New SolarCity package aims to lower solar costs for low-income renters

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The leading provider of residential solar arrays in the U.S., California-headquartered SolarCity, has launched a new program aimed at bringing affordable solar power to some of the state’s lowest-income residents.

The new solar service will see SolarCity work with Everyday Energy, which oversees the development of affordable energy services in California, to install solar PV arrays on rooftops and carports of affordable housing communities.

SolarCity will finance the development of these projects, and any electricity generated from the solar arrays will be distributed among common areas and individual housing units. Residents living in these units – which will often include low-income renters previously priced out of the state’s solar revolution – will receive credits on their energy bill based on the amount of solar power the array at their unit generated.

Using a policy called virtual net metering, Everyday Energy can analyze the residents’ electricity usage to calculate their credits, which will undercut traditional utility prices and help save on energy costs.

"Access to solar continues to increase to more communities across the state," said SolarCity VP of policy Sanjay Ranchod. "SolarCity and the solar industry want to accelerate that."

Part of the new service will also see SolarCity offer to install and finance arrays for private homebuilders in California, and the company hopes to roll this service out to other U.S. states in the future.

For now, California remains the pilot state for schemes such as this. State regulators are currently weighing up changes to the net metering scheme that has proven so attractive to solar customers in California. Proposed changes include increasing connection charges and lowering payments for solar users, but SolarCity and other companies argue such moves could depress installation rates.

Thus far, California has been the most progressive in bringing solar energy to as many people as possible, and has tackled head-on the oft-heard charge that solar power is solely for the middle classes. California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)’s Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) program, and the California Energy Commission (CEC)-administered New Solar Homes Partnership (NSHP) both seek to broaden solar’s access to a wider demographic, reaching 22.7 MW of installed capacity across 353 projects so far.

Incentive funding for these projects has topped $54 million, and the goal is to reach 35 MW of solar installed across low-income housing over the next few years.

"There is a critical need to expand access to solar to communities that have not traditionally experienced as much growth as others," said California Assembly member Susan Eggman. "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."