Making Solar Work For Public Housing

With their often large, flat roofs, public housing projects are an obvious target for solar energy developers who want to maximize the technology’s social and environmental benefits. But in most parts of the United States, many hurdles make installing solar energy systems on public housing financially unfeasible. California’s Multi-family Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) incentive program is one of the few state incentives specifically designed to help clear those hurdles.

Everyday Energy, an Oceanside, Calif.-based solar installer specializing in affordable housing and multi-tenant buildings, has installed several photovoltaic (PV) systems under the program, including a 464-kilowatt (kW) system recently installed at the Park Villas in National City, Calif. The project consists of 2,000 solar panels, spans 18 rooftops and is the largest MASH project in the state to date.

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image via Everyday Energy

The system is expected to generate 775,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per year, enough to meet the needs of 144 housing units and property common areas. According to Everyday Energy, about 95 percent of the electricity generated will be allocated to tenants’ electricity bills through virtual net metering. This program, which was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission this summer, allows individual tenants of multi-tenant buildings to receive credit for a share of a PV system’s production, without requiring solar installers to physically wire the array to each unit’s individual electric meters. This can save project developers tens of thousands of dollars in balance of systems and labor costs.

To date, the company has orchestrated about 75 different virtual net metering arrangements. Everyday Energy President Chris Taylor explains how virtual net metering works, starting at 3:22 in the video at the end of this story. As part of the installation process, the company also provided training in solar panel installation to interested Park Villas residents. Three of the residents who participated in the training were subsequently hired as installation team assistants.

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).