Across the country, communities and states are working to create more inclusive solar plans and policies. From Washington, D.C.’s Solar for All initiative to Illinois’ Clean Energy Jobs Bill, there are concerted efforts to ensure the benefits of solar energy are shared by all.
Creating more equitable energy strategies—strategies built and operated to serve the entire community—requires designing more inclusive and engaging planning processes that are transparent and accountable, involve a diverse set of stakeholders, and offer opportunities to shape programs and set community priorities.
Solar energy has long been considered out of reach for many residents in the U.S. However, costs have fallen and new business and financing models have emerged to better serve low-income households and multi-family and rental housing markets. Reaching out to different market segments requires a targeted approach and an understanding of the specific barriers—legislative, financial, educational, or cultural—that need to be addressed.
Through Solar Market Pathways, projects worked to:
This toolkit is intended to support policymakers, government officials, and program managers in the solar industry and nonprofits seeking to engage diverse stakeholders in efforts to ensure everyone in the U.S. can benefit from solar energy. The resources include strategies, case studies, and approaches that can inform the development of effective solar policies, programs, and strategies that will foster more inclusive planning processes, serve new market segments, and target and better serve low- and moderate-income individuals.
The economics of residential solar energy have improved substantially over the past few years, making solar now more accessible and affordable for more in the U.S. than ever before. Even with the considerable cost declines, incentives, supportive state policies, and innovative bulk-discount programs, barriers to solar investment persist for many. Chief among them is the higher upfront cost required to purchase an on-site solar system outright. What’s more, many of the available financing and incentive programs have traditionally served higher-income households and/or individuals with higher credit scores. Barriers beyond income and credit also disproportionately impact low- and moderate-income (LMI) citizens, including lower rates of homeownership, higher rates of multi-unit occupancy, and higher-than-average mobility. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has calculated that LMI households could contribute up to 42% of the total rooftop solar PV potential in the U.S if these barriers are reduced.
Berkeley Lab analyzed the incomes of homeowners purchasing solar PV and found that the people going solar are increasingly middle class—rather than the more affluent early adopters—but that many low-income Americans are not yet benefitting from the solar energy boom.
There is a huge opportunity to dramatically expand solar into LMI communities across the country, which will help those households—by reducing energy burdens, creating job training and employment opportunities, and strengthening resilience to grid outages—while also helping grow the U.S. solar industry. While the solar workforce is rapidly expanding, significant opportunities exist to increase diversity and inclusion, including the representation of women, people of color, and veterans.
Another way to help more people in the U.S. access the benefits of solar is through community solar (or shared solar) systems, which are typically located off-site and are shared among numerous participants. Learn more in the Catalyzing Community Solar toolkit.
Overview of trends among U.S. residential solar adopters, showing that as solar power goes mainstream, solar users are increasingly middle class, rather than the more affluent early adopters.
An examination of the constraints that LMI households face in obtaining solar power that categorizes the specific barriers and solutions to help ensure that the benefits of solar power can be realized by all income levels.
Creating innovative plans and strategies that continue to expand the use of solar energy and drive down costs requires a process that engages a variety of stakeholders to help understand, assess, and ultimately change the status quo. Whether they’re building a single solar installation or creating a regional solar deployment strategy, projects will be more successful when they’re supported by a diverse set of champions and a team of engaged stakeholders.
Designing an engagement strategy begins with clearly articulating the end goal and identifying who needs to be engaged and why. A successful stakeholder engagement process is almost always multi-faceted. Establishing a strategy upfront can help ensure the right people are engaged at the right times, resources are used efficiently, and project and stakeholder expectations are realistic.
This guide offers a four-step process to planning stakeholder engagement.
This guide provides an overview of why and how to engage stakeholders in your project.
This guide will help you develop a strategy to identify and engage with a broad range of stakeholders whose support (or lack of opposition) will help you achieve your goals.
This model encourages participation of all stakeholders in advocating for a better quality of life in their neighborhood.
A template that can be used to map the interests and influence of stakeholders.
Mapping is an important step to understanding who your key
stakeholders are, where they come from, and what they are looking for in
relationship to your business or project.
An annotated list of useful resources on the topic of stakeholder engagement.
This guide provides helpful tips for designing a thoughtful stakeholder engagement strategy, including building agreement along the way, listening as an ally, and more.
This handout highlights several tools and exercises to build understanding, reflection, and action into your stakeholder process.
A guide to using online tools to for public engagement—ranging from informing, consulting to deliberating with citizens.
This publication will allow you to determine whether to host a convening; clarify your purpose; build an effective team; curate an experience; and ensure follow through for impact.
Resources to help initiate a community conversation about solar energy, respond to common solar misconceptions, and better engage and educate community members about solar energy.
An annotated bibliography of introductory resources that can help new partners and stakeholders get familiar with solar energy.
Growing a solar market involves the collaboration of many diverse stakeholders, including policymakers, regulators, local government permitting agencies, code officials and inspectors, solar installers, community nonprofits, and the general public. Successful stakeholder engagement processes allow for open, transparent forums where all stakeholders can access information on solar basics, technical considerations surrounding integration and installations, the policy and regulatory landscape, and other factors affecting the market.
At the start of any process, it’s important to provide stakeholders with the information they will need to be an informed participant. Dominion Energy Virginia, an investor-owned utility, developed training modules specifically for their project’s advisory team to establish a common understanding of technical and regulatory matters surrounding solar energy.
Online tools are an increasingly popular means of engaging the community. Through Solar Market Pathways, Ecolibrium3 created the online solar map Duluth Shines to allow stakeholders to see the rooftop solar potential in Duluth and to jumpstart the market. New York’s Solar Map is similar but also allows users to see the potential for energy storage. And, in Cook County, an online Solar in the Community map allows stakeholders to explore the potential for community solar installations in their community.
Pilot projects can also be an effective means of identifying which educational and communication strategies work best to increase awareness of new solar market opportunities. Through their Multifamily Solar Pilot Project, the Center for Sustainable Energy field tested various strategies while simultaneously educating the community about the opportunity to deploy solar on multifamily housing.
The Institute for Sustainable Communities interviewed Utah Clean Energy’s Sarah Wright about catalyzing solar in Salt Lake City.
The Institute for Sustainable Communities interviewed the Center for Sustainable Energy’s Morgan Chan and Alexandra Patey about multi-family solar and virtual net metering in California.
Targeted solar programs and policies can help address some of the barriers to adoption of on-site distributed solar, especially those barriers faced by low- and moderate-income households. Policymakers and program directors, designers, and managers have an important role to play in reaching new audiences and demographics and ensuring more people across the U.S. can access and take advantage of the benefits of on-site distributed solar energy. Understanding the barriers to solar access for low-income households and the opportunities to develop strategies to overcome these barriers can encourage more equitable solar adoption.
This guide explores barriers to solar access for low income households and offers strategies policymakers and government agencies can use to overcome them and encourage solar adoption.
This report provides an overview of key barriers to LMI customer participation in shared renewable energy programs and key policy guidelines and program design recommendations.
Recommendations for expanding solar energy in lower income communities including policies and tools.
State programs that are expanding solar adoption among low-income households.
A range of successfully field-tested policy and program options designed to assist local governments and stakeholders in developing and implementing a strategic local solar plan.
Overview of existing state policies and special incentive programs for solar for low-income residents and how the State of New York can increase low-income adoption of solar.
A survey of current and planned state activities that seek to bring the benefits of clean energy to low-income residents and communities.
Examines how low income communities in Baltimore can benefit from battery storage.
An overview of key barriers to LMI customer participation in shared renewable energy programs and key policy guidelines and program design recommendations.