Common Energy: A Path Towards Accessible Solar Energy

Common Energy, a renewable energy startup, was established in 2017 by CEO Richard Keiser. Keiser created Common Energy to make community solar more accessible to individuals. Community solar is a relatively new form of renewable energy with a lot of potential. Households and small businesses can receive their electricity from a community solar farm for free because new state programs have been passed that are enabling virtually anyone to access clean energy, including solar energy, in New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, and Maine. Traditionally, solar panels have been installed on the roofs of homes, a process that is both laborious and expensive. Signing up with Common Energy allows homeowners to have energy from a community solar farm delivered directly to their home through the electrical grid, and to receive savings each month in the form of clean energy credits.

In 2001, the Illinois Legislature passed the Illinois Resource Development and Energy Security Act, which included flexible renewable energy portfolio standards. A voluntary renewable energy goal of 5% was targeted for 2010 and 15% for 2020. Since then, the Illinois Legislature has been more stringent regarding renewable energy portfolio standards. In 2016, Illinois Legislature enacted S.B. 2814, which allowed several changes to be made to the existing renewable energy portfolio standards. Concerning community solar in Illinois, 400 megawatts of community solar projects need to be developed by 2030 according to the changes made to the renewable energy portfolio standards from 2016. The objective set by legislation coincides with the goal to achieve a 26% to 28% reduction in carbon emissions through the years 2005 to 2025, which is in accordance with the original commitment that was made under the Obama administration as part of the Paris Climate Agreement. Stefan Schaffer, a City Strategist for the American Cities Climate Challenge, affirmed at the Natural Resources Defense Council that “it is fitting that Chicago has found a way to turn America’s most gorgeous skyline into one of the most productive frontlines in the fight against climate change. The city’s greenhouse inventory confirms the impact of smart energy efficiency policies to drive down emissions associated with the building sector.” Utilizing renewable energy in the building sector, among others, will be paramount in the shift from nonrenewable to renewable energy.

In 2017, the Illinois Adjustable Block Program was implemented by the Future Energy Jobs Act with the goal of developing new, photovoltaic, distributed generation, and community solar projects in Illinois. Photovoltaic devices generate electricity from the sun through an electronic process that occurs naturally in materials called semiconductors. Over the last decade, technological innovation in the realm of solar energy dropped solar panel costs from $8 per watt in 2009 to less than $3 per watt in 2019. The Adjustable Block Program and the drop in solar panel costs have aided community solar farm development by companies such as Common Energy. Since 2017, Common Energy has begun the development of three community solar farms in Illinois located in Schulte, Lostant, and Tonica. The community solar farms in Illinois are 2.8MW in size, have the ability to produce 4.1 million KWH of clean energy, and can prevent 3.3 million pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. More community solar developments like these will be fundamental in transitioning further towards renewables.

Community solar energy offers a lot of potential as a source of renewable energy, and investing in alternative modes of energy is a vital component of climate change mitigation. The affordability of community solar should promote a continuing increase in the number of community solar farms. The Adjustable Block Program will aid in this development as well. The increased accessibility that the average individual has to community solar farms shines a positive light on the future of renewable energy and the state of our planet.


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