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Student-Led Nonprofit Delivers Solar Power To Low-Income Citizens

SolarEquity Works To Install Affordable Renewable Projects In NC

Photo Courtesy SolarEquity

One aspect that’s stopped the greater expansion of civilian photovoltaic (PV) systems is the cost. People living on a limited income cannot always afford to install solar panels. Most civilian PV systems are labor-intensive, requiring electrical knowledge, understanding of circuitry, and going up on roofs at dangerous heights. 

That’s why more companies and nonprofits are working to make it more accessible. Student-run SolarEquity is doing this for the Raleigh-Chapel Hill area in North Carolina. 

SolarEquity was founded and run by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) students. The group works with local solar providers, grant-making organizations, and donors to install affordable solar panel projects. The organization is based in the UNC-Chapel Hill student union and comprises students from different backgrounds. 

The students divide themselves into committees: Solar Equipment, Finance/Fundraising, Marketing, and Networking. Twice a month, the company hosts a Speaker Series where renewable energy and affordable housing experts raise awareness about equity and sustainability. The group also works with Habitat for Humanity to build affordable housing that will eventually be solarized.

Photo Courtesy EMPOWERment Group

Recently, the group has been on a mission to deliver solar solutions to the PEACH apartment complex in Chapel Hill.

SolarEquity is working with EMPOWERment, an outreach group dedicated to community building through affordable housing and grassroots economic development in Chapel Hill. EMPOWERment was also founded by UNC students in 1996. 

Ten units will be solarized by NC Solar Now, which will deliver the PV systems. SolarEquity and NC Solar Now will install the system on the roofs of these apartments, generating 42.075 kilowatts (kW) of power. A press release says the residents will save up to $37 per unit on utilities. 

The PEACH complex is the first affordable multi-unit complex with zero-debt funding in Chapel Hill. Those making 30–60% of the average median income qualify for housing here. Solar power aims to deliver more energy savings and equity to those in need. 

“In short, the partnership has been a game changer,” Will Nichols, president of SolarEquity, said in a press release. “Through our partnership with EMPOWERment, SolarEquity has the ability to stimulate the proliferation of solar adoption amongst low-income housing, mitigating 1.5 million pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere. This initiative aligns perfectly with our mission to combat climate change and promote social justice.”

Photo Courtesy SolarEquity

SolarEquity’s plans follow a new trend in North Carolina. Residents living on a limited income in the state qualify for many rebates. Energy providers like Duke Energy can offer customers savings of up to 40¢ per watt of solar energy generated, equal to about $2,000 saved from a 5 kW system. Businesses can get up to 30¢ per watt, equal to around $30,000 in rebates, and nonprofits get up to 75¢ per watt, equal to $75,000. 

There is also the Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation that provides loans for renewable energy system installation. Residents can take advantage of the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit to take 30% off solar installation. 

SolarEquity is providing a valuable service in the national decarbonization efforts. Its analytical and charitable approach to supplying the underserved with renewable energy and the associated savings combats multiple societal challenges simultaneously.“By addressing energy inequity, we take a significant step towards a more sustainable and equitable future for all,” Nichols said.


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