Equitable solar access strategies under development by DOE-backed program

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Round three of the Solar Energy Innovation Network, a program backed by the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), is underway, with eight teams across the US selected to participate. The teams will explore underserved communities and strategies to encourage equitable access to residential and commercial solar. 

The median income for a household that has adopted solar is significantly higher than the average US household, leading to an increasing gap in access to savings and a cleaner energy mix. And, research published in Nature Sustainability found Black- and Hispanic-majority census areas installed significantly less rooftop solar than other census tracts. The needs and barriers to entry in these communities are unique, and differ greatly from established solar markets. With this in mind, the Solar Energy Innovation Network deployed eight teams across the nation to develop access and equity plans built to the needs of their communities. 

Over the next 15 months, the teams will receive direct funding and analytical support from the DOE and the national energy laboratories. The teams will collaborate with community stakeholders and other teams in workshops and develop reports on the results for other communities to use as a guide point for equitable solar access. 

Currently, teams are working on outreach and education programs, and are considering community workshops, solar ambassadors, workforce development programs and more. DOE and NREL will work closely with all the teams to help develop and report on successes and failures. This is the third round of the Solar Energy Innovation Network program. Round one consisted of nine teams focused on solar reliability, affordability, and operational strategies of distributed solar and energy resources. Round two focused on solar and distributed energy innovation in commercial-scale or rural settings.

Image: NREL

Residential

The Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute in Austin and Carrizo Springs, Texas, is aiming to bring solar to properties owned or rented by families in underserved communities by leveraging utilities’ low-income energy efficiency programs and Weatherization Assistance Program funding. Another team in Austin led by Pecan Street, Inc. is working on developing fair solar lending platforms. It will use community-based research models and leverage peer-to-peer information exchange to define pathways for expanding low-to-zero percent interest solar loans.

In Tallahassee, Florida, ReThink Energy Florida, Inc. is examining solar deployment at a neighborhood scale, evaluating technical potential, economic feasibility, financial tools, and programs. The team’s goal is to provide a pathway for future low- to middle-income (LMI) neighborhoods to install solar, and to connect these communities and businesses with awareness of LMI funding opportunities.

In the Portland area, team of solar ambassadors are being built by the Energy Trust of Oregon, designed to increase solar awareness in Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities. The team will also be developing incentive programs for solar-related energy retrofits and home upgrades.

Commercial 

A Port Arthur, Texas project headed by the Houston Advanced Research Center plans to develop a replicable and scalable approach to implement solar-plus-storage microgrids for small businesses. The team aims to tackle barriers in affordability, available capital and knowledge for community businesses.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, a framework based on community and stakeholder engagement will be built by the city’s Department of Sustainability. The team will host local community listening sessions, develop culturally relevant outreach tools and resources, and will provide information on local incentives for solar and battery energy storage.

The Lake Street Council of the twin cities of Minnesota are co-creating solutions that increase business resilience, build solar capacity, and develop leadership to sustain ongoing community action.

And, RE-volv plans to bring solar to houses of worship that are attended by BIPOC community members. The team targets streamlining the solar project pipeline, and will perform site identification, present proposals, and finance projects. The company will partner with the Green The Church and Interfaith Power & Light organizations.

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