Powering Strong Communities

DOE to provide $15.5 million to expand solar power to underserved communities

The Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced $15.5 million in funding to support solar energy deployment in underserved communities.

The DOE’s new funding initiative is targeting reductions in “soft costs,” such as design, siting, permitting, installation, and financing, that will augment its ongoing efforts to reduce the hardware and development costs through programs offered by its Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO).

The new funding includes $10 million for an entity to manage and expand SETO’s SolSmart program over the next five years. The administrator would be responsible for encouraging the more equitable deployment of solar power in communities of color, low- and moderate-income communities, rural areas, and on tribal lands, and for streamlining the solar deployment processes and the adoption of technologies such as solar-plus-storage.

SolSmart provides no-cost technical assistance to cities, counties, and regional organizations. To date, SolSmart has provided assistance to more than 400 communities in 41 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands and now, the DOE says, will expand to focus on rural and low- and moderate-income communities.

The new funding initiative also includes $5.5 million in technical assistance to support the third round of the Solar Energy Innovation Network’s (SEIN) research into ways of creating new solutions for solar deployment in underserved communities and replicating solutions developed in previous rounds.

The SEIN program connects utilities, state and local governments, community-based organizations, and system operators to technical experts at DOE’s national laboratories.

In 2019, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that the median income of households that adopt solar is significantly higher than that of the average U.S. household.

The DOE also announced the launch of an Equitable Access to Community-Based Solar Request for Information. The aim of the RFI is to gather input on barriers to rapid community solar deployment and other community-based models to increase solar access.

In addition to the RFI, DOE plans to convene a series of meetings with environmental justice organizations, state and local governments, solar developers, and other stakeholders to solicit feedback on how those projects can best address energy challenges in underserved communities.

The DOE also launched a workforce RFI to gather information on how best to frame future workforce funding that ensures new jobs offer good wages, benefits, and worker protections. The DOE plans to host a series of meetings and solicit feedback from labor unions and the solar industry on its plans to provide targeted training efforts.

The DOE says there are nearly 100 gigawatts (GW) of direct current (DC) solar capacity installed in the U.S. and as much as 500 GW to 600 GW planned over the next 10 years.

The DOE has scheduled webinars on the SolSmart and SEIN programs for May 18 and May 20, respectively.