U.S. DoE Launches New Initiative To Boost Domestic Solar Industry

U.S. DoE Launches New Initiative To Boost Domestic Solar Industry
The United States is pressing ahead with plans to connect more U.S. families to cleaner solar energy.

The Biden-Harris Administration, through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), has launched new initiatives to boost the use of solar energy by U.S. families. The initiatives aim to connect families to more reliable clean energy, lower electricity bills, and create good-paying jobs in the domestic solar industry.

DOE, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), announced the five states and Washington, D.C. that will support the pilot of the Community Solar Subscription Platform to connect families to solar energy and lower electricity bills through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and other low-income assistance programs. DOE also announced $10 million from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to jump-start solar energy careers in underserved communities. These announcements support President Biden’s goal to reach a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035 while creating good-paying jobs across the country.

HHS’s LIHEAP program assists eligible households with their heating and cooling energy costs, bill payment assistance, energy crisis assistance, weatherization, and energy-related home repairs. Transitioning to solar energy can help households across the country save money on their electricity bills, but many Americans have been unable to access these benefits. Community solar, which allows multiple customers to benefit from a shared solar energy system, provides a solution for individuals who cannot get rooftop solar panels. DOE’s community solar target is to power 5 million homes and provide 20 percent savings on a subscriber’s energy bills, up from 10 percent on average today.

The Community Solar Subscription Platform is designed to connect community solar projects with verified cost savings to households participating in government-run assistance programs like LIHEAP. The initial pilot will be supported by the states of Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Washington, D.C. These states will provide feedback, coordination, and data to test the operability, security, and performance of the platform. DOE has prioritized working with states that have existing programs to support low-income community solar development so that, if successful, participants will see significant electricity bill savings, including:   

• 20 percent in Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and New Mexico

• 50 percent in Washington, D.C., and Colorado

DOE estimates that this could lead to electric bill savings of up to:

• $240 million in Colorado

• $300 million in Illinois

• $175 million in New Jersey

• $30 million in New Mexico

• $400 million in New York

• $40 million in Washington, D.C.  

DOE’s National Community Solar Partnership, HHS, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, National Energy Assistance Directors Association, and the National Association of State Energy Officials are collaborating on the Community Solar Subscription Platform.

DOE also issued a Request for Information to obtain feedback on the structure of the platform from community-based organizations, community solar subscription managers and developers, state and local governments, researchers, LIHEAP implementation organizations, and others. Responses are due by August 31, 2022.

Creating a Strong Solar Workforce

While the solar industry is already more diverse than national averages, the Biden-Harris Administration has invested $10 million through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to ensure that the future solar workforce is equitable, inclusive, and benefits people in underserved communities who live in and around the projects.

According to estimates in DOE’s Solar Futures Study, the industry will need to create hundreds of thousands of good-quality jobs to achieve decarbonization goals. These jobs should be accessible to workers from all backgrounds, provide competitive wages and benefits, and offer opportunities for union membership.

DOE’s Advancing Equity through Workforce Partnerships program will fund projects that support new workforce programs that bring together employers, training providers, and labor unions to support pathways to the solar industry to recruit, train, and retain an inclusive workforce. These programs will be demand-driven, worker-centric, and sector-based, and will utilize established workforce programs and resources, be sustainable and replicable, and prioritize energy justice. By assessing the regional labor market and the current and future needs of employers, multi-stakeholder project teams can help ensure optimal alignment between different training programs and the actual needs of the industry.

To contact the author, email andreson.n.paul@gmail.com


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