Solar energy inequality is something that isn’t generally thought of among the general population, there are companies doing something about it, however. In this post we will go over the issues involved and solutions that have been introduced to solve the problem.
One of the ways the problem of solar energy inequality is being solved is with community solar. This is a situation in which the solar power is generally shared among multiple recipients, normally from a mid-sized solar production facility. These smaller power plants average from around 500 kilowatts to 5 megawatts. The cost of installation is split among the participants and they receive credits that lower their monthly utility bills based on how much power the facility delivers to the grid.
The community solar model has proved popular with installations exceeding those of utilities and residential solar. Overall there has been over a 400% increase in solar capacity in the past three years, from 300 megawatts to almost 1400 now. Industry experts project up to 700 megawatts to be added in 2019 alone, double what the total was in 2016. The current total of 1400 megawatts is enough to power over 260,000 households which is one of five households in the U.S.
Until recently, most community solar subscribers have been government agencies, universities, businesses, and affluent households. This is because of their ability to pay the large upfront fees generally required or satisfy financial thresholds and credit ratings. At the same time, the less affluent, who could gain the most from lower power bills, have largely been ignored. Fewer than 50% of community solar projects in the U.S. involve low income households.
Partnerships with industry experts and numerous individual states have begun to change these numbers recently. Currently 12 states along with the District of Columbia have introduced or are in the process of introducing, multiple strategies to give easier access to low-income families. These include state mandates, financial incentives, and pilot programs. Nearly half of American households fall into this category.
Illinois has introduced a “Solar for All” initiative funded with $30 million which waives upfront costs and sets limits on monthly costs for low income participants in the program. A pilot program in New Jersey is set to develop an estimated 75 megawatts of community solar projects per year. Almost half of these will be aimed at low to moderate income households.
The new Solar for All program in D.C. is targeting 100.000 low-income families with the goal of cutting their energy costs by 50% by 2032. The program was just given $13 million in grants to develop community solar and similar renewable energy projects.
Low-income families spend over 8% of their income on energy costs which is triple that of moderate to high-income households. Cities and states are working to reduce this by adding community solar to other government funded programs like insulating homes and installing energy efficient appliances.
In D.C. a nonprofit community solar developer called Groundswell is putting in 366 kilowatts of shared solar on the rooftops of churches. The organization says that this will cut energy bills by 50% for over 120 low-income households in the city with an annual savings of about $500. The first of these projects began in April at the DuPont Park Seventh Day Adventist Church. The leaders of the church had originally planned for the rooftop solar to be for the Church but extended the project to help their local neighborhood save on their utility bills.
Community solar projects also open up solar to those that don’t have rooftops that are “solar friendly.” Almost half of the households in the country are unable to install rooftop solar because there isn’t enough room or because they rent. Many others simply can’t afford the cost out of pocket to pay for even a community solar project.
More and more solar energy developers are including job training and job placement with their solar projects. Cooperative Energy Futures, a nonprofit solar developer in Minnesota, works to provide on-the-job training for local workers. Their work with organizations such as Renewable Energy Partners helps train people to become employable in one of the fastest growing job markets in the country.
Renewable Energy Partners is building a 204 kilowatt shared solar project on the rooftop of Shiloh International Ministries in a majority African-American community in North Minneapolis. This is an area where jobs are hard to come by and REP plans to train as many as 200 workers to learn solar installation.
The solar industry is booming and there is no reason to leave any segment of the population out. Through the use of mandates and financial incentives community solar projects are leveling the playing field. Utilizing work training projects in low-income communities at the same time isn’t just smart, it’s good business.
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