To date, 24 states have approved zero-carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) targets. Public policymakers are looking to carbon-neutral solar panels to help achieve these goals, with full compliance expected between 2030 and 2050. To maintain and increase the use of solar energy across the country, developers need to consider how best to serve low-income communities in support of the Zero Program. These communities may lack the assets and initial resources needed for their own residential solar energy, and thus they present opportunities for solar energy growth as a largely untapped market.

Both housing developers and low-income communities can benefit greatly from increased government funding for solar energy. As interest in projects related to the environmental, social and public (ESG) aspects of investment continues to grow, the integration of renewable energy into affordable housing projects can provide significant sustainability benefits for developers, municipalities and end users.

Lipa Speranza Image: LaBella Associates

But what are the most important considerations for the introduction of solar energy in affordable housing projects? Let’s see.

Solar systems, design and resolution

Ground mounting, roof racking systems or carports are some of the options that developers may consider to incorporate solar panels into affordable residential complexes.

Ground mounting systems require physical space and special permits, especially if they are located on a “green field” or previously undisturbed location. In these cases, developers can alternatively use unused roof space on large apartment buildings. HVAC equipment and pipelines should be designed with space in mind for solar energy. A solar panel on the roof can reduce cooling costs in combination with reflective roofing or two-way modules to increase production.

For states with an established community solar drainage policy, a ground mounting system can be distinguished. Selecting a protected site minimizes environmental impacts and provides opportunities for additional funding, for example through NYSERDA incentives in New York, which can be further combined with Inclusive Community Solar Adder.

Solar canopies for cars are another option that can protect tenants from the weather while redirecting rainfall to improve soil conditions, nourish landscaping, minimize winter maintenance and reduce hot airing in the city. These features can help justify the right to receive a green building fund, such as a federal one Enterprises of green communities programs, a convincing advantage in the face of high cost structural steel.

Additional design considerations include the integration of additional new technologies to emphasize the object’s holistic commitment to pure zero. The “all-electric” construction approach can take advantage of technical improvements in electric heat pumps, while outpacing New York law banning gas from new buildings, citing climate change. It is also a safer strategy for low-carbon operations.

Moreover, some housing developers have begun to add electric car charging stations (EVs) to upcoming projects, increasing equal access to renewable modes of transport. The National Grid, an electrician in New York City, manages projects and engages the public in the EV Make Ready charging station program. This incentive is available to property owners and apartment building managers and can cover up to 100% of the cost of EV charger infrastructure, such as distribution transformers, ducts and conductors.

For residents without vehicles, proximity to clean transport should also be considered. Many states are committed to electrifying their public bus fleets, while politicians are exploring new transportation strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other localized pollutants.

Public funding and incentives

A review of existing funding programs and their requirements for participation should be conducted in conjunction with early site selection planning to give developers the best chance of implementing the project. After all, financial viability is still the biggest factor in investing in solar panels.

The difficulty of connecting resources across multiple sources of funding with unique administration requirements is a significant barrier to market development. Thus, many believe that the key to expanding the market is greater collaboration between local, state, and federal incentive programs and a greater emphasis on the non-economic benefits of solar energy that are more difficult to quantify.

More technical assistance is needed for applicants for funding, in particular to advertise and connect ESG-focused resources. Combining funding applications can also help developers make investment decisions faster by easing the pressure on clogged queues of electrical connections.

Fortunately, we are beginning to see an answer to these needs. For example, New York-based Homes and Community Renewal and NYSERDA recently teamed up to develop the Clean Energy Initiative, which offsets the cost of adding sustainable features to affordable housing projects, especially those already funded by government bonds and the federal tax. low-income housing. credit programs.

Public benefits

Low-income areas have historically been exposed to unattractive and harmful infrastructure and industrial development. When we move away from fossil fuels, such organizations that promote solar energy, such as the Association of the Solar Energy Industry (SEIA) work hard to involve affected neighbors when posting projects. SEIA is also working to develop educational and training opportunities along with solar installations, transforming residents as active participants in the new energy economy.

Another important benefit of increasing the production of renewable energy sources is the compensation of the negative health effects of coal electricity. The strategy of multi-pollutant power plants – introduced this year by the EPA – creates the ground for greater recognition of the link between coal-fired power generation and negative health outcomes. This focus is expected to complicate the deployment of new coal-fired power plants, which will increase the attractiveness of investment in solar technology.

Utility bills are often an unpredictable part of the community’s operating budget of affordable housing. By stabilizing electricity prices and simplifying the owner’s financial forecasts, the solar panel provides lower and more predictable energy prices – especially for all-electric projects. This is an important advantage for price-sensitive tenants.

Closing remarks

Deployment of solar energy in affordable housing projects can be used to more effectively spread the benefits of renewable energy to all communities, especially to populations that are historically underserved. Combined with ambitious carbon reduction and renewable energy requirements, the use of solar energy in affordable housing is significant.


Linden Speranza, PMP, works as the Solar Building Program Manager and LaBella Maintenance Coordinator. She received a bachelor of science degree in public policy with honors from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2010. In 2015, she received a Master of Science degree in Science, Technology and Public Policy, specializing in sustainability. She has 10 years of experience as a project management specialist and began her career working as a GIS planning assistant before managing green and healthy home building projects for poor communities. She started working in the solar industry in 2014 and has since led more than 100 residential and commercial solar projects during the design and construction phases.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of pv magazine.

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