SolarCity Launches Affordable Housing Solar

A new solar service aimed at affordable housing launched this month in California, bringing solar to apartment renters.

SolarCity has been roped in to work together with the developers of affordable housing units to bring solar to low-income renters.

SolarCity will partner with low-income developer and solar advocate Everyday Energy on the offering. Everyday Energy already develops, designs and installs solar energy systems on affordable housing properties.

Everyday Energy CEO Scott Sarem suggested in a statement that SolarCity’s financial heft and name brand will allow the firm to expand  the range of the kinds of multifamily affordable housing units that it has been installing solar on.

SolarCity will be building on its own experience in having installed solar on over 100 multifamily dwellings.

“We expect the collaboration between SolarCity and Everyday Energy to make it possible for a broad range of multifamily affordable housing communities to save money on energy costs that can instead be spent on food, healthcare and other critical needs.”

The projects will be built on-site, with multiple arrays installed on the rooftops of either the apartment buildings or existing parking structures and in some cases, SolarCity may build a new carport over a parking lot to support arrays.

Renters of apartments within the complex would receive credits based on California’s “Virtual Net Metering” law.

Under virtual net metering, multifamily dwelling owners who normally pro-rate energy bills of their tenants from a central office, can now similarly allocate solar energy credits, apportioning them among their tenants. The electricity will be used both by individual units and in the common areas.

The other California incentive making this possible is $54 million in funding for the California Public Utilities Commission’s Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) program, which is available for 35 MW of distributed solar, and has already made possible 23 MW of solar capacity between 353 affordable housing projects throughout the state.

Making this pencil out for solar is a challenge because low-income California renters already pay very low rates for electricity.

Even though solar is at grid parity already for high tier users in California, low income residents tend to also have low bills to start with (which puts them in the lowest tier with other frugal energy users; paying the least per kilowatt hour) and then because they are low income, they also receive subsidized electricity bills. This is the kind of customer that has the hardest time going solar, because doing nothing is cheaper.

But the New Solar Homes Partnership (NSHP) administered by the California Energy Commission also helped. It provides incentives for multi-family affordable housing projects.

“There is a critical need to expand access to solar to communities that have not traditionally experienced as much growth as others,” said Assemblymember Susan Eggman (D). “SolarCity should be commended for creating dedicated programs that target the hard to reach consumers while putting hard earned money back into the pockets of those who need it the most.”

California legislators should also be commended for creating programs like NSHP and MASH. It is legislation like these two programs that is what has now allowed solar to expand to two groups – to  renters and to low income residents – that have been shut out from solar to date.

You might also like: How to find the most affordable solar

Image Credit: Arial drone photo from Josh Sunseri of SunseriConstruction

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