Solar for everyone: The trends bringing solar jobs to low-income communities in the US

Until today, residential solar has mostly been purchased by high-income households. The fact that the purchasers must be a homeowner and in many cases requires a large initial investment, solar has not been available for low-income communities.

According to recent census results, half the United States is considered low income or poor, earning less than $45,000 per household. The solar industry will eventually need to add these homes to its customer base if it wishes to become the backbone of the energy infrastructure system.

Low-income households spend an average of 15 to 20 percent of their income on energy bills. Helping households save money on electricity directly translates into a family’s ability to better cover other basic needs, including food, housing costs, education, and medical expenses.  

Unfortunately, there are several impediments to getting low-income households to go solar. Besides not owning a home or the inability to pay the upfront costs of a solar system, in many cases, they don’t have the access to information about new financing opportunities that would enable them to have solar panels installed.

On the other hand, there are signs that solar is becoming more available to a wider audience. Last year 65 percent of solar installments were deployed in areas with median incomes of $70,000 or less.  As solar becomes more widespread, costs go down for everyone, and as the cost of a residential solar installation has been cut nearly in half since 2010, we can expect prices to fall even further and more accessible for low-income communities.

GRID Alternatives, along with Vote Solar and the Center for Social Inclusion, recently released the Low-Income Solar Policy Guide which is aimed at policymakers and community leaders who argue that environmental justice demands facilitating clean energy adoption in low-income communities. Those communities are more likely to be adversely affected by pollution from fossil fuel power plants, and can lead to good-paying local jobs.

Besides nonprofits working to provide solar for low-income communities, the White House has also launched the National Community Solar Partnership to unlock access to solar for the nearly 50% of households and business that are renters or do not have adequate roof space to install solar systems. Their goal is to install 300 megawatts of renewable energy in federally subsidized housing, AmeriCorps funding to deploy solar and create jobs in underserved communities, and several other plans to provide an easier and more affordable way for solar to be provided to low-income communities.

With the ever decreasing cost of solar and efforts by nonprofits and government, solar is becoming increasingly available for everyone, regardless of their income. It’s incredibly important that solar not be solely for the privileged, but the standard energy source for everyone if we want to live in a sustainable world. Australia could learn from some of the examples set by the USA.

© 2016 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Yoni Binstock