A cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, cultural and social needs. Cooperative farming was very popular in the USSR, but at present, the majority of people consider cooperatives as something archaic. At the same time, there are more than 30 thousand of cooperative enterprises comprising about 100 million people in the USA. Different forms of cooperatives function in the sector of solar energy.
These are the varieties of consumer cooperatives, which unite several persons interested in the purchase of a large volume of goods at the wholesale price. The cooperatives of solar farm owners are based on almost the same principle.
Several owners of houses interested in the installation of solar energy units unite and get a wide range of advantages as the result:
As the USA experience of the installation of solar energy units shows, the creation of cooperatives has allowed the future owners of solar power plants to decrease their expenses by 20%, in comparison with ones resulting from individual purchasing and performing the works.
However, far from everybody are able to realise the installation of solar panels because of the diverse reasons. For example, there are physical limitations on the installation of solar batteries: a very small area of land; inconvenient location of the house, which does not let solar panels be placed in the way they get the maximum light. Besides, high buildings or trees can be situated around the house shadowing the panels and reducing the electricity generation. The second reason is the rental of the house or office, when the installation of the equipment makes no economic sense or it is forbidden by the stipulations of the rent agreement.
The price of the equipment is also an important factor. An average household consumes about 600 kWh of power. It is necessary to install a lot of the panels and also associated equipment (inverters, charge controllers, batteries), including the expenses for the installation, to supply the household with sufficient volume of power. It will cost significantly.
Solar Gardens make possible for everybody to become actually a co-owner of the solar power plant. Low-income householders or renters are able to buy several panels and receive the funds in the special account from which they will pay for the power generated by utility line. In fact, it is a kind of a deposit account, but, in comparison with the bank deposit, the rate of interest is higher than the rate of bank deposit interest.
The main advantages of the members of the cooperative “Solar Gardens” are listed below:
As the agreement is concluded for a long period of time (25 years, the duration of solar panel reliable operation), the investment in Solar Gardens is considered as a kind of alternative to the retirement funds in some states.
The government pays much attention to the development of Solar Gardens’ projects. Thus, already in 2011, the way of the activity of such associations has been enshrined in Colorado state law, having protected the interests of the investing depositors first of all. There is the Solar Gardens Institute in the USA, which coordinates such associations in the entire country. Beside the informational component (everybody can enter the website and get the detailed information on the cooperative “Solar Gardens” and other associations of this kind), the institute performs the practical function, providing anybody with the assistance on the selection of the Solar Gardens’ projects for investment. NREL supposes that Solar Gardens will become one of the main factors, allowing to increase considerably the volume of the power generated by all solar power stations operating within the USA.
Beginning in 2015, a new platform representing the virtual community of owners of small private solar power plants is tested in Germany. It is the idea of Sonnenbatterie, the leader of German market of energy collection and storage systems.
Sonnen Community offers the possibility to become completely independent from traditional suppliers of electricity. Excessive power, generated by solar photovoltaic systems, is accumulated in energy storage systems. If the volumes of the generated power are insufficient, one of the users of the community grid can get the necessary volume of power from another member of the community. The main advantage is that the price of power generated within the community grid is lower than the price of power generated in utility grid. Besides, the German company Sonnenbatterie offers a considerable discount on all its energy collectors to interest the customers.
Besides supplying power directly to all members of the project, Sonnen Community platform makes possible to sell the excess power on common market. As the sector of solar energy is not supported by public authorities and has equal rights with other participants of the market of electricity, the main advantage of Sonnen Community is that it is a big wholesaler and the combination of solar electricity generation and energy collectors guarantees a high reliability of power supply. Unified information on the members of the community, including the data on their geographical position and forecasts of weather conditions allows calculating accurately the expected volumes of the power generation, the volumes of power necessary to cover the deficit within the community grid and possible to be sold to external parties. A high degree of automation (special software realises the management of a whole system and the control over power exchange) allows selling power in real time.