DC Sustainable Energy Utility issues two huge ‘Solar for All’ requests for proposal

solar RFP

On Tuesday, the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU) issued two requests for proposal (RFPs) worth up to $9.6 million seeking contractors and developers for one of the largest income-qualified solar energy efforts in the country.

The District Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE)’s “Solar for All” program, which kicked off in 2016, is designed to decrease energy costs for thousands of low-income DC families. The DCSEU will implement a new round of “Solar for All” initiatives starting in 2019 with $32 million in total funding available over three years.

Solar contractors and developers can find more information about the RFPs on the Contracting Opportunities page of the DCSEU’s website. The deadline to submit questions about the RFPs is December 17, 2018 and the deadline to respond to the RFPs is January 9, 2019. Selected bidders are expected to be awarded in early 2019.

RFP and program details

The DCSEU is pursuing developers to build community renewable energy facilities (CREFs) as well as contractors to install solar systems on approximately 100 income-qualified DC households annually.

IREC, Vote Solar develop this new checklist to improve community solar design

The DCSEU has previously partnered with DOEE to facilitate the instillation of hundreds of solar panels on income-qualified homes in the District—over 500 systems were installed between 2012 and 2016 alone.

“As we work together to realize Mayor Bowser’s goal to expand access to locally generated solar energy for residents in all eight Wards, we are excited to welcome DCSEU as a new partner in this effort,” said DOEE Director Tommy Wells.

The DCSEU’s “Solar for All” work is expected to benefit up to 6,800 income-qualified DC households in total.

“While paying energy bills can be a burden for anyone, it can especially impact low-income families,” said Ted Trabue, Managing Director of the DCSEU. “Through the ‘Solar for All’ initiative, thousands of DC households will be able to cut their energy bills through the low cost and efficiency of solar energy.”

“Solar for All” supports the District’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) Expansion Amendment Act of 2016, which aims to provide the benefits of solar energy to 100,000 low-income households and to reduce their energy bills by 50 percent by 2032. The program also supports the District’s Clean Energy DC climate and energy plan which serves as a roadmap to reduce DC greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2023.

— Solar Builder magazine

Groups urge New York State for more low-income solar options

The Million Solar Strong Campaign, a movement of leading industry, environmental, clean energy and community organizations, was joined by Brooklyn Councilman Antonio Reynoso to urge New York State and Governor Cuomo to support more solar for low-income households. The group came together to tour one of the most successful local low-income solar housing developments at The Meekerman in Williamsburg. The recently opened project, which was developed by Dunn Development Corp., demonstrates how well solar can work with affordable housing. The coalition also released a policy roadmap for how to achieve the goal of serving 100,000 low-income New York State households with solar by 2023.

“I am proud to join The Million Solar Strong Campaign in calling upon Governor Cuomo to embrace a bold vision for New York with one million homes powered by solar by 2023, including 100,000 low-income households,” said New York City Council Member Antonio Reynoso. “We can no longer look at environmental justice and social justice as two separate causes with competing interests. It is time that we get rid of that notion and recognize that environmental justice is social justice. The Million Solar Strong Campaign has demonstrated that an investment in solar can have tremendous pay-offs for low-income residents. I urge the Cuomo administration to invest aggressively in solar energy, particularly in low-income communities, to ensure the health of our shared environment.”

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Solar energy can help low-income communities save millions of dollars on electric bills, stabilize utility bill, improve energy and housing affordability, and building an equitable energy economy. Further, a recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report found that nearly half of all residential rooftop solar potential in the U.S. is on the dwellings of low-to-moderate income (LMI) households, representing 320 gigawatts of total solar potential.

“Governor Cuomo must ensure that New York’s transition to clean energy benefits every New Yorker,” said Melanie Santiago-Mosier, Program Director, Low-Income Solar Access, Vote Solar. “Today we’ve seen the compatibility of affordable housing and solar energy, which has proven that solar can translate to tangible benefits for those that want it. We’re calling on Governor Cuomo and his Administration to act with the urgency that our communities deserve and put New York on a path to 100,000 low-income households with solar using the policy steps outlined in the Million Solar Households policy roadmap.”

Four keys in the policy roadmap

● Accessibility and Affordability: Provide opportunities for meaningful benefits through a combination of deep energy cost savings and direct support to overcome financial and other barriers to solar access.
● Community Engagement and Energy Democracy: The critical role of community involvement in the planning and deployment of clean energy is becoming clear. Low-income communities recognize the opportunities inherent in solar deployment and often wish to have more ownership and control in the clean energy future.
● Flexibility and Sustainability: Encourage long-term, competitive market development with flexibility to best serve the low-income market segment over time and as conditions and circumstances change.
● Compatibility and Integration. Solar programs that integrate low-income energy efficiency and workforce development, business opportunities, healthy home programs and other that address the intersection of equity, energy and infrastructure.

New York currently has enough solar to power more than 200,000 households and employs 9,000 workers in the fast-growing solar industry. The coalition has also released a policy roadmap outlining robust policy recommendations to achieve the goal of one million households powered by solar.

— Solar Builder magazine

Install Inequality: Nearly half of U.S. residential rooftop solar potential is currently out of reach

poor apartment buidlings

One of the largest barriers to solar adoption on a wide scale is the wealth gap, and it will require more problem-solving than a mandate to overcome it. A new report released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shows that nearly half (42 percent) of all the United States’ residential rooftop solar technical potential (see pg. 15 for definition) is on the dwellings of low-to-moderate income (LMI) households, representing 330 GW of potential solar capacity — a number the researchers admitted was much higher than they expected at the outset.

“Understanding the potential size of the LMI market in detail offers new insights and opportunities to serve these communities,” said David Mooney, executive director, Institutional Planning, Integration and Development for NREL. “The potential electric bill savings from the adoption of rooftop solar would have a greater material impact on low-income households compared to their high-income counterparts.”

Although residential solar adoption has increased over the past decade, adoption among LMI households (defined as 80 percent or less of the Area Median Income) and affordable housing providers continues to lag.

The obvious issue here is the lack of capital, cash or credit for such an investment among LMI customers, but the NREL report also shows how solar financing strategies and the long-time inability to penetrate the multifamily sector specifically leaves behind the LMI segment.

Segment spotlight

Across the entire U.S., all income levels mushed together, the rooftop potential of residential single-family is much higher than multifamily — 68 percent versus 32 percent — but the high-income category is doing the heavy lifting to get that outcome. Splitting this chunk another way, into owner-occupied and renter-occupied, reveals where the LMI segment diverges from higher income categories. After doing this, the largest modality of potential is single-family owner-occupied (SFOO) at 177 TWh, but is closely followed by multifamily renter-occupied, with 140 TWh of potential.

Said another way, although deployment of rooftop has been concentrated on SFOO, about 60 percent of potential is in the other three combinations. This means over half of LMI technical potential for solar is in underrepresented housing combinations, like single-family renter-occupied and multifamily buildings, which means the barriers of solar deployment in these categories is really an additional a barrier for an LMI individual’s access to solar.

The study shows the quantity of residential technical potential is highly concentrated in urban and densely populated areas with more building stock, which makes sense intuitively. But many of these areas with high levels of potential already have significant levels of residential deployment, like California, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Several states cited to have high potential with low levels of deployment were Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas.

RELATED: Solar for All: How to incentivize community solar projects to benefit low-, middle-income customers

At a high level, patterns of LMI potential mirror overall income trends. LMI solar potential percentages are greatest in the lower income communities and higher in rural counties. Spatial trends in the potential for solar to offset LMI consumption most strongly reflected regional variation in per-capita electricity consumed, primarily due to which fuels are used for building heating and cooling loads.

Impact on the future

The Solar Energy Technology Office of the U.S. Department of Energy updated the cost targets of 5 cents per KWh for residential solar by 2030. Using these costs and making forecasts, NREL estimated that achieving them would result in 970 GW of PV capacity 2050, or 33 percent of the generation mix. But can we hit that target leaving the LMI solar rooftop segment in the dust?

Using this data set, NREL examined the feasibility of rooftop offsetting that much in each county in the United States given the technical potential.

Offsetting 33 percent of LMI household electrical consumption (“offset target”) with rooftop solar is technically feasible on a national scale when only considering households in SFOO buildings, although to do so requires buildout on essentially all SFOO buildings — an impractical and unforgiving market challenge. In contrast, on a technical basis, there is more than sufficient roof space to meet the 33 percent offset target when including single-family rental-occupied (SFRO), multifamily owner-occupied (MFOO), and multifamily renter-occupied (MFRO) buildings.

attack-the-tariff-300x250

Using only the popular SFOO segment, 60 percent of counties would have potential to meet 33 percent of LMI electricity consumption. Said in reverse to belabor the point: 40 percent of U.S. counties have insufficient rooftop potential to offset 33 percent of LMI electric consumption in just single-family, owner-occupied. The current path to 2050 will not achieve the target generational mix. But including rental and multifamily there is “more than sufficient rooftop space to meet the 33 percent target.” NREL believes 99 percent of counties would meet the 33 percent threshold in just residential rooftop capacity.

Reaching this potential requires deployment models other than those commonly found today. Such models would need to ensure the rental owner had incentive to install solar on their own buildings, like bundling utility expenses with rent payment as a means of passing the costs and savings along to tenants. These models would also need to address diverging requirements and energy burdens of owners and tenants in multifamily. Here’s a great example of one new concept in our Attack the Tariff Series.

It takes a village

The NREL study shows that most LMI electricity consumption (especially with the LMI segment requiring a lower threshold to offset onsite) can be met with rooftop solar, but again 100 percent deployment is unlikely. To get to these high levels of penetration would require deployment on non-traditional building types.

NREL posits one way to increase LMI access to solar is through the vast network of nonprofits that connect to this segment. What if PV systems on government buildings, public housing, schools, shelters and places of worship were intentionally oversized to benefit their LMI communities with the excess generation? The NREL team estimated this opportunity for three cities — Chicago, San Bernardino-Riverside and Washington, D.C. — based on building size, average electric consumption and solar technical potential for outsizing each of those buildings segments. They found enough gross generation potential on those selected building types to meet between 10 to 30 percent of LMI consumption, but only about 1.5 to 9 percent after accounting for the onsite consumption.

Schools have the greatest opportunity to export to the community because of their typically large flat roofs and lower levels of electrical consumption in the summer when irradiance is highest. Places of worship came next because of low levels of consumption year round and moderately favorable roofs. Public housing sites and homeless shelters likely have insufficient rooftop areas to offset 100 percent on site consumption.

National nonprofits GRID Alternatives and Vote Solar updated their Low-Income Solar Policy Guide which explains some proven strategies for expanding solar access being used in states and cities across the country. In multifamily, for example, successful strategies include:

  • Net metering or other incentives to ensure full value of solar
  • Financial incentives to reduce upfront costs, overcome split incentives scenarios and ensure benefits reach tenants
  • Measures to reduce barriers to financing
  • Technical assistance to affordable housing providers, participating contractors and service providers
  • Pairing solar with energy efficiency programs
  • Facilitating waivers from regulatory utility and rent allowance requirements to maximize tenant benefit. (Under a utility allowance formula, a resident’s rent plus utilities equate to a certain percentage of the resident’s income. When a resident’s utility bills decrease, as can happen with solar, the rent portion will automatically increase under the formula)
  • Integrating job training and employment opportunities in the solar energy and energy efficiency sectors of the economy

California and Washington D.C. are the only examples of active programs in place specifically targeted to deploying solar for multifamily affordable housing. California has an incentive program dedicated to affordable housing multifamily, with requirement that half of energy generated on site be used to serve tenants loads. Other states have included incentives for multifamily solar adoption in their broader solar programs. In Colorado, the Denver Housing Authority’s 2-MW LMI solar garden model has shown a scalable model through utility partnerships for offsite generation. In Massachusetts, the SREC II program has awarded a higher price for solar renewable energy credits that are generated by projects that are considered community shared solar projects or that serve affordable housing. When the SREC II program ends, it will be replaced by the new Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program that will award a higher incentive for solar projects that serve affordable housing.

Final thought

It is a big opportunity, though there are clear market and economic barriers. Ignoring this segment and these potential barriers could significantly limit the long-term size of the rooftop solar market.

“Solar can have tremendous benefits for low-income communities in addition to diversifying and de-carbonizing our national energy mix,” said Tim Sears, chief operating officer for GRID Alternatives. “We hope this research will give more states the data they need to develop effective low-income solar programs and build a more equitable clean energy economy.”

The report is accompanied by a web application (maps.nrel.gov/solarforall) that enables users to assess solar technical potential for their communities. This tool makes it possible to visualize the amount of low-income solar potential in a specific neighborhood, for example, while also enabling identification of neighborhoods with both high solar potential and high electricity costs where rooftop solar could provide cost-effective electricity generation. Check it out and see if it sparks any new ideas. The potential is there, it just needs to be tapped.


Methodology

Using LIDAR data from Homeland Security to examine 23 percent of U.S. building stock, the researchers inferred the solar potential of building footprints and unshaded roof area, azimuth, tilt and roof plane. Age cannot be detected so was not considered. This was then matched with socio-economic demographic data from the Census and building stock data to understand total usable rooftop area for LMI households. A statistical model was then created to make estimates of areas not covered by the available LIDAR data (stuff like household counts, number of suitable buildings, etc.) They then dove into three representative regions to infer more in-depth information.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar wealth gap: New reports show size of low-income solar market, solutions to boost installs

solar low income incentives

Something that’s not talked about enough: one of the largest barriers to solar adoption and a game-changing move into a distributed generation future is the wealth gap. A new report released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shows that nearly half of all the United States’ residential rooftop solar technical potential is on the dwellings of low-to-moderate income (LMI) households, representing 320 GW of potential solar capacity. Although residential solar adoption has increased over the past decade, adoption among LMI households (defined as 80% or less of the Area Median Income) and affordable housing providers continues to lag.

Given that solar lowers the cost of electricity, and that electricity is a public utility, solutions to bridge this gap and make lower cost electricity available to homeowners that need it most should be a top priority.

The issues

The Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) at Vermont Law School released “Low-Income Solar Ownership in Vermont: Overcoming Barriers to Equitable Access,” a report prepared for the Vermont Low Income Trust for Electricity (VLITE), Inc. The report examines how to give low-income customers equitable access to the benefits of distributed solar as the renewable energy resource becomes an increasingly cost-effective option to meet clean energy goals. The authors examine four categories of barriers: upfront capital costs; unsuitable housing; lack of information, time and trust; and existing incentives.

“Vermonters should have equal access to the benefits of solar and it is clear in looking at both federal and state policy that is not the case, particularly when it comes to access to solar ownership among low-income Vermonters,” said IEE Director Kevin B. Jones. “In order for our state and nation to meet our clean energy and climate goals, in an equitable fashion, we need both our legislators and our regulators to help level the playing field. There is much work to do to remove the barriers to low-income solar ownership.”

RELATED: Solar for All: How to incentivize community solar projects to benefit low-, middle-income customers

“It is particularly difficult for any Vermonter, particularly low-income Vermonters, to make the numbers work and truly purchase net-metered solar with the punitive $0.06/kWh REC [renewable energy certificate] adjusters put in place by the Vermont Public Utility Commission in opposition to what many Vermonters requested,” Jones said. “If the commission does not change this shortsighted, punitive policy, then the legislature should.”
According to Energy Fellow for Climate Justice Christa Shute JD’13, in addition to environmental benefits, solar is about stabilizing energy costs over the next 40 years.

“Increasing access to net-metering for low-income Vermonters is an equity issue that deserves attention,” Shute said. “This Vermont Law School report on increasing access to low-income solar ownership highlights challenges and proffers potential solutions. There are answers if we consider the problem from the perspective of those facing the challenges. I have faith that our state can come together and be a leader to find energy solutions that work for our most vulnerable.”

Solutions?

To inform the report, the Energy Clinic at the IEE explored how Vermont’s low-income residents are participating in the solar net-metering program, identified challenges faced in procuring solar energy, and developed policy proposals that will help lower barriers to and encourage low-income customers’ participation in these programs. Researchers interviewed local financial institutions, community action agencies, affordable-housing developers, and others involved in the industry. They also researched what other states and regions are doing to promote diverse solar ownership opportunities.

Proposed solutions consist of improved incentives, financing and education and training—all with an eye toward long-term policy. Solution highlights include:

1. Incentives

  • Create low-income specific adders to net-metering projects.
  • Reversal or modification of harmful 2017 changes to net-metering, including the punitive REC adjuster.

2. Financing

  • Legislative mandate for the Public Utility Commission and utility implementation of an on-bill tariff program that lends to the meter instead of the person. This addresses three primary barriers: the split incentive in rental homes, access to financing, and an aversion to risking additional debt.
  • Support existing financing programs with increased access to loan guarantees and funding sources.

3. Informing

  • Collaboration with community partners, utilities and providers is necessary to create a successful program that is promoted statewide.
  • Identify and inform targeted demographic based on volunteer answer to one question on state tax return.
    Motivate citizens to inform neighbors on ways to save money and stay warm.

“Vermont has an opportunity to advance its energy and climate goals, strengthen the economy, and assist those with the highest energy burden,” Jones said. “We can bring the benefits of solar ownership to a larger portion of the population by creating market-specific incentives, leveraging that investment through financing, and informing them of opportunities.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Partnership between Clean Energy Group, Geli to focus on solar+storage for low-income communities

Grow-community-micro-neighborhood

Clean Energy Group, a national, nonprofit organization, will work with the energy storage control and monitoring software company, Geli, to help bring the benefits of solar PV with battery storage technologies to more low-income and otherwise disadvantaged communities. Using Geli’s new online energy storage and solar+storage design and assessment tool, ESyst, Clean Energy Group will provide free training and support to nonprofit organizations evaluating solar+storage solutions for low-income communities.

Through its Resilient Power Project, Clean Energy Group works to accelerate market development and deployment of solar+storage for affordable housing and critical community facilities in disadvantaged communities. Solar+storage can help strengthen these communities both through ensuring more reliable power to support critical services during extended power outages and to reduce the economic burden of rising energy costs. The goal of the work is to further clean energy equity by ensuring that all communities have equal access to the economic, health, and resiliency benefits that solar+storage technologies can provide.

“Our work with Geli will help to level the clean energy playing field in low-income communities,” said Seth Mullendore, a project director with Clean Energy Group. “With ESyst, we’ll be able to give communities the knowledge and free tools to explore solar+storage options without having to rely on proprietary industry models or expensive engineering firms. Low-income community leaders can use the tool to get a good understanding of the economics of a proposed project before reaching out to developers.”

Wells Fargo commits $2 million to low-income solar installs via GRID Alternatives

Geli announced the nationwide launch of ESyst in April. With access to over 10,000 electric rate tariffs across 1,300 U.S. utility service territories, ESyst was developed to standardize and simplify the process of sizing energy storage and solar+storage systems for commercial and industrial properties. The free online tool lets users perform in-depth site analyses in a matter of minutes – calculating both a property’s energy and demand charges savings over time. The tool allows users to select from multiple system options according to project needs, financial parameters, and supplier preferences, and includes functionality to download full financial pro formas and a detailed breakdown of how the system will generate value.

Clean Energy Group will host a free webinar with Geli to introduce ESyst and walk through an example of how to use the platform to analyze an affordable housing property on Thursday, May 24, at 1 p.m. EDT.

— Solar Builder magazine