There are many good reasons accessibility is a major concern in the world of solar. In part, this is because a lack of accessibility to solar hampers the broader goals of bringing clean, renewable energy to Americans and of making the country less dependent on fossil fuels. People who do not have access to solar are more likely to continue their reliance on energy derived from dirty sources. But there is also widespread recognition that access to renewable energy, like solar, is tied to socio-economic factors that limit who is able to take advantage of it. These reasons are deep-rooted in the United States. Therefore, efforts to widen solar access is tied to social justice initiatives more broadly. Below is a brief look at how various entities are working to make solar more accessible.
Reducing Soft Costs
Soft costs are the non-hardware–related expenses involved with building, maintaining, and servicing a community-solar project. They constitute approximately two-thirds (64 percent) of expenses. The other third stems from costs associated with the physical hardware—the solar panels and critical infrastructure. While the cost of solar panels continues to decline, there are many soft costs associated with solar. These soft costs are built into customer billing. Several federal agencies are working diligently with local and state governments to reduce soft costs, in an effort to make going solar more accessible and affordable for more families.
The Justice40 Initiative and Community Solar
Disadvantaged communities are at greater risk from climate change. Poor people and people of color are more likely to live in housing that lacks proper ventilation, updated appliances, and up-to-date heating and cooling systems. The average low-income household spends 8.1 percent of its earnings utilities; that figure is only 2.3 percent for higher-income households. The National Community Solar Partnership (NCSP) and Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Economic Impact and Diversity work together to help ensure more equitable access to community solar. Community solar helps lower monthly electricity bills by 10 to 15 percent over bills from conventional energy providers. In seven states, which are some of the hottest in the country, the cost of utility bills for low- and moderate-income households exceeds 20 percent of income. These residents are more susceptible to increasing heatwaves. Community solar can provide more affordable electricity, making it easier for these residents to stave off the potentially deadly effects of climate change.
The DOE is working toward the goals established by the Justice40 Initiative, which mandates that 40 percent of total benefits from federal investments go to disadvantaged communities. This includes investments in clean and renewable energy, among them community-solar projects. Federal agencies work in close concert with leaders and representatives of Tribal nations, communities of color, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities, among others, to into line these groups and entities’ access to renewable energy.