Solar Panels for Apartments: 5 Best Ways

Good news:

There are actually a few ways you can solar power your apartment or condo — even if you don’t have a suitable roof (or a willing landlord).

I live in a rental house and, over the last couple months, have explored every possible way to go solar as a renter. I’ve been encouraged by what I found.

Let’s run through your options.

1. Join a Community Solar Project

Community solar projects are large-scale solar farms that are built locally and power multiple homes in a community. They’re a great option for people who, for whatever reason, can’t put solar panels on their roof.

When you join a project, you usually continue to pay your electricity bill like normal — either through your existing utility or the company that runs the project. And the cost savings can be instant.

The main downside is that there aren’t that many community solar projects out there at the moment. Don’t be surprised if there aren’t any in your area.

Pros

  • Doesn’t require you to install solar panels on your roof
  • Can instantly save you money on your monthly power bill
  • Helps support new clean energy projects in your community
  • Reduces your carbon footprint

Cons

  • There may not be any projects in your area

How to Do It

Go to EnergySage. It’s a good place to start your search for community solar projects.

Scroll down to the community solar section and click “See Local Projects.” This will take you to their community solar marketplace.

Enter your zip code and monthly power bill and click “Search Projects” to see if there are any projects you can sign up for. For instance, I entered the zip code for Providence, Rhode Island, where I knew there were a few projects.

Note: If EnergySage doesn’t show any projects in your area, do a Google search for “community solar near me” and see what pops up.

Choose a project you want to join. Browse the list of nearby projects. Read project reviews and details for things like estimated savings, billing info, and estimated environmental impact.

Click “Get Started” and submit an application. The project provider will review your application and reach out to you to finalize your subscription.

Easy!

Once enrolled in the project, your monthly power bill will be going toward buying solar energy rather than carbon-intensive fossil fuel energy. You’ll also likely be paying less for power. It’s a win-win.

2. Buy Plug In Solar Panels

Plug in solar panels — also called plug and play solar panels — are pretty much what they sound like. You can plug them into any standard wall outlet, and the energy they produce flows into your apartment, instantly solar powering some of your energy use.

I haven’t seen many people talk about plug in panels, but I’m hoping that changes soon. Stephan Scherer, founder of Craftstrom, a maker of plug and play solar kits, told me the kits are more common in Europe. “And the US is always a little behind Europe in solar,” he said. He added that, because much of the US is at a lower latitude, they can pay for themselves even quicker here.

In my opinion, plug and play solar kits are a great option for renters. You can mount them anywhere on your apartment that gets a lot of sun — a roof, railing, balcony. And they can be pretty affordable.

Just be prepared to do a bit of research to figure out the right size kit for you, and if your city has any regulations on these types of kits.

Pros

  • Can be installed quickly and easily without professional help
  • Can be mounted anywhere on your apartment that gets good sun
  • Oftentimes doesn’t require any permits
  • Portable — can be taken with you when you move
  • Reduces your carbon footprint

Cons

  • Must inform your utility and get permission from your landlord or HOA
  • May have to sign an interconnection agreement with your utility if you produce more power than you consume

How to Do It

Contact your landlord or HOA and get permission to add plug-in panels to your apartment or condo.

Go to Craftstrom and research the right size kit for your apartment or condo. Knowing what kit you plan to buy beforehand will help when you contact your utility. (I like Craftstrom’s kits because they’re designed to never produce more power than you consume, meaning you won’t have to sign an interconnection agreement with your utility. Many other kits don’t have this feature.)

Contact your electric utility and ask them about their policy on plug and play solar systems. If they allow them, inform them of your intentions to install one. This is where knowing the size and specs of your preferred system is helpful. Some plug in solar brands mention they will provide electrical diagrams should your utility ask.

Buy and install the plug in solar panels according to the brand’s instructions. Many brands claim you can do it in less than an hour.

Done!

Yes, it’s a bit of a hassle to reach out to your landlord and utility and do research on what size kit to get. But contrast that with how much research and paperwork you’d have to do if you were a homeowner installing solar panels on your roof.

3. Ask Your Landlord to Install Solar Panels on Your Roof

This option works best if you rent a house with a suitable roof. You’ll be trying to convince your landlord to do a major home upgrade, so you’ll have to come prepared.

You’ll need to crunch the numbers for your landlord and show them the cost savings and environmental impact. You may even want to get some quotes from local solar installers.

Pros

  • Replaces most of your home energy use with solar power
  • Lowers your monthly power bill
  • In some places, can get a credit for sending excess power back to the grid
  • Reduces your carbon footprint

Cons

  • Must convince your landlord

How to Do It

Go to the EnergySage Solar Calculator.

Enter your home address, property type, and average monthly power bill. To illustrate, I entered my home address, selected “Residential,” and estimated my monthly power bill to be about $200 per month.

Click “Calculate” and wait for the calculator to generate your results.

Browse your potential cost savings from going solar. This solar calculator includes savings based on whether your landlord pays the full cost upfront or goes with a zero-down loan. According to my results, my rental house could save up to $26k over a 20 year period. $26k!

Click “Get Started” to get solar quotes from local installers (optional). Online calculators give helpful but rough estimates. Solar installers will give you the most accurate cost and savings projections.

Pitch your landlord on installing solar panels. They’re not paying the utilities, so the typical pitch of reducing your monthly power bill isn’t going to work here. Instead, you can talk about how homes with solar panels sell for 4% more on average, and the environmental benefits of going solar.

Best of luck!

4. Make Your Own Portable Solar Panel System

I write a lot about DIY solar power on this site, so you might think I’d trumpet this option as the best one. In reality, I think it’s a poor option for most renters.

Because you’re essentially building a small off-grid power system, you need to buy all the equipment and connect it all yourself. It’s requires knowledge of solar electrical systems, and it’s the costliest route in terms of price per watt.

Pros

  • Portable — can be taken with you when you move
  • Can be sized to your energy needs

Cons

  • High price per watt
  • Complex to set up

How to Do It

Note: This will be a very high-level overview of how to set up a small 100W DIY solar panel system that can power a few small devices like your phone, laptop, and some LED lights. For full instructions, check out this tutorial.

Parts

Tools

  • Screwdriver

Instructions

Connect the inverter and charge controller to the battery.

Connect the solar panel to the charge controller.

Mount or place your solar panel outside in direct sunlight.

Power your devices by plugging them into the inverter. For instance, I plugged my ebike charger into the inverter.

Done!

The panel will generate solar energy during the day and store it in the battery. You can then use the battery to charge and power your devices by plugging them into the inverter.

5. Buy Green Energy via Renewable Energy Certificates

Renewable energy certificates (RECs) track renewable energy as it moves through the US power grid. When a renewable energy provider — like a solar or wind farm — produces energy, they receive RECs to represent that energy. The provider can then sell the RECs as a sort of proof of ownership of that energy.

If you buy RECs equivalent to your energy consumption, you’ve technically powered your home entirely with green energy. But RECs are far from a perfect option. A lot of times, they don’t lead to any additional clean energy on the grid. They just end up being a way for clean energy projects to make a tiny bit of side income.

Here’s where I personally stand on RECs: I don’t expect my buying them to decide the fate of any clean energy project. But, in the aggregate, I think they make a small, positive impact across the clean energy industry as a whole.

In most places around the country, RECs are pretty cheap. If buying them is the only way to ‘solar power’ your apartment, then I think they’re a tad bit better than doing nothing.

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Easy to buy
  • Don’t need to install solar panels on your roof

Cons

  • Most likely won’t add any additional clean energy to the grid

How to Do It

Go to Arcadia. (There are many places to buy RECs. I’ll show you how to do it with Arcadia because I think they make it easiest.)

Enter your zip code, select your electric utility, then click “Continue.” I live in Atlanta, so I entered my zip code, 30312, and selected Georgia Power.

Note: Arcadia first looks to see if there are any community solar projects in your area. If there are, I’d recommend joining one rather than buying RECs.

Sign up then click “Continue.”

Sync your utility account to Arcadia. To do so, you just need to log in to your utility account.

Add a payment method. The first month is free. After that Arcadia charges just $5 per month to purchase and retire RECs equivalent to your energy usage.

That’s it!

Arcadia will now buy RECs on your behalf based on your monthly energy usage. You can go to your account to see things like how much green energy you’re using, and where it comes from.

The Bottom Line

There are ways to solar power your apartment — even if your apartment doesn’t get any sun, and your landlord doesn’t want to install solar panels.

As a renter myself, I spent hours looking into the options. After all that, here are my 3 favorites:

  • Community solar doesn’t require a roof, can instantly reduce your power bill, and helps support solar energy projects in your community
  • Plug in solar panels can be installed in minutes and will instantly start solar powering some of your energy use
  • Rooftop solar panels are an option, too, but you’ll have to crunch the numbers and sell your landlord on the idea

If those options don’t work for you, you can build a DIY solar power system or buy green energy via RECs. Neither of these last two options is ideal in my eyes, but in some cases they may be better than nothing.

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Alex Beale
Alex Beale
Hi, I'm Alex. I started Footprint Hero to help people reduce their environmental impact. My current obsession is DIY solar power projects, which I've been building since 2020.

2 thoughts on “Solar Panels for Apartments: 5 Best Ways”

  1. I am a former apartment complex manager, 20+ years in the business before I retired for the second time, and just came across your website while looking for solar panel mounting ideas, nice PVC design by the way.
    Your biggest obstacle here is the landlord/building owner not the utility company. They have the final say on anything being added to the outside of their buildings as well as any modifying of a units electrical system. After all they are the ones have to pay to have these units returned back to ‘original move in condition’ when the tenant leaves and that cost them money. They must also comply with all city/state building codes and many cities still have no rules about adding solar panels to individual rental units like apartments/condos.
    Also, any type of utility work on any home/rental unit must legally go through a contractor, plans drawn up and be approved by the city before you can start. If you don’t follow these guidelines you can find yourself paying for a new building and end up in jail. Even condo’s have strict rules that all owners must adhere to or they too can be sued off their back sides. Research is the first step here in keeping yourself from one heck of a lawsuit and eviction.

    Final thought here, if it costs the landlord/owners money in any way they probably won’t do it.
    Sorry if this so long, it was much longer before I edited it.

    1. Thanks Alan, appreciate you saying the part that I left unsaid — that people need to get approval for plug-in panels from their landlord or HOA before going down that route. Updated the article to include that.

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