Community solar refers to energy generated by a solar farm that is invested in by a relatively small portion of the estimated 85% of residential customers who can’t have solar panels on their rooftops or property due to their roofs being physically unsuitable, because the roof/ property is often in shade by another building or trees, because they are renters, or for some other reason. The solar farms are constructed by individual developers, or a group of investors (the construction can also be done by the utlity itself), in select areas that are suitable for community solar, have a demand for the service, and can range from a few dozen panels to thousands. The customer invests in a few or more of the panels, receives credit for the power they consume at a fixed rate (usually fixed) per kilowatt-hour that is then deducted from their utility (electric) bills.
Net metering, on the other hand, is for residential customers who have PV systems on their rooftop/ property that may generate more electricity than the home uses when the sun’s out. The PV systems are connected to the grid via the owner’s service panel and meter. The owner of the PV system is credited when excess energy is generated than is needed for the home, i.e. times when the meter moves “backwards”. The customer then pays the “net” of the meter moving in both directions – forwards to measure power purchased (when the home demand is greater than the power generated by their PV panels), and backwards when power is returned to the grid. The net consumption is then charged on the utility bill.
Both community solar and net metering encourage power consumption in homes by means of solar energy. Both are great ideas for states in the US (where both of these ideas have found some success), and for countries all over the world. Both represent concepts that enable renewable energy to reach more of the public (illustrated more in the case of community solar) and make solar more desirable (highlighted in the case of net metering). Whether the purpose is to spread clean energy or to reap the financial benefits of the solar boom, both community solar and net metering are undeniably positive ideas.