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Looking to the future of equitable solar policy

image credit: Courtesy of GRID Alternatives
Ingrid Schwingler's picture
Policy and Business Development Manager GRID Alternatives

Ingrid Schwingler is the Policy and Business Development Manager at GRID Alternatives, a national leader in making solar technology and job training accessible to underserved communities. Based...

  • Member since 2019
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  • Jan 29, 2019 12:45 am GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2019-01 - Predictions & Trends, click here for more

Nearly half of total potential for rooftop solar in the United States is on the roofs of low-to-moderate income Americans. That’s over 320 GW in solar capacity potential, according to research by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. There’s an incredible opportunity to open up this still largely untapped market, growing the U.S. solar industry, creating new business prospects, reducing emissions, and saving people money on their energy bills.

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Many cities and states are already taking steps to address the divide in solar adoption, with growing momentum in 2019. Last year, California and Hawaii became the first states to pass 100 percent renewable energy standards. California is poised to build on the success of its single-family affordable solar homes program, which has installed solar PV systems for more than 7,000 income qualified families, and multi-family affordable solar homes program and is launching new incentives to make solar accessible to affordable housing providers. In December, Washington, D.C. passed the most aggressive renewable energy standard in the country, setting the city’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 100 percent by 2032.

New community solar programs will also make the benefits of solar power accessible to low-income renters. This month, two major community solar developments are happening in New Jersey and New Mexico. The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities approved the state’s Community Solar Energy Pilot Program, which designates that 40 percent of the overall program must be low- and moderate-income projects. And last week, new legislation was introduced in New Mexico that will allow for the development of community solar projects and specifically includes Indian Nations, Tribes, and Pueblos as well as a carve-out for income qualified New Mexicans.

There are many effective policy tools to support solar adoption among the broader population, but an intentional approach to address the unique barriers to adopting solar power by low-income households is needed to fully realize the country’s solar potential. That’s why GRID Alternatives and Vote Solar developed a Low-Income Solar Policy Guide to provide state and local policymakers, utilities and community leaders a roadmap for developing effective low-income solar policies and programs. The guide features policy examples around single-family, multi-family, and community solar as well as workforce development and program best practices from across the country.

If we’re going to realize a successful transition to clean energy, it has to include everybody. The policy outlook for equitable solar policy in 2019 has some bright spots and implementing more of these policies is going to open up new market opportunities for the industry. There’s no one-size-fits-all silver-bullet, but if the solar industry coalesces around these solutions, policymakers and solar developers will expand solar access and reach new customers.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 29, 2019

Thanks for sharing, Ingrid. Getting access to solar power to those homes that can use their benefits the most cannot be stressed enough, so I hope you're right that the arrow continues trending upwards in 2019. 

PS-- glad to see a representative from GRID Alternatives on Energy Central, reminds me that I need to go out and volunteer with the organization again!

Ingrid Schwingler's picture
Ingrid Schwingler on Jan 29, 2019

Thanks, Matt!

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