Three Ways Renters Can Go Solar

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Most renters assume they have no opportunities to enjoy the many benefits of solar power. Like any home improvement, installing solar panels is the exclusive right of your landlord; they would probably be unhappy if you, a tenant, independently installed solar panels on their property (though in the long run, they’d surely thank you). But that doesn’t mean that you can’t find ways to share in the bounty of solar energy.

#1: Convince Your Landlord to Go Solar

The best way to be a part of the solar revolution as a renter is to pressure your landlord into installing solar panels. Landlords are responsive to tenants, and work hard to make them happy. Sit down with your landlord and explain to them all the environmental benefits of solar power, including:

  • cleaner air;
  • lower greenhouse gas emissions;
  • and improved health outcomes.

If your landlord is unmoved, they might be more interested in solar’s beneficial economic impacts. Tell them that the average solar system pays for itself after just six to nine years, and that solar panels are typically warrantied for at least 25 years. Many estimates for the useful life of a solar panel stretch all the way to 40 years. On average, property owners who install solar panels save $20,000 on energy costs over 20 years. Not only that, but installing solar panels can significantly increase the property’s value. And don’t forget to mention the relevant financial incentives in your area. In addition to the federal solar investment tax credit, there are a variety of state and local programs and incentives designed to encourage the public to embrace solar energy, including net metering, solar renewable energy credits (SRECs), grants, and tax breaks.

To make your case even more robust, do some research on the impact of solar power on the specific property you’re renting.

  • Use Google’s free Project Sunroof to get an estimate of how much your landlord could save on their energy costs over 20 years
  • If you live in a large apartment complex, rally the support of your neighbors by starting a petition that supports and shows your collective desire for solar energy in your building
  • Encourage your neighbors to write or speak to your landlord directly about their interest in solar energy

#2: Portable Solar Panels

If your efforts to awaken your landlord’s environmental conscience or economic self-interest fail, you have other options. Portable solar panels are a popular option for renters who want to go solar without altering the physical premises of the properties they’re renting.

Like a standard solar installation, a portable panel will also require additional components, including:

  • a battery to store solar energy
  • an inverter to convert DC to AC electrical output
  • a charge controller to balance the panel, battery, and inverter

The total cost of these components will run about $230. You can set the portable panel on the roof of your building (if your wires are long enough) or use hooks to hang it from a window. Once connected, you can use the portable solar panel to operate a limited number of devices like your phone, tablet, and laptop.

If you find the fuss of obtaining and matching additional components to your large panel inconvenient, you might consider a solar charger. An even less complicated and truly portable solar panel, solar chargers offer “plug and play” functionality. Solar chargers are typically the size of a mouse pad and don’t require all the wiring and components that full-size portable solar panels do. Instead, you need only set the solar charger by a sunny window, plug in your phone or other USB device, and give the device time to charge. Some solar chargers even feature sticky pads on their surface that allow you to affix them directly on your window for maximum exposure.

#3: Invest in Community Solar

Community solar projects are those in which a small community – a neighborhood, typically – bands together to develop a solar installation on a public or private parcel. The energy is pushed into the grid, and members of the community solar project enjoy a proportional discount on their energy bills based on the amount of energy the panels produce.

There are three main varieties of community solar projects:

  • The utility sponsored model involves a utility that owns or operates a community solar project and allows ratepayers to buy in
  • The “buy a brick” model involves private donors who contribute toward an installation that is owned by an independent nonprofit
  • The special purpose entity model, in which investors form an LLC or other business organization that operates the community solar project

Community solar is a great option because it spreads the cost of installation among multiple stakeholders. The more people who participate in the project, the lower the cost per person. Community solar projects are also attractive not only to renters like you, but to homeowners whose homes are not suitable for rooftop solar panels due to the presence of nearby trees or buildings, or due to some structural defect of their roofs. On top of that, community solar adds renewable energy to the grid that otherwise wouldn’t exist. And as a renter, community solar saves you the trouble of having to convince your landlord of the benefits of solar.

The best way to go about establishing a community solar project varies depending on your locale, but the first step is often to talk to your state or local energy administration. Ask about incentives and opportunities for community solar in your area, and solicit their advice for starting a community solar project in your neighborhood. You should also contact your electric company to find out if they already offer a community solar buy-in program. You’ll also want to talk to your neighbors to ensure that you’ll be able to spread the costs to a reasonable number of people. Remind them of the environmental, public health, and economic benefits of solar energy. Finally, if you decide to start your own community solar project, be sure to check whether you qualify not only for local financial incentives, but also for the many federal incentives offered by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Choice Is Yours!

Whether you decide to start or join a community solar project, convince your landlord to go solar, or invest in a portable solar panel or charger, remember that your decision to support solar energy is an important step towards a greener, more sustainable world.

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