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Live in an apartment? You can now share solar with everyone in your building

In many large apartment complexes, solar energy is just powering the common areas while tenants still have their own electric bill. Now, a technology called SolShare lets tenants access the clean power themselves and reduce their energy costs.

Live in an apartment? You can now share solar with everyone in your building
[Images: Svetlana Marchuk/iStock/Getty Images Plus]

At an apartment building in Orlando, Florida, some tenants will now get solar power directly from panels on the roof. In an installation that’s first of a kind for the U.S., new technology will connect shared solar panels with individual apartments, rather than connecting only to the electric grid.

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Typically, if an apartment building has solar panels, the power connects to common areas, benefitting the landlord rather than tenants. Some states, like California, have policies that give tenants access, but only through virtual credits that show up on electric bills later. “Really, how this differs is that this is a physical distribution of power,” says Mel Bergsneider, executive account manager at Allume Energy, the Australia-based company that makes the technology, called SolShare, which will be used at the Orlando apartments. “So not only does it connect the common meter, but it connects the tenants in that location . . . tenants get that ‘behind the meter’ access to solar.”

[Photo: SolShare]
At the 296-unit complex in Orlando, solar panels will be installed to cover the 20% of the apartments that have the best solar energy potential, though the system could later expand. The SolShare tech tracks usage so the solar power can be sent to the units in the program on demand. “The SolShare can read, let’s say, apartment A, somebody’s using a hairdryer; in apartment B, they’re out on vacation, so there’s not going to be that much load in that apartment,” Bergsneider says. Then the technology can “distribute that solar allocation accordingly,” she says. “Essentially, what you’re doing is creating an infrastructure where you’re not only producing that power on site, but you’re also optimizing the way that you distribute that power to each one of the apartments.”

[Photo: SolShare]
Since some power is lost as it gets transmitted, it’s more efficient to use solar power on-site rather than sending it back to the grid. There’s also an economic benefit. “Financially, for most solar projects, it’s more lucrative to actually consume the power on-site than it is to export it and get a bit of a diluted benefit or get like a certain percentage back from the retail cost of power,” she says.

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The solar-connected apartments should be able to offset all of their energy use and reduce electric bills to the minimum service fee charged by the local utility. They’ll pay a solar energy fee to the company, but this should be more than offset by the decrease in their energy bills. “This provides energy transparency and consistency in energy costs,” says Chris Gray, CTO of Renu Communities, the sustainable retrofit company that helped lead the project. “In Orlando, energy usage tends to peak when AC is used. This is also when solar production is higher—this helps to stabilize expenses and enables tenants to understand their energy consumption and prepare for it more readily.”

Renu is a subsidiary of Taurus Investment Holdings, a private equity real estate firm that partnered with Aegon, an asset management company, to acquire the apartment complex through a new $600 million equity venture. The project is the first of a series of acquisitions and retrofits that the partners plan to complete, with the goal, says Gray, to “transition the assets to low-carbon, energy-efficient buildings.”


Correction: We’ve updated this article to reflect that Taurus Investment Holdings is a private equity real estate firm, not an energy company.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley

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