Solar Panels for Apartments: A Complete Guide

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Yes, it is possible to install solar panels for apartments. While apartment dwellers don’t have access to an individual roof to install solar panels, several options are still available to utilize solar power and reduce energy bills.

The main methods are using portable solar power systems, joining a community solar project, installing plug-in solar panels, or buying renewable energy certificates.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of different methods to go solar in an apartment and give you step-by-step guides on how to benefit from solar energy.

Benefits of Using Solar Energy in Apartments

Portable solar panel in apartment balcony

There are several advantages to utilizing solar power as an apartment resident:

  • Lower Electricity Bills – Depending on the solar solution, you may reduce your electricity bill by up to 25%. Even a modest reduction in savings you can apply elsewhere.
  • Smaller Carbon Footprint – Using renewable solar energy reduces reliance on fossil fuel-generated electricity, lowering your environmental impact.
  • Increased Property Value – For apartment owners, adding solar can boost your property value and attract eco-conscious residents.
  • Portability – Options like portable panels allow you to take the system when moving to a new apartment.
  • Emergency Power – Solar with a battery system provides backup electricity in a blackout.

While not as impactful as having solar panels on your roof, these perks make solar power accessible for millions of apartment dwellers.

Challenges of Using Solar Power in Apartments

However, there are some distinct disadvantages to keep in mind:

  • Limited Energy Generation – Small solar systems produce less electricity than full rooftop installations. You’ll still rely heavily on utility-provided power.
  • High Cost Per Watt – Portable panels and plug-and-play kits cost more per watt than rooftop systems because they are produced in smaller volumes.
  • No Solar Tax Credit – Only permanent solar installations are eligible for the federal solar tax credit, which covers 30% of the system cost.
  • Homeowners Association (HOA) Approval – For condos and townhomes, you may need approval from the homeowners association before installing solar panels.
  • May Not Reduce Bills – Community solar savings and REC purchases could cost slightly more than regular utility rates.

Overall, solar power for apartments has more limitations than residential rooftop solar. But for many renters and apartment owners, it is still worthwhile to utilize one of these solar solutions.

What Are the Best Options for Using Solar Power in an Apartment?

Solar panels hanged on apartment balcony

For homeowners, installing rooftop solar panels is a great way to lower electricity bills and reduce your carbon footprint. However, renters and apartment owners generally can’t install permanent solar panel systems on their building’s shared roof.

The good news is that just because you live in an apartment doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from solar power. A few viable options exist to harness the sun’s energy without direct roof access.

The most practical solutions for apartments include:

  • Portable Solar Panel System – Small solar panels can be set up on balconies, patios, windowsills, or anywhere with sunlight exposure. They typically generate 0.3-1.5 kWh daily, enough to charge devices or power a few small appliances.
  • Community Solar Projects – Shared solar farms that apartment residents can subscribe to. The energy produced is credited to your utility bill.
  • Plug-in Solar Panels – Also called plug-and-play solar. These can be plugged into any outlet to offset some of your apartment’s energy usage.
  • Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) – RECs allow you to purchase renewable energy credits equivalent to your home’s energy use.

While these options have limitations compared to a full rooftop solar installation, they can still help apartment residents reduce their carbon footprint and lower energy bills somewhat. Going solar does not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition.

Now let’s explore the most viable solar power options for apartments in detail, including the pros, cons, costs, and steps for each method:

Portable Solar Systems

Portable solar panel on window charging smartphone

Portable solar panel systems are a practical way to generate solar electricity on your apartment balcony, patio, or any sunny spot.

These compact panels typically range from 50 watts to 400 watts. They can be propped up, mounted to a railing, or left freestanding.

Pros

  • Produce 0.3-1.5 kWh per day, enough for charging devices, running fans, lights, etc.
  • Easy plug-and-play installation.
  • Take them with you when moving.
  • Provide power during blackouts when paired with a solar generator.

Cons

  • Need a suitable outdoor space to set them up.
  • Won’t make a significant dent in your overall energy usage.
  • The cost per watt is higher than rooftop solar.

Cost

A basic 100W portable solar kit starts at around $150. More robust 400W+ systems cost $800-$2,000. The cost per watt is $3-$5, higher than rooftop solar’s $2-$4 per watt. DIY buildouts are cheaper.

Steps to Install

  1. Choose a portable solar panel kit from a quality brand like Renogy, Jackery, or Bluetti. Select a wattage based on your energy needs.
  2. Pick an optimal spot on your patio, balcony, or windowsill that gets full sun exposure throughout the day.
  3. Set up the portable solar panel kit according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Many can just be placed and angled towards the sun.
  4. Connect your devices like lights, fans, and phone chargers to the solar kit to utilize the energy produced.

Community Solar Programs

Local community solar farm generate electricity for grid

In a community solar project, local residents collectively invest in an offsite solar installation and share the energy credits. You can apply your share of the solar power generated to your monthly utility bills.

Pros

  • No need to install panels on your building.
  • Instantly reduce electricity costs.
  • Support local renewable energy.
  • No upfront installation costs.

Cons

  • Limited availability in some regions.
  • Bill savings may be modest.
  • Often can’t take your subscription with you when moving.

Cost

  • For a small share (equivalent to 2-3 panels) in a community solar project, expect to pay $0 to $500 upfront and $10 to $20 per month.
  • For a medium share (equivalent to 4-8 panels) in a community solar project, expect to pay $500 to $1500 upfront and $20 to $40+ per month.
  • For a large share (equivalent to 9+ panels) in a community solar project, expect to pay $1500+ upfront and $40 to $60+ per month.

You can size your community solar subscription based on your budget and goals. Monthly credits reduce your power bill.

Steps to Join

  1. Go to EnergySage and click on “Community solar”.
    Go to EnergySage and click on "Community solar".
  2. Enter your zip code to find projects in your area.
    Enter your zip code to find projects in your area
  3. Choose a community solar program and review the details, like projected savings.
    Choose a community solar program and review the details
  4. Fill out an application to subscribe to the program. You’ll need details like your utility account number.
  5. Once approved, your monthly utility bills will reflect credits from the community solar project.

Plug-In Solar Panels

Plug-in solar panels can simply be plugged into any wall outlet. They range in size from 100W to 400W usually.#

These small panels will offset some of your apartment’s energy consumption during sunlit hours.

Pros

  • Fast and easy installation.
  • Can place on any sunny surface.
  • Reduce utility bills by 10-25%.

Cons

  • May need landlord or HOA approval.
  • Limited energy output.
  • Can be expensive upfront.

Cost

  • All-in-one plug-in solar kits cost $500-$1,500 depending on size.

Steps to Install

  1. Get approval from the landlord/HOA to install the solar panels.
  2. Purchase plug-and-play solar panels or build your portable system.
  3. Contact your utility company to get approval and provide system details.
  4. Mount the solar panels in a sunny spot and plug them into an outdoor outlet.
  5. Start generating solar energy and offsetting your electric bill!

Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs)

RECs allow you to purchase renewable energy credits equivalent to the electricity usage in your apartment. This enables you to run your home on 100% renewable energy without installing any equipment.

Pros

  • No installation is needed.
  • Easy to purchase through many vendors.
  • Low cost (often $5-10 per month).

Cons

  • Typically does not add new renewable energy to the grid.
  • No direct energy bill savings.
  • Dependent on continuing purchases.

Cost

For purchasing renewable energy certificates, expect to pay around 1 to 2 cents per kWh over typical electricity rates.

Steps to Purchase

  1. Find a REC provider like Arcadia, Green Mountain Energy, etc.
  2. Go to the website and select the type of REC you want to buy.
    b-e-f.org renewable energy certificates
  3. Choose the number of REC certificates you want to buy and click on “Add to Cart”.
    Select the number of certificates to buy
  4. Fill in the remaining details and complete the purchase.
    Fill in the remaining details and complete the purchase
  5. The provider will now purchase RECs.

What Factors Affect Solar Costs and Savings for Apartments?

If you want to go solar in an apartment, there are a few key factors that will impact costs and potential savings:

  • Location: Where you live affects solar panel efficiency and electricity rates, which changes savings. Sunnier areas allow solar panels to produce more energy. Areas with higher electricity prices offer more potential bill reductions.
  • Electricity Usage: How much power your home uses each month also determines savings from solar, especially with community solar subscriptions. More usage = greater offset from solar.
  • Solar Incentives: State/local solar incentives can reduce installation and equipment costs. But most incentives only apply to owned systems, not community solar or portable kits.
  • System Size: Larger solar installations produce cheaper power but require more space. For apartments, portable panels under 400 watts are the most practical.
  • Financing: Low-interest solar loans can help spread out equipment costs over time. This matters most for owned systems or large community solar shares.

Considering these factors will give you a better idea of possible costs, savings, and payback if you install solar panels in your apartment.

Solar Financing Options for Renters

Coming up with cash to purchase a solar system, even a small portable kit, can be a challenge. Here are a few options to finance solar panels for your apartment:

Solar Loans

Banks and credit unions sometimes offer affordable solar loans for equipment purchases. Loans allow you to spread costs over 5-10 years.

Rent-To-Own

Some community solar providers let you rent a portion of the system until paid off. This locks in savings before purchasing your share.

Grants and Rebates

Check state/local programs for solar grants, tax credits, and rebates for renters or community projects. These help lower out-of-pocket costs.

Payment Plans

Ask solar companies about payment plans to divide upfront solar costs into smaller monthly installments.

Crowdfunding

You may be able to get small donations from friends and family to help buy a portable solar kit through crowdfunding sites.

Tips for Installing Solar as an Apartment Renter

Residential area with modern apartment buildings

If you rent and want to go solar, keep these tips in mind:

  • Check your rental agreement for any restrictions on installing equipment. Get written approval from the landlord first.
  • For community solar, confirm the subscription transfers before signing up. Some programs don’t allow moving subscriptions.
  • Consider solar window films and mini solar blinds to add solar subtly. Many stick directly to windows with no mounting.
  • Opt for compact plug-in solar kits that don’t require special wiring or electrical work.
  • Place portable panels securely and route cables safely along the edges. Protect the system from weather or potential damage when unattended.
  • Start small with a basic portable kit. You can always expand later on if you move to a sunnier apartment.
  • Compare multiple quotes for any purchased solar system. Prices can vary greatly between equipment sellers.

Solar Power Options by Apartment Type

Solar opportunities can vary depending on what type of apartment you live in.

Remember that, in all cases, community solar projects and renewable energy certificates are always an option. So, below, we will focus on solar power systems that can be installed in the building.

High-Rise Apartments

Higher floors receive more sunlight but less roof space per resident. Portable kits are best for high-rises.

Mid-Rise Apartments

Look for unshaded roof space or balcony/patio areas. You likely need portable solar, but some mid-rise buildings can support rooftop systems.

Garden Apartments

Garden apartment with solar panels

Low-rise with more direct roof access provides more chances for solar panels. But still, confirm with the property owner first.

Apartment Complexes

Larger shared buildings and open grounds allow roof and ground-mount solar options. Community solar is ideal for apartment complexes.

Basement and Ground-Floor Apartments

Light is limited on lower levels. Opt for highly efficient solar panels and place them in windows with the most sun.

Solar Battery Storage for Apartments

Solar batteries let you store solar energy anytime – even at night. For apartments, small portable lithium batteries are the most practical option. These tips can help maximize solar battery savings:

  • Prioritize high-drain devices like phones, laptops, and tablets for solar charging.
  • Use timers or smart plugs to optimize when batteries charge low-priority devices.
  • Charge during peak sun hours when solar output is highest.
  • Use solar batteries during evening peak rate hours when grid power is most expensive.
  • Store just enough for essential overnight needs like lights and WiFi.

A small 200-300 watt hour battery prevents wasting excess daytime solar power in apartments with limited usage. Time shifting when devices charge reduces grid energy costs.

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