Not everyone who would like solar panels has a suitable roof to put them on. I have occasionally wondered if there was any potential in a service that matched such people with a solar farm elsewhere. Then this week heard about Saulės Bendruomenė, which means Solar Communities and has just launched to do exactly that in Lithuania.
In what is apparently a world first, consumers are able to register on an online platform, and either rent or buy solar capacity. You can work out what your household needs are over the course of the year, and buy the required number of panels to cover it – anything from 1 Kw to 10 Kw.
Obviously the power coming into your home comes from the grid, and the equivalent solar power is generated somewhere else in the country. On the face of it that doesn’t sound so different from choosing a green energy supplier, but it is different. There are the savings from owning solar panels, for a start. The company calculates that with 2-3 Kw of solar capacity, the average household would save 190 Euros while reducing their carbon footprint. Since customers are directly purchasing the panels rather than just buying the power, they are also eligible for government incentives and can claim a one-off subsidy to help cover the costs.
There’s a reason why this has emerged in Lithuania specifically. It has been slow and difficult to get permission to put solar on rooftops, and this has held back the number of installations. It remains expensive, and you have to be fairly committed to do it. Buying power remotely is quicker, cheaper and less disruptive than installing them on your own building, and it makes solar power accessible to people in apartments or rented homes. The government has recognised this, and taken steps to enable more remote buying.
“The world is eager to contribute to clean energy generation and switch to solar energy, but eagerness is not enough” says Andrius Terskovas of the Sun Investment Group, which runs solar parks in Lithuania, Poland and the UK. “At this point, we have to act quickly and come up with more efficient solutions. The Lithuanian market was suitable to start our project. Recently Lithuania in pursuit of the EU energy plans passed amendments stating that everyone had the right to generate and use renewable energy sources from remote solar power plants.”
While this is claims to be the first online platform for directly buying solar power, some community energy schemes would operate in a similar fashion. There was a brief buzz around the idea of roof leasing a few years ago when UK subsidies were higher that might have resulted in a platform like this one if subsidies hadn’t been cut. Perhaps the nearest thing to it, highlighted by Saulės Bendruomenė themselves, is a recent scheme allowing US owners of Audi electric cars to purchase the solar capacity to cover their charging needs.
I expect there are other projects out there that I haven’t heard of yet, and perhaps we’ll see more options for buying remote solar capacity in future.