Will Solar Ever Really Make Inroads in Low Income Communities?

Solar Energy Is Hot; That Much We Know

Will Solar Ever Really Make Inroads in Low Income Communities?

It’s easy to understand why so many consumers are going solar. It’s relatively affordable, environmentally beneficial, and undeniably cool. And if those pros weren’t enough, it also reduces our dependence on imported oil, provides much-needed economic stimulus, and pays for itself in relatively short order.

But if you’ve been keeping track of who’s going solar in your community, you’ve likely noticed a disturbing trend: most of the solar arrays are being installed in more affluent communities, even though the cost of solar has plummeted in recent years.

The Solar Disparity

Solar opponents are quick to point out that solar energy has largely benefited wealthier consumers. They even go so far as to claim that solar actually hurts low-income communities. It’s a spurious claim, but there’s no denying that solar panels are a lot more common in high-income areas. So why is that?

Well, as you may have guessed, it comes down to economics. Less affluent citizens often rent their homes. And most of the solar options available are for homeowners.

The cost of actually purchasing a solar system is no longer a barrier for entry. Thanks to solar leasing and power purchase agreements, it’s now possible to go solar with as little as $0 down. But you have to be a homeowner to take advantage of solar leasing and PPAs.

Solar Is Perfect for Rising Communities

It’s abundantly clear why solar energy is such a natural fit for low-income communities. Among the working poor, energy bills can account for as much as 20% of monthly expenses. Not only that, but traditional energy sources like oil and coal are subject to wild cost fluctuations, which could be passed on to the customers who can least afford them.

With the savings that solar energy offers, struggling families would have more money to spend on nutritious food, medical care, education, and an overall better quality of life. From job growth to environmental quality, solar energy has a lot to offer low-income citizens.

The State of Solar Energy

Big Energy uses the lack of low-income access to solar to create a rift among natural allies. They say that wealthy consumers are using solar to sidestep their fair share of infrastructure costs, and forcing the less fortunate to foot the bill.

If solar energy is to become the standard of the future, its rising tide should ideally lift all boats. For renters, access to solar energy remains in the hands of property owners. But for low-income homeowners, states have the power to make solar energy an affordable reality.

In the state of California, forward-thinking energy policies have made solar available to the mainstream. According to Kevala Analytics, 65% of new residential solar installed in 2015 went to zip codes with median household incomes of $70,000 or less.

In Fresno County, households earning $40k – $55k account for half of total solar deployment, and households that take in less than $40k now install solar at a higher rate than households in the top two income tiers.

So why is solar so much more accessible to low-income Californians? In a nutshell,  it’s because state policies have made it that way. The Solar ITC has certainly helped, but California’s generous net metering program and initiatives like the California Solar Initiative’s SASH and MASH programs have helped put solar in reach for those who need it most.

Will Other States Follow CA’s Lead?

Clearly, California’s policymakers have made great strides to bring solar to the masses. But without forward-thinking energy policy, struggling households in other states will continue to face the same uphill battle.

Hopefully, other states will see the benefits inherent in California’s push to make solar available to everyone, and will follow suit.

[Photo via: Flickr]