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Solar Working for All Americans

Tuesday, Aug 02 2016

Nat Kreamer

There has never been stronger level of adoption of solar among medium and low income communities than there is today, but you might not know that reading some stories these days.

A recent Atlantic article, “Why Should Only the Wealthy Get Solar Panels?”, makes the specious contention that residential solar is “predominantly enjoyed by wealthy households.” The claim is not supported by the market facts. This issue, along with the employment of American veterans, is near and dear to me as you can see from my remarks below to the Washington Post at the Democratic National Convention. The full panel discussion is here.

The fact is, the residential solar trend is away from wealthy homeowners. “Since 2014, 59% of residential solar installations were in zip codes with median incomes of $40,000 - $70,000 per year,” says a December 2015 report by Kevala Analytics.

Before I sold the nation’s first residential solar power purchase agreement in 2007, as a co-founder of Sunrun, solar truly was for the wealthy. As a result, in 2006 fewer than 30,000 Americans had solar on their homes. Ten years later, more than 1 million Americans have solar on their homes thanks largely to power purchase agreements and leases that let them save money with solar. Just as financing made cars and cell phones available to everyone, today, companies like mine are using financing to make solar available to everyone. 

Residential solar financing, in the form of power purchase agreements and leases, helps homeowners immediately save on their electricity bills without investing any money in the system or needing to be wealthy enough to use the solar investment tax credit. 

Recent market developments, including expansion of the Community Reinvestment Act to include solar and the creation of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, have expanded access to solar for more low-income homeowners and renters.

On July 19th, President Obama announced a Clean Energy Savings for All Americans initiative, with the goal of providing one gigawatt of solar for low- to middle- income households in the next four years. These policy enhancements, long advocated for by the U.S. solar industry, make affordable solar energy available to economically-disadvantaged Americans.

Saving all American consumers money with solar is only part of solar’s economic equation. The other is creating well-paying, local jobs. Today, the US solar industry employs more than 200,000 Americans and supports another 600,000 jobs that directly serve the industry. Over the next five years, we plan to keep adding solar jobs by 20 percent annually.

The industry is targeting 50,000 of those new jobs for military veterans. The vast majority of solar jobs do not require a college degree, and pay a median hourly wage of $21. Creating accessible, local, well-paying jobs while lowering power bills is the best way to help low-income communities - and the US solar industry is doing just that.