What Role Can Solar Play In Affordable Housing?

Large scale solar installations for low income housing makes solar energy available to everyone in California.

California solar energy installations are sometimes seen as a luxury that only the rich can afford. This misconception is fueled in part by the fact that, many years ago, it was indeed very expensive to have solar panels installed on your roof.

But this is no longer the case. The solar industry has been advocating and raising awareness about the sustainability and affordability of the technology for all families, not just those who are wealthy. In fact, for many low-income Californians, solar could be a useful tool for saving money and increasing disposable income.

Solar Energy for Multi-Family Housing Complexes

Solar power has already been integrated into many affordable housing complexes, including Tassafaronga Village in Oakland, California, originally built in 1964. Tassafaronga has been completely rehabilitated with sustainable building techniques and energy-efficient apartments.

The most notable improvement is the solar panel array that covers the rooftops of the apartment buildings. In addition, there are pylons scattered throughout the complex with photovoltaic modules on top to collect extra energy. The solar panels are already paying dividends for residents of Tassafaronga, whose energy bills range from $10 to 15 a month, according to news publication OaklandLocal.com.

How Energy Costs Affect Low-Income Residents

Prior to its rehabilitation, residents of Tassafaronga, many of whom receive assistance through Federal Section 8 subsidies, suffered from the same problem that afflicts other low-income citizens: high energy costs. In most cities, affordable housing units are in dilapidated and outdated apartment buildings are inefficient when it comes to energy consumption.

In 2013, the Rocky Mountain Institute found that energy costs in public housing were 40 percent higher than in private homes. In addition, apartments built before 1970, which comprise much of the affordable housing stock throughout the country, use 55 percent more energy than those built after 1990.

The people who end up paying the price for the inefficiencies are low-income residents, who are often in no position to afford the high costs of energy.

Solar Energy Provides a Solution

However, it’s important to note that the solar energy industry and lawmakers are making efforts to reverse this trend and make more renewable energy available to low-income families.

Two of the most notable public programs are Single Family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) and Multi Family Affordable Solar Homes (MASH), which were passed as part of the California Solar Initiative (CSI) in 2006. These programs set aside part of the solar rebates that were made available through CSI to be used specifically for low-income housing.

Making solar power available to low-income families solves a number of problems all at once. It sharply reduces energy costs for those receiving subsidies, while also helping to move the state’s energy infrastructure in a more sustainable direction. Hopefully, Tassafaronga can serve as a model for other communities that are hoping to go green to save their residents money.