Reaching Lower Income Americans

The number of solar PV installations in the US has grown at an impressive rate as prices drop, market players find new, creative ways to finance solar, and policies and legislation become more favorable. But, while solar PV has grown in the US, household penetration levels are still low. According to the George Washington Solar Institute: “The 49.1 million households that earn less than $40,000 of income per year make up 40 percent of all US households but only account for less than five percent of solar installations.” Community solar, leasing programs, and other third-party ownership models have done much to open markets to lower income customers, but there is still much more to do to ensure that solar is affordable and accessible to all Americans.

Low and fixed income households have the potential to significantly benefit from solar PV, as many spend over twice the proportion of their total income on energy bills than the average American- 8.3 percent compared to 2.9 percent (Center for American Progress). Using solar could significantly reduce the energy burden of low-income households by providing stable electricity below local utility rates.

Through SMP, work is underway to enable more people to access the benefits of solar energy by:

  • Reaching new audiences and demographics through more inclusive marketing and consumer research.
  • Working with housing agencies and programs to develop solar projects.
  • Targeting programming to meet the needs of multi-tenant buildings.
  • Developing solar financing and incentives to better serve residential customers at all income levels.
  • Disseminating information best practices for policy and programs.

Examples of our work:

In California, the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) is helping more multi-tenant building take advantage of solar energy by expanding awareness, effectiveness and use of Virtual Net Energy Metering (VNEM) within the state and beyond. Learn more here.

The Cook County Department of Environmental Control is coordinating with the Cook County and Chicago Housing Authorities; affordable, senior and public housing; as well as large property management companies as they develop community solar pilot projects that will better serve residents of the Chicago metro area. Learn more here.

The Solar Foundation (TSF) is working to expand the concept of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), to create CivicPACE. This mechanism would enable tax-exempt entities  such as  affordable housing units, schools, and nonprofit organizations to receive a loan for solar energy installations, and pay back these loans through a special property tax assessment. Learn more here.