your landlord to set up. You can place portable panels on an apartment balcony or window. However, portable panels are much smaller than residential solar systems, which limits potential energy savings. Portable panels will only produce enough energy to cover a fraction of your home, like powering your phone or laptop charger. But since these panels are not grid-tied, you can use them for other applications like camping.

Joining a community solar project is a zero-hassle option, since there is no system installation involved. Switching to a green electricity plan is also an option in states with deregulated electricity, but make sure the new electricity tariff is not higher than your current rate. In both cases, you can reduce your utility bills and carbon footprint without owning solar panels directly.

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