We know that in order to succeed, the clean energy revolution must include everyone, regardless of economic situation. And while solar is now cheaper than ever, lower income households still face significant barriers to accessing clean energy.
That’s why last week, the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Partnership for Southern Equity, and the South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development released a report titled “Solar for All” outlining the specific ways utilities can and should make it easier for everyone — especially low to moderate-income Americans — to go solar.
From an ethical perspective, providing low income individuals with the ability to access clean energy is simply the right thing to do. Low-income neighborhoods and communities bear the brunt of fossil fuel pollution, putting them at risk for a whole host of devastating chronic diseases. The same communities also pay a higher percentage of their household income on energy expenses than higher income families.
Because of these disproportionate impacts, low income communities have the most to gain from a large-scale transition to solar energy. In fact, everyone benefits when customers invest in locally-generated solar. We all avoid paying for costly power plants and grid upgrades, utilities don’t have to provide as much power on hot days when it’s most expensive to generate, power plants run for fewer hours — meaning less pollution and environmental harm, energy bills stabilize, and communities will experience an influx of local, good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced.
But in order to reap the benefits of increased solar, we first must address the barriers still standing in the way. These barriers include the high upfront costs of installation, a lack of financing options, low credit scores — which can disqualify potential customers from loans, an inability to take advantage of federal and state incentives to help pay for the installation, a lack of home ownership, and residence in multifamily housing with no control over roofspace.
The good news is that there are solutions to all of these barriers that utilities and local stakeholders can work towards. “Solar for All” outlined three best practices for utilities to follow — practices that are already being implemented in certain areas. The practices are:
Support diverse financing options to make solar affordable, much like the options that exist when purchasing or leasing a car or home. Doing this has been shown to increase solar access, and allows people who can’t buy solar panels outright to reap the benefits anyway.
Invest in community solar. In some cases, installing panels on your roof just isn’t possible or feasible. Community solar projects allow customers to invest in a piece of a larger-scale solar project and gain credit on their monthly electricity bills. This expands access to renters, those in multifamily housing, and those who don’t have suitable solar rooftops.
Use existing funding to expand solar access. This is a win-win: It will provide financial benefits to low income customers, allow utilities to ensure low electric bills to those who most need relief, and expand clean energy investments in local communities.
If more places implement these strategies, everyone can have reasonable and realistic access to clean energy at their homes. The progress that solar has made has been astounding, especially recently: We surpassed one million solar installations earlier this year (and are moving rapidly to 2 million), and solar beat all fossil fuels in added capacity for the first quarter of 2016.
But we also know that we still have work to do. We’ll be doing everything we can to ensure that the clean energy revolution — achieving 100% clean, renewable energy — includes everyone.