When solar panels first started appearing on rooftops, the buildings beneath those roofs were uniformly wealthy.
The up-front investment required to install solar, at $10,000 or more, was usually just too big a barrier for most U.S. households, not to mention those living paycheck to paycheck. The same could be said for small- or medium-sized businesses with tight cash flow.
In recent years, however, new business models from companies such as SunPower, Sungevity, SolarCity and Sunrun began extending leases and power purchase agreements to residential and commercial markets, making solar more accessible by cutting upfront costs.
Evolving investment models from such companies as Solar Mosaic and NextEra Energy Partners, through instruments such as yield cos and green bonds, have also emerged to democratize solar to some institutions, like schools.
Still, even with today’s busy solar market — as illustrated by a 75 percent jump in new installations this year compared to last year alone — the renewable energy market remains largely divided between “haves” and “have nots,” largely separated by long-established income and property ownership disparities.
Now, the Obama administration is aiming to start changing that. Last week, the President — fresh off of announcing a $4 billion renewable energy fund with private investment partners — has unveiled a set of initiatives to bring increased access to solar energy and solar jobs.
The “Increase Solar Access for All Americans” plan involves private sector investment of $520 million and partnerships with Citigroup, GRID Alternatives, SunEdison and half a dozen other companies as well as several states and cities.
Goals include; deploying 300 megawatts of solar electricity on federally-subsidized housing, training 76,000 people in solar jobs and spurring investment in 260 solar projects that would help low-income communities. U.S. military veterans will receive priority in job training.