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Rooftop solar boosts household finances in low-income communities, US study shows

Three men install a rooftop solar system. These systems reduce the energy burden experienced by low-income households, a study has found.
Photo: Dreamstime

Rooftop solar installations help to relieve financial pressures in low-income communities in the US, a comprehensive study published in the journal Nature Communications has found.

Led by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the study considered whether rooftop solar systems meaningfully reduce the average vulnerable household’s ‘energy burden’ — which refers to the percentage of income spent on energy.

It looked at 500,000 residential solar adopters across the US. Unlike most prior research, which has generally focused only on direct utility bill savings, this study also considered off-bill costs and benefits such as ongoing loan or lease obligations for financed installations, as well as solar incentives. That means it provides the full picture, the researchers say.

All costs and benefits considered, they found that rooftop solar reduced the energy burden for 76% of the households, and the median customer saw net savings of $691 a year.

Importantly, energy burden reductions were most pronounced in low- and middle-income communities.

Rooftop solar reduced the median energy burden for low-income households from 7.7% of their income to 6.2%, while among moderate-income households, the median energy burden fell from 4.1% to 3.3%.

And the technology lowered the incidence of ‘high’ energy burdens — where a household spends between 6% and 10% of their income on energy — by 21% among low-income adopters and 41% among moderate-income adopters.

Yes, but: Some low- and middle-income households still experienced high energy burdens, even with solar systems installed. In such cases, additional measures such energy efficiency programmes may be needed, the researchers say.

Tags: Energy burden, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
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