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Solar Debate Misses The Poor

Updated: Feb 26, 2019

Solar is growing everywhere except in the lowest earning households. This means solar-powered cost savings are everywhere except where they are needed most.

As of early 2017, there were enough solar installations in the United States to power roughly 6.5 million households of the nation’s 126 million households.

According to a report from Greentech Media, nearly 40 percent of the power generating construction projects approved in the year 2016 in the United States were solar projects.

Anyone with their ear to the ground in the energy industry knows that the capabilities of photovoltaic (PV, solar) cells is going the way of the Intel processor chip. Every year the alternative energy option gets more efficient, making investment in the solution less of a philosophical question and more of an economic no-brainer.

Change is always difficult, evidenced by the push-back that is rocking state legislatures across the nation. Though solar proponents are pushing back with success, the utility company lobbyist machine is showing its influence as bills are introduced that suggest raising costs solely on customers with PV systems. Though industry insiders confess that it is difficult to determine how much maintenance cost is a fair amount to add on to solar customers, utility commissions in Kansas and Missouri have proposed a $50 per month flat fee for households connected to the grid which use solar power arrays. Economics experts expect the added fee to essentially eliminate the monthly cost savings that investors in solar power expect to realize through their purchase of residential PV systems.

The past decade has seen increases of investment among middle-class customers (albeit a shrinking demographic) due to the lower costs associated with initial investment. Introduction of the flat monthly solar fee has a chance of returning the energy economy to a time when only households with high socioeconomic status—think six figures of income per year and higher—will be able to afford the costs of going solar.

The founders of Clement Waters watch all of this speculation about energy industry change with an understanding of the low-income perspective. A significantly higher percentage of a low-income household’s annual earnings go to electricity usage. The process to install solar options into a home electric system has been wrought with technicalities and bureaucratic hurdles, making solar installation less accessible to low-income households. Almost none of these households use a single PV panel hooked into their home’s electric system. If a low-income household does buy into solar to reduce the energy usage of their home, an increase of $50 per month onto their household budget would certainly discourage further use of their energy-saving solar setup.

Clement Waters continues to watch the landscape of the solar power industry, hoping to identify renewable solutions for reducing energy’s dominance over the household budget of the low-income American.

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