Countries everywhere have made ambitious commitments to diversify sources for powering their electricity grids with renewable energy sources in the years ahead. This includes the United States. Some goals have focused on the move off carbon-based electricity by 2035, according to the Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office. However, this goal can’t happen if low- to moderate-income (LMI) households aren’t given access to clean energy and energy efficiency solutions.
For many people, tapping into solar energy’s inherent benefits isn’t financially feasible. Some can’t afford the upfront cost to buy solar panels. Others can afford them but aren’t able to pass credit checks for approval. This results in renewable energy accessibility gaps. Those gaps must be closed before the nation’s electric grid can be truly decarbonized. Decarbonization is a crucial step toward achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Entrepreneurs like Thomas Neyhart are trying to tackle this disparity. Neyhart’s company, PosiGen, is making strides to democratize access to solar energy for homeowners. The desire to make clean energy attainable for almost everyone began in New Orleans in 2011. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he noticed the underserved communities in New Orleans East were being ignored. Without access to the latest solutions, people who needed to save money the most couldn’t afford the resources to help them do so.
I wanted to dig deeper into the common barriers preventing LMI families from reducing their energy costs and supporting environmental movements. Why can’t homeowners just switch, especially with tax incentives like The Residential Clean Energy Property Credit? Unfortunately, even with tax credits, only those with significant amounts of disposable income can participate.
“The government has sought to address the affordability of energy efficiency measures. The problem is, this solution isn’t all-inclusive,” explained Neyhart. “In many cases, LMI homeowners do not make enough to be able to monetize the federal income tax credit. That means they are paying more than affluent families.”
Neyhart is currently working with the Treasury Department to provide feedback on the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act legislation. The legislation includes the Low-Income Credit Communities Program and additional credits for designated Energy Communities.
Until legislation improves, the commercial industry can step in to create other options. The PosiGen model alleviates the capital burden for LMI homeowners through a unique solar and energy efficiency leasing solution.
“PosiGen approves homeowners based on homeownership and utility usage history, not on credit score or income. The program is designed to allow homeowners to reap the energy-saving benefits of solar without upfront costs and the hindrance of credit and income requirements,” says Neyhart.
Research from a 2021 report suggests that homeowners who invest in solar panels can save up to $187 monthly. Solar panels can also increase a home’s market value. Zillow estimates that around two-thirds of buyers want energy-efficient properties. The only catch? Not all homes are able to be immediately outfitted with solar panels. U.S. Department of Energy’s deputy director, Garrett Nilsen, explains why this is. “Solar panels perform best on south-facing roofs with a slope between 15 and 40 degrees, though other roofs can be suitable too. Installers can model roofs to determine if the orientation and slope are suitable for energy generation.”
The PosiGen team conducts a full-scale, free evaluation and energy audit for all interested homeowners. The home audits allow homeowners to explore other ways to save money, even if they’re not ready for solar.
In the past few years, there have been many positive changes in solar energy accessibility. LMI homeowners are becoming enthusiastic and knowledgeable, as well as beginning to advocate for themselves and their interests. They’re also actively looking to partner with companies that bypass exclusionary or biased methods of assessing them for solar panel buying and leasing arrangements.