Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall. 

Today, we have a question from listener David Kellogg. He’s a big fan of solar power, but he wants to know, is it better to put solar panels on your roof, or to put your money towards large scale solar installations?  

We had Harrison Katz and Fatima Husain from our Possibly Team look into this. Welcome, Harrison and Fatima!

Harrison Katz: Hi, Megan!

Fatima Husain: Hello! 

Megan Hall: So, let’s take a step back. I know you can put solar panels on your roof, but what does it mean to support large-scale solar installation?

Harrison Katz: Well, in some areas of the country, you can put your money towards the cost of building and maintaining a field of solar panels in your community. 

Fatima Husain: In these arrangements, the people who help to pay for the solar farms get to share that energy to power their homes. 

Megan Hall: Cool — so you can get solar power even if you don’t want to put panels on your roof?

Fatima Husain: Exactly. 

Megan Hall: So, what’s the answer to David’s question? If he wants to use solar power, should he put panels on his roof, or pay to support a big solar farm?

Harrison Katz: To find the answer, we talked to Myles Lennon, an assistant professor of environment and society and anthropology at Brown University.  

Myles Lennon: If David were here, I would bombard him with a bunch of questions.

Harrison Katz: Myles says it’s hard to give advice without knowing more about David’s situation- 

Myles Lennon: his economic constraints, what policies exist in his area. What kind of potential there is for generating a large solar array? What solar developers are developing community shared solar projects…

Megan Hall: Ok, but, let’s just run some possible scenarios. What if  there IS the option of subscribing to a community solar farm.

Fatima Husain: Easy. Myles says in most cases, you should go for it!

Myles Lennon: it certainly is much much much easier becoming a community of solar subscribers than it is to put solar panels on your own roof. 

Harrison Katz: Myles says, with community solar, you’re just paying for a project that already exists and you don’t have to deal with the hassle of getting panels on your roof. 

Fatima Husain: Supporting solar this way is also cheaper. 

Megan Hall: But what if you don’t have this option near you? Or, maybe you don’t like the idea of using open space for solar farms?

Fatima Husain: In that case, consider going with panels at your house. But first, make sure your roof is up to the job. 

Myles Lennon: Do you have good regular exposure to the sun, a lack of obstructions or shade? Is your roof in good condition? 

Harrison Katz: If the answers to these questions are yes, and you own your own home, try installing solar panels.  

Megan Hall: But those solar panels can be expensive. What if I don’t have the money to buy them up front? Or I’m nervous about getting a loan?

Fatima Husain: Myles says you can try a third option — something called a power purchase agreement. 

Megan Hall: What’s that?

Harrison Katz: Here’s how Myles explains it — 

Myles Lennon: basically a third party pays for the cost of the solar panels and they technically own the solar and you benefit from the electricity being produced. It's sort of a win win. 

Fatima Husain: In other words, the company pays for the solar power equipment and installation, you get to use the solar energy, and you pay the company for that power for about a couple of decades.   

Megan Hall: So, what’s in it for me?

Harrison Katz: Well, the electricity is usually cheaper than what you’d pay if you bought fossil-fuel based electricity from your local utility.  

Megan Hall: Ok, so it sounds like David has a lot of options!

Harrison Katz: Yes, and in this case, there really isn’t a “best” way to go about it. Any form of solar power will lower your greenhouse gas emissions in a meaningful way. So, just pick the type that works for you and sign up!

Megan Hall: Great! Thanks, Harrison and Fatima! 

That’s it for today. For more information, or to ask a question about the way you recycle, use energy, or make any other choice that affects the planet, go to the public’s radio dot org slash possibly. Or subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts.

Possibly is a co-production of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society and the Public’s Radio.