February 11th, 2015 by Jake Richardson
The George Washington University Solar Institute has launched a new paper called Bridging the Solar Income Gap. The gap refers to the fact that most low-income Americans have not acquired solar power, because they simply don’t have the money to do so. Many don’t own their homes, so they can’t have solar power systems installed on roofs they don’t control. According to the paper, about 49 million Americans live on “low incomes.” The solar power growth occurring in America has mostly not touched their lives.
This segment of the population could benefit very much from solar power, because they would pay less for electricity. In fact, solar power systems in community gardens could provide free electricity for some small neighborhoods. If one megawatt of solar power can provide electricity for about 164 homes when there is adequate sunlight, investing in such a system could provide energy for 25 years or even longer. Government support would be necessary for the construction, but solar power has never been more affordable, so the payback time for it is now very reasonable.
Additionally, cost-competitive energy storage solutions are beginning to appear on the market. These battery systems store electricity generated by solar power during daylight hours for use at night and on days that are cloudy. Soon enough solar power will be combined with energy storage and the people that invest in this technology will no longer be completely dependent on the grid for electricity. Below are the institute’s key points and recommendations.
- Emerging community and shared solar policies are a particularly promising pathway to further low-income solar and should be adopted by more states.
- More tools are needed to enhance credit, lower credit risk, and leverage private capital including:
- Establishing a federal low-income green bank · Expanding state credit enhancement programs · Expanding on-bill repayment and commercial property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing options.
- Solar should be fully integrated into existing energy efficiency and energy assistance programs, including the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
- Solar deployments in lower income communities will require utility partners, whether directed through state legislation, utility commissions, or induced through creative value propositions.
- Substantial outreach and education will be necessary to reach lower income communities.
- Proven policies that make solar more accessible and affordable should be continued and expanded.
One unintentional aspect of the green movement as it relates to clean energy is that it tends strongly to be tied to a demographic that is well educated and is middle class or upper middle class. Solar power should be accessible to everyone, not only people who drive hybrid cars and shop at Whole Foods.
The George Washington University Solar Institute paper is a very effective reminder that solar power needs to be made available to tens of millions of Americans that don’t have the financial means to acquire it on their own.