30+ Facts and Resources for Low Income Solar Power

Solar power has historically been out of reach for most low income home owners in America, often reserved only for the wealthy and those particularly concerned with the environment. It's rare for the average home owner to have roughly $20,000 lying around to invest in solar power, and virtually impossible for low income home owners to afford solar power.

While wealthy home owners typically have more accessible financing options, low income home owners often struggle to get financing for solar power systems -- if they even consider solar power within reach at all. As prices for solar power installations fall, high income and even moderate income home owners are turning to solar power systems to adopt solar power in higher numbers. But many low income home owners struggle to join them even as solar power becomes more affordable.

But with helpful incentives and programs increasing access to solar power savings for low income home owners and residents, solar power is quickly becoming within reach for every citizen. Low income solar power resources make solar power accessible to all families while developing local jobs and reducing the cost of installation for all solar powered homes.

Low Income Barriers to Solar Power Systems

Why can't low income families go solar? These are just a few of the issues that low income households typically face when they want to adopt solar power systems for their homes.

  • Unable to obtain financing or leases: Low income home owners may not be able to meet credit requirements that would allow them to enjoy low cost financing or affordable leases for a solar power system.
  • Inability to benefit from tax credits: With little income to get tax benefits from, low income home owners may not be able to take full advantage of tax credits and other incentive programs.
  • Renting rather than owning home: Low income families may not own their homes, making it difficult to control the roof space needed for a solar power system installation.

How Low Income Solar Power Benefits Everyone

The benefits of low income solar power aren't just for the home owners who receive solar panels at low to no cost. Larger communities and the solar power industry as a whole benefit as low income solar power home owners take advantage of programs.

Solar Growth and Solar Power Installer Jobs

Expanding solar power into the low income housing market means more solar growth and jobs for solar power installers. It can stimulate the local economy and add employment opportunities within the low income community as job seekers find positions installing solar power systems right in their own backyard.

Often, organizations that specialize in low income solar power installations function as a sort of Habitat for Humanity model for solar power. They use job trainees, volunteers, and community groups to install solar power systems on low income homes -- and this installation experience can lead to jobs in the clean energy industry for trainees.

Dramatic Energy Savings and Improved Household Budgets

Low income households spend an average of 15 to 20 percent of their income on energy bills. Energy bills take up a far larger share of the budget for low income families than those who are wealthy, so saving on solar energy for low income families is an even bigger benefit than it is for wealthy ones.

With solar power, the strain placed on low income family budgets by energy costs can be significantly lessened. Low income families can spend money on food, housing, medical expenses, and education rather than electricity when they get most of it for free from the sun.

Resilient Affordable Housing

Solar power also makes affordable housing more resilient. Following disasters like Superstorm Sandy, thousands of low income apartment dwellers lost power and heat, some for weeks or months. This left elderly and disabled residents in a tough spot without food, water, or medicine as they waited for elevators to begin working again. With solar power and battery backup storage systems, low income residents can be better protected in the aftermath of disasters. And experts say these measures can typically be implemented at no net cost.

What the White House is Doing to Increase Solar Access

In 2015, the Obama Administration announced a new initiative designed to increase solar access for all Americans. The initiative includes these components:

  • National Community Solar Partnership to unlock access to solar for those without adequate roof space.
  • Installing 300 MW of renewable energy on federal subsidized housing.
  • More than 260 solar energy projects for low and moderate income communities through housing authorities, rural electric co-ops, power companies, and organizations.
  • An additional $520 million in independent commitments from investors, states, and cities for solar in low and moderate income households.
  • AmeriCorps funding and deployment for solar jobs in underserved communities.
  • Expanded solar energy education and job training opportunities
  • A solar industry goal of becoming the most diverse sector of the U.S. energy industry.

How Low Income Home Owners Can Go Solar

When facing thousands in solar power system installation costs, low income home owners may feel like solar power is simply out of reach. But there are options. These are a few of the ways low income home owners can go solar affordably -- or for now cost at all.

  • Low income solar installation programs: Many communities throughout the United States have programs available that give low income home owners the ability to install solar power systems on their homes for little to no cost. These programs are often made possible by volunteers, job training, grants, and utility funds.
  • Affordable solar leases: Similar to low income solar installation programs, these allow low income home owners to take on affordable solar leases for solar power, sometimes as low as $20 per month.
  • Community solar installations: Community solar installations allow residents who rent or do not have adequate roof space or access to get the benefit of solar power. In some states, community solar projects are required to save a certain percentage of their availability for low income residents.

Low Income Solar Power Resources

There's lots of help available nationwide for low income home owners and residents who want to go solar. These are just some of the current projects providing solar power solutions to low income families in America. Many are actively seeking new participants.

  • Go Solar California: Solar for Affordable Housing: With Go Solar California, affordable housing customers may qualify for partial or full funding of solar energy and solar thermal systems. Options are available for single family and multi family housing as well as new affordable housing.
  • GRID Alternatives Solar Affordable Housing Program: The GRID Alternatives Solar Affordable Housing Program provides low to no cost solar electric systems to low income families. Their installations are used as barnraising models, giving volunteers and job trainees hands on experience so that they can get jobs in the solar industry. This program is available in several states in America.
  • FREEDOM: The Faith Restoration Empowerment & Economic Development Outreach Ministries program lease solar rooftop systems to low income home owners, often as low as $20 a month. They do not have to pay a deposit or go through a credit or background check, making it easy to qualify for low cost solar power installations.
  • Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing: The Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) program offsets the cost of new solar energy systems with incentives for multifamily affordable housing buildings in California.
  • Community Solar Low Income Residential Program: Low income residents in Denver can receive clean and locally produced solar energy through a partnership with Clean Energy Collective and the Denver Housing Authority. This program offsets the electric bills for approximately 35 damilies living in Denver Housing Authority facilities. The program is expected to save the housing residents nearly $230,000 over the 20 year life of the program.
  • NY-Sun Affordable Solar Program: Under Affordable Solar, low income households in New York can double the current NY-Sun incentive for solar electric installations.
  • Community Solar Gardens Act: In Colorado, home owners who do not have the necessary rooftop space to purchase a solar power system can get their power from a solar garden. Under Colorado's legislation, five percent of the electricity from each solar garden is required to be reserved for low income households.
  • Caring Active Restoring Efforts: The CARE program in East Baltimore provides for 10 low income families to have solar panels installed on their homes. The program includes building a community center and gives residents 1,600 hours of hands on solar training for new employment opportunities.
  • DC Sustainable Energy Utility: Through this program, local officials make solar panels available to low income families. Installers place the panels on more than 100 homes each year. The program is paid for by carbon dioxide emission fees from factories and oil processing centers.
  • Solar Advantage Plus Program: Exclusively for low income D.C. households, this program makes solar power installations affordable. Home owners can qualify for the program based on income. They will also need a roof with sufficient sunlight and enough taxable income to benefit from the federal tax credit.
  • Citizens Energy Solar Homes Program: Qualified applicants of this program can get a free 20 year lease on solar electric panels. The lease incomes a comprehensive parts and maintenance warranty. The program also includes a free home energy audit.
  • APS Solar Assist: APS Solar Assist funds rooftop solar power systems for single family limited income homes.
  • Boulder Solar Grants: Residences in an affordable housing program and low or moderate income housing owned by nonprofit organizations can benefit from the Boulder Solar Grant.
  • Pennsylvania Solar Program: Several Pennsylvania utilities and provider agencies are installing solar water heating and photovoltaic systems on low income residents. This is made possible due to renewables being included in the definition of universal service benefits for low income clients.
  • Pasadena Solar Initiative: Low income owner occupied single family and affordable housing programs in Pasadena, California may be able to qualify for solar power system installations under the Pasadena Solar Initiative. Customers must complete the Energy Savings Assistance Program and meet requirements of the program.
  • Rural Renewable Energy Alliance Solar Assistance: Minnesota home owners can get grants of up to nearly $5,000 for qualifying solar power installations through the RREAL Solar Assistance program.
  • Can Public Energy Assistance Funding be Used for Low Income Solar?: In this article, the George Washington University Solar Institute explores whether existing energy assistance programs can incorporate solar investments for long lasting reductions in energy spending and a reduction of demand for energy assistance.

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