Obama backs plans to bring 300 MW of solar to poorer US households


U.S. President Barack Obama has lent his backing to a new federal scheme designed to bring solar power to thousands of low-income households across the country.

The White House plan involves issuing guidelines to low housing authorities explaining how they can access monies from a $520 million pot of capital from local governments, social impact investors and foundations, and use it to expand solar power access and community solar programs.

In all, around 300 MW of new solar PV capacity is to be installed under the new proposals, largely across subsidized housing and public property.

A statement from the White House said: "The Obama Administration is committed to addressing climate change, promoting clean energy and creating good paying jobs."

Low-income housing has so far had just a small role to play in the evolution of the residential solar industry in the U.S., and currently amounts to less than 100 MW of the total capacity installed. The plan is to triple that to more than 300 MW with the installation of around 50,000 individual rooftop systems.

Another part of the plan is to enlist 200 workers from AmeriCorps – a civil society program that engages adults in intensive community service work – to help with the installation of the solar systems.

Solar’s share of the U.S. energy mix is at around 1%, and the White House is keen to increase more distributed generation. However, around 50% of U.S. households are theoretically "shut out" of solar, either because the properties are rented accommodation, the homes are too small or the homeowners cannot afford to invest.

"We think it is important for everybody to have access to solar energy and other renewable technologies both for the energy itself and the cost savings there, and also the employment opportunities," senior White House climate and energy advisor Brian Deese told a press conference during the announcement of the program, which has set a 2020 deadline for the 300 MW target.

Earlier this year, the Obama Administration pledged to train 75,000 workers in the solar industry, and this latest action is a reminder of the president’s support for the country’s thriving solar sector.