State and federal finance and technical assistance programs are designed to increase energy affordability for more Americans.
Technical Assistance Programs
The Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) provides relevant and objective technical assistance to state-level entities in order share best practices and remove barriers to solar deployment.
The SolSmart program evolved from SETO’s Solar Powering America by Recognizing Communities (SPARC) funding program and encourages city and county governments throughout the United States to improve local solar policies and processes and recognizes them for their efforts. Participation not only helps to reduce the soft costs of going solar, but it signals that these communities are “open for solar business,” which can help to spur solar adoption, create jobs, and boost local economies.
Solar Energy Innovation Network
The Solar Energy Innovation Network utilizes an innovative program design that assembles diverse teams of stakeholders to research solutions to real-world challenges associated with solar energy adoption. The network supports selected project teams through in-person, facilitated peer learning and targeted research and analysis over an 18-21 month period. The network is a three-year, private-public collaboration managed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and supported by SETO.
Solar Energy Innovators Program
The Solar Energy Innovators Program enables selected applicants to gain practical work experience in the renewable energy field by conducting research on innovative solutions to the challenges faced by electric public utility commissions (PUCs), electric utilities, and energy service providers as the deployment of solar energy increases. The program is managed by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.
State Energy Strategies
Part of the Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Studies 2 – State Energy Strategies (SEEDS2-SES) funding program, projects under State Energy Strategies tackle solar market barrier challenges at the state and regional levels by maximizing the benefits of solar electricity through energy and economic strategic planning. As more people choose to power their homes with solar energy, it requires careful planning, goal setting, and implementation in order for states to ensure that consumers have access to clean, reliable electricity and realize all the benefits of building our new clean energy economy.
Additional U.S. Department of Energy Resources
- Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Technical Assistance – This compiled list provides technical assistance resources for states, communities, and Tribes that support energy efficiency and renewable energy, including solar.
- Electricity Policy Technical Assistance Program – The Office of Electricity provides technical support to states, regions, and Tribes on electricity-related policies through analysis assistance, workshops, webinars, and consultations.
- Reducing Energy Burden for Low-income Residents in Multifamily Housing with Solar Energy – This issue brief discusses some key considerations and related opportunities for deploying solar energy for low-income multifamily housing and profiles examples that demonstrate how state and local entities have deployed solar energy on behalf of low-income residents.
Energy-Related Financial Assistance Programs
SETO does not provide financial assistance to companies or individuals to install solar systems. The federal programs below may provide financial assistance to lower energy costs and may be applied to solar.
Federal Financing Programs for Clean Energy – The Energy Department has compiled a comprehensive resource guide for federal programs that support the development of clean energy projects in the U.S. and abroad.
The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) provides funding to states to help low-income households reduce energy costs by increasing their home’s energy efficiency.
- Preliminary Assessment Guide for Integrating Renewable Energy into Weatherization helps states that receive a WAP grant determine if renewable energy is a fit for their WAP program before embarking on the process outlined in the WAP Memorandum 024.
- WAP Memorandum 024 assists states that receive a WAP grant with applying for approval to include solar as a WAP measure in their annual plans.
- The NREL Solar Savings-to-Investment tool is a calculator that enables states that receive a WAP grant to calculate the cost-effectiveness of a solar system in any state. The tool uses NREL market data on the capital and operating and maintenance costs of solar systems, as well as state-specific solar resource data and electricity rates.
- The Solar Template for Incorporating Solar Photovoltaics into WAP helps to streamline the pilot project application process with DOE.
- Using Federal Energy Assistance Funds for PV to Reduce Energy Burden for Low-income Households and Reducing Energy Burden with Solar: Colorado’s Strategy and Roadmap for States provide additional considerations and case studies for using WAP funds for solar projects.
The Better Buildings Initiative’s Clean Energy for Low Income Communities Accelerator works to reduce energy bills in low-to-moderate income communities through energy efficiency and renewable energy installations, like solar.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides initiatives that assist families with energy costs in order to help keep them safe and healthy. The LIHEAP Residential Energy Assistance Challenge program aims to minimize health and safety risks, prevent homelessness resulting from inability to pay energy bills, and increase low-income families’ energy usage efficiency.
Using Federal Energy Assistance Funds for PV to Reduce Energy Burden for Low-income Households – This report describes considerations for states using LIHEAP funds and captures a few case studies.
Several HUD programs support energy efficiency and solar installations, including Public and Indian Housing, Community Planning and Development, and the Office of Housing’s Multifamily and Single Family programs.
The Community Development Block Grant Program provides communities with resources that address a wide range of community development needs, including solar installations.
The Energy Efficient Mortgage program enables homeowners to finance energy efficient improvements, like solar, with their FHA-insured mortgage. This program works to make cost-effective energy improvements to lower utility bills and make more income available for the mortgage payment.
HUD’s Energy Performance Contracting financing technique uses cost savings from reduced energy consumption to repay the cost of installing energy conservation measures, allowing users to gain energy savings without capital expenses up front. The 24 CFR 990.185 document details HUD's financial regulations, including energy incentives for the program.
The Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department provide regulations concerning submetering of Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) utility allowance and clarify when utility costs generated from renewable sources are paid by a building owner or passed on to the tenants.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency Community Reinvestment Act provides financial institutions, state and local governments, and community organizations with the framework to jointly promote banking services to all community members. It protects residents of racially defined neighborhoods from denial or increased costs, and encourages meeting needs of residents in low- and moderate-income areas.
The Community Development Financial Institutions Fund’s New Markets Tax Credit incentivizes community development and economic growth through the use of tax credits that attract private investment. See an NREL fact sheet on Denver, CO’s use of this tax credit to spur solar development.
How ‘Green’ Investments May Qualify for Community Reinvestment Act Consideration – Since renewable energy systems alone do not qualify under the Community Reinvestment Act, this resource looks at the activities and situations involving renewables that do qualify.
Investing in Solar Energy Using the Public Welfare Investment Authority – National banks can use public welfare investment authority to invest in facilities generating solar power and provide benefits to their communities. This publication also provides resources from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and other government agencies to learn more about solar investments.
The Rural Energy for America Program provides agricultural producers and rural small businesses with grants for energy audits and renewable energy development assistance.
The Rural Energy Savings Program helps make affordable loans available to help consumers—including utilities, nonprofits, municipalities, and states—implement cost-effective, energy-saving measures.
The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program provides loans to finance energy efficiency and conservation projects, specifically in rural areas.
The Rural Utilities Service administers programs that provide or improve infrastructure to rural communities, including sustainable renewable energy development.
Renewable Energy in Highway Right-of-Way – State Departments of Transportation can use highway right-of-way to accommodate renewable energy technologies like solar power. An interactive map provides a snapshot of existing highway renewable energy projects from around the country.