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Solar accessibility to soar for Oregon’s lower-income households

Each month, ClimateCast features a Story Spotlight, focusing on climate issues and clean energy solutions in communities across the Pacific Northwest.

The Biden-Harris administration celebrated Earth Day 2024 by granting states $7 billion to expand solar across the country through the Solar for All program. The state of Oregon was recently awarded $86 million for rooftop solar projects for lower-income residents. The extra cool news: combined with existing federal and state solar incentive programs, this may bring the upfront costs of rooftop solar to nearly zero for many eligible households

With rising utility costs burdening lower-income households across the state, affordable rooftop solar projects along with energy conservation and efficient heat pumps can make a huge difference. Combined with other energy efficiency upgrades, going solar for Portland resident Joseph Stenger has virtually eliminated his electric bills. “We produce quite a lot more power than we consume,” Mr. Stenger said. Before getting [solar] panels, we used to pay about $60-120/month; now we pay $12/month all year for an administrative fee.” 

Mr. Stenger took advantage of multiple federal and state incentives to reduce the upfront costs of installing solar panels on his home’s roof. “We got all the rebates we could, including a 30% federal tax credit and a $2,240 rebate from Energy Trust of Oregon.[1] That helped a lot! Without that assistance, we would have had to wait even longer to be able to afford them.” 

Solar expanding  

Renewable, pollution-free energy harnessed from the sun has experienced massive growth in Oregon. As of 2021, 0.98 million megawatt/hours of Oregon’s electricity was generated from solar. A large share of this growth is from dozens of utility-scale solar arrays being built across the state. Check out the animated graphic below to see the growth of solar panel installations over the last three decades. The number of residential rooftop solar panels across the state has also been steadily growing, thanks to their considerable benefits to homeowners and communities. As solar adoption continues to expand, the additional grants and incentive programs now supercharged by federal funding will encourage more homeowners to adopt this clean energy technology.

Benefits abound 

Homes that can generate electricity from the sun generally require less energy from the utility company each month, translating to lower utility costs (especially with skyrocketing electricity rates). 

Even better, when a home’s rooftop solar panels are connected to the grid, the person paying the electric bills may receive credit for the surplus energy generated that goes back to their utility (this concept is called net metering).

Additionally, according to a study commissioned by Zillow, professionally installed rooftop solar panels increase a home’s value by 4% on average, making solar panels an attractive investment for many homeowners.

Energy storage is the next breakthrough 

The latest evolution of this technology pairs solar panels with batteries to store energy on-site until needed. This combination benefits both the homeowner and the larger power grid. 

Regardless of how electricity is generated, it must be used in real time or captured for later use with energy storage technologies such as batteries. Any electricity that is generated but not used is wasted. Accordingly, electric utilities must continuously monitor how much energy their customers use and generate electricity to match that demand with minimal wastage. 

Solar panels generate the most electricity when the sun is at its highest and brightest point (late morning to early afternoon in this part of the world). Unfortunately, electricity demand peaks later in the day and into the evening, often when the sun isn’t shining as brightly. 

The latest generation of lithium batteries is safe and cost-effective enough to be installed in homes and businesses to store electricity generated by rooftop solar panels. This can transform homes into mini-power plants, creating and storing enough energy to power a home for hours and even days. Battery storage can allow a solar-equipped home to ride out a power outage, utilizing its solar panels and stored energy to keep the lights on. 

“If you can afford to go solar, it is extremely satisfying to know you are no longer using carbon-polluting products or contributing to worsening climate instability,” solar homeowner Joseph Stenger remarked. Energy cost savings, cleaner air, resilience from power outages… solar and battery storage are among the most accessible ways to get on board with clean energy, and soon, this clean and cost-saving technology will be available to even more Oregon residents. 

Paired with energy efficiency, heat pumps, and EVs, combining solar and storage is a key way to cut energy bills and pollution and increase resiliency in the face of growing climate extremes.

P.S. This story was focused on Oregon residents, but rooftop solar confers major benefits no matter where you live. Check out the links below to learn more.

Learn more about going solar

Oregon

Washington

Footnotes

[1] Incentive program availability and their eligibility criteria may vary due to numerous factors. Do your own research and consult a reputable local solar installer and your electric utility. 

Author Bio

Photo of Jon Lee
Jonathan Lee

Storytelling and Digital Engagement Manager, Climate Solutions

Jonathan Toshio Lee (pronouns: he/him) is passionate about lifting up stories that educate, inspire, and make positive change. He has over a decade of experience in communications strategy, creating multimedia content, public policy advocacy, and promoting equity, diversity, and social justice. Before joining the Climate Solutions team, Jonathan worked in the crime victims' services field and served as a board member and volunteer with OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon.