Blog – Low-Income Community Solar

Low-Income Community Solar

By: Dana Harmon, TEPRI Executive Director

Access to solar energy is out of reach for many low-income households due to high upfront costs, lower rates of home ownership, or poor housing conditions. However, community solar circumvents many traditional barriers to access by allowing participants a share of the production from a central solar generation source, broadening the potential market to include renters, homes with shaded or covered roofs, or those who simply cannot afford to install solar panels.

Because of this, we believe that community solar provides an interesting opportunity for low-income households, because it serves as an alternative model to provide more equitable access to this renewable source of energy while lowering energy burdens. 

In partnership with Go Smart Solar (GSS), TEPRI conducted a Low-Income Community Solar Landscape Analysis to learn from existing low-income community solar models across the country, with a goal to analyze applicability in San Antonio, Texas.

After surveying existing community solar programs around the U.S. and conducting an online survey in the San Antonio metropolitan area, we discovered a few key insights and takeaways that are important to consider when developing a community solar program.

One important insight is that these community solar programs may require creating new, tailored program models. Our evaluation outlined several important considerations:

  • Determine program eligibility criteria early in the process
  • Evaluate market potential and create market and segmentation strategy design
  • Design and implement programs that meet low-income customers where they are
  • Develop metrics and perform an equity impact assessment to track the community impact of the project and evaluate success
  • Scale and replicate the project to increase customer participation

Community solar models for low-income consumers are still evolving. Subscription models are currently the most common approach for low-income community solar programs. With a subscription model, customers avoid overwhelming up-front costs or potential inaccessibility due to low credit scores. While meaningful market experimentation exists, best practices have yet to be discovered. The good news is that interest in community solar models is high across the country, and early indicators suggest that Texas will be no exception. We believe community solar models present real opportunity to make solar energy available to underserved communities, and they’re only gaining traction.

We hope that our findings in the Low-Income Community Solar Landscape Analysis will inspire our network to continue to seek innovative solutions as we serve our low-income neighbors.  We are happy to announce that the Executive Summary of this report is now available to the public. The full report will be shared with TEPRI members.

If you are interested in deploying a similar project, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly. And as always, we welcome your thoughts and appreciate your support.

Click here to download the Executive Summary: