How to Fix Solar Power’s Inequality Problem

How to Fix Solar Power's Inequality Problem

Solar panels generate energy on top of a Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing-funded housing complex in National City, California.

(CityLab) Clean energy has an inequality problem.

It’s not unique to this sector—cutting-edge technologies tend to be expensive and time-consuming to adopt, keeping themout of reach for disadvantaged communities initially. That’s especially true for rooftop solar panels, which require users to owna roof that receives adequate sunlight. For low-income families, especially those who rent or live in multi-family buildings, the chance to cut their electricity bill by producing their own energy just isn’t feasible.

Lower-income households also typicallyspend a higher percentage of their income on energy than richer families, so they have more to gain from reducing their power bills through clean energy. Additionally, disadvantaged neighborhoods have a higher risk of suffering from air pollution and other nasty byproducts of dirty power generation, not to mention the effects of climate change spurred by those carbon emissions. That, and the fact that these populations tend to be people of color , brings this into the realm of environmental justice : When the people who are most harmed by traditional energy also have the least access to the benefits of clean energy, there’s a problem.

Shared or community renewable energy sources offer a potential solution. These projects involve an energy installation (usually solar, sometimes wind) that users subscribe to. They get a share of clean energy credited to their bills, even without having to have the panels in the exact spot where they live. The market for shared renewable energy has boomed since its introduction 10 years ago. But this type of energy has barriers of its own that prevent many low- or moderate- income clients from accessing it.

That’s why the Interstate Renewable Energy Council , a group that has long advocated for policies that support shared solar generation, spent the past year consulting a wide range of stakeholders to better understand how community renewables could work better for low- and middle-income residents. Here’s what their report pinpoints as the key obstacles and the most promising solutions. Unequal distribution

Despite the benefits that shared solar offers for low- […]

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