Climate challenge: Let the sun power low-income families

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Solar panels

Solar panels. Image: Flickr, Oregon Department of Transportation

By Chloe West
Great Lakes Echo

Low-income households consume three times the energy used by middle class families, according to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Solar energy can provide low-income households with cheaper energy, according to the Yale Environment, an online magazine on global environmental issues.

Constructing a more resistant grid and reducing the energy output is crucial to ending climate change, especially in lower-income households, said Duane Watson, a Consumers Energy Agricultural Specialist.

This story is part of an occasional series called “Climate Solutions.”

Watson said, Consumers Energy is working on a new bill for financing energy efficiency. A kilowatt hour of electricity not used eliminates waste, so the company is building a system to support the most efficient use of that energy for the lower-income homeowners.

The impact of COVID-19 has created the need for lower-income families to transition into solar energy to save money in other areas such as food, shelter and clothing according to Michigan Solar Solutions President Mark Hagerty.

Hagerty said, many lower-income households don’t understand how to reduce their carbon footprint; the total amount of greenhouse gases produced by an individual’s actions. Before providing cheap energy solutions, educating lower-income families is the obstacle that needs to be overcome.

“From an environmental standpoint, It’s important to get lower-income households on board for energy efficiency,” Hagerty said. “I’ve been in houses where the heat is on and the window is cracked, so educating these families on the impact they’re creating is the first obstacle we have to overcome. My biggest concentration is spent on informing how to not waste, so more money can be saved for future solar. So when I go into these households, I inform rather than sell solar panels because that has to be done first.”

Michigan Solar Solutions is working to drive down the cost of solar per watt. When he first started, it was over $8 and now it’s down to $3, Watson said.  The average space on a roof is large enough on enough solar panels to offset owners’ complete usage, benefiting lower-income families.

Hagerty also believes carbon dioxide emissions are not the only area of concern in relation to lower-income households use.

“From my research, methane gas is 20 times more dangerous to our climate than carbon dioxide,” Hagerty said. “All greenhouse gases are detrimental to the environment, but I’ve seen methane be a key factor. “This is where the education component comes in regarding lower-income households.”

Other barriers to combating climate change through lower-income households begin by evaluating where these families live and their property, according to Michigan Public Service Commission board member Tremaine Phillips.

“Many families with low-incomes live in apartment buildings, therefore solar energy would have to be through the landlord,” Phillips said. “A lot of locations aren’t feasible for solar, such as a shading problem. Cost is also another challenge.”

Phillips said he understands the realities of climate change and wants to help lower-income families on how to get them on board.

“We need to adapt lower-income households to be more sustainable within energy, because we know that they get hit the hardest in terms of extreme climate change,” Phillips said. “The two components that need to be taken into account are the energy burden and cost on lower-income households. We are already locked into a certain degree of warming, so adding solar energy into lower-incomes will build resilience.”

California, Louisiana, and Colorado are few of the states that have been implementing solar adoption among low income families according to the advocacy group, Center for American Progress.

Assistant Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan State University Annick Anctil has been working with a student on a project to push solar energy into lower-income households around Michigan.

“I’ve found that bringing solar energy into a row of houses can reduce the cost, even reduce climate change,” Annick said. “Building smaller houses for lower-income families is efficient for implementing solar and reducing the dependence on paying utilities. We created an app to build 1200 square foot houses, which is better than most sizes of low-income households. These houses are small, but more efficient for solar and cheaper for lower-income families.”

The area median for low-income households sits around 51-80% in the New York City community. Depending on the family size, low-income tenants pay up to $126,000 on rent and utilities, according to the New York City Housing Preservation and Development.

“Thirty percent of all carbon emissions come from apartment buildings in New York City, so utilizing solar energy in these households could help climate change and make it affordable for lower income families,” said Gwen Kahler, special operations at BlocPower who specializes in implementation of energy efficiency among underserved communities.

BlocPower, located in New York City, specializes around energy efficiency while making it affordable for lower-income households. According to Kahler, the company doesn’t mandate an upfront down payment, but instead provides loans. Having lower-income households on board for solar energy can give them more opportunities money-wise and help the environment.

Kahler said there is a need in our changing climate today to correlate solar energy and lower-income households.

“Mitigating climate change right now is so important for our future,” Kahler said. “We have the technology to prevent it, but having lower-income families committed to the change is what we should strive for.”

One thought on “Climate challenge: Let the sun power low-income families

  1. got 28 panels. Waiting to hear how to turn it on. We got our net meter. Waiting for ……..

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