The cost of solar energy systems has fallen dramatically over the past decade. As solar electricity has become more affordable, residential solar adoption has increased, with more than 2 million solar energy systems currently operating across the United States as of 2019. Despite decreases in system costs, many U.S. households still lack access to affordable solar electricity, especially renters, homeowners who can’t access affordable financing, and those without suitable roof conditions or adequate sun exposure. While rooftop PV adoption has become more income-equitable over time, the Solar Futures Study finds that only 31% of solar adopters came from households that earned less than the area median income. In addition, census tracts with majority Black and Hispanic populations exhibit 30% and 69% less rooftop photovoltaic (PV) adoption as compared to the average census tract, respectively. as compared to the average census tract, respectively.
Increasing equitable access to solar means ensuring solar energy is available and affordable for all U.S. consumers. By funding research in this area, the Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) supports efforts to reduce energy costs, especially for households experiencing disproportionately high energy burdens (the percentage of household income spent on energy costs), such as low-income households where the average energy burden is three times higher than for non-low-income households. High energy burdens are correlated with greater risk of respiratory diseases, increased economic hardship and stress, and can force households to make difficult choices between paying energy bills or covering the costs of shelter, food, medicine, childcare, and other essential needs.
SETO works to create a more equitable clean energy future by addressing the barriers that low- and moderate-income households face in accessing the benefits of solar through innovations in financing, community solar, and workforce development. Learn more about SETO’s goals.
SETO’s Equitable Access to Solar Energy portfolio tackles barriers to greater solar adoption and is built upon dialogue with solar stakeholders. SETO-funded efforts work to improve rapid community solar development and other community-serving models to increase aspects such as solar access, meaningful financial benefits like reduced energy bill burdens, workforce development, improved resiliency from distributed energy, and community wealth building. Additionally, projects are being developed with an understanding that there must be a focus upon equitable development for the solar industry, using innovative strategies to tackle barriers that have been left unaddressed.
To view specific projects that support equitable access to solar energy, search the Solar Energy Research Database. Reports resulting from research projects can be found on the Office of Science and Technical Information (OSTI) website.
Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) in SETO
SETO is committed to driving progress toward justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) throughout its stakeholder ecosystem. Long-term change is needed to move toward a more just energy sector, and this change takes time. SETO pledges to be steadfast in its commitment to JEDI principles and to enact positive change to build a more just and equitable clean energy future, both within the department and through its work with partners. SETO has made strides both internally and externally to develop energy equity training, increase workforce diversity in hiring, establish an internal JEDI leadership team, and award projects and programs that embed equity into the solar sector.
- Low-Income Energy Affordability Data (LEAD) Tool
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory: Unlocking Solar for Low- and Moderate-Income Residents: A Matrix of Financing Options by Resident, Provider, and Housing Type
- Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: Advancing Equity in Utility Regulation
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory: Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Studies: 2017–2019 Low-Income Solar Adoption Study
- Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: Income Trends of Residential PV Adopters: An Analysis of Household-Level Income Estimates
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory: Webinars: Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Studies
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory: Rooftop Solar Technical Potential for Low-to-Moderate Income Households in the United States
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory: Solar For All Tool