Groundswell shares what we learn so that everyone can benefit from our research and work, including what works and what doesn’t.

2023 Income Verification Assessment Exercise

  • In 2023, Groundswell and the DC Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) partnered to begin an ongoing annual income validation exercise on Solar for All (SFA) subscriber households.

    This annual exercise in monitoring the subscriber household income distributions and the number of households that self-report income beyond the program limits will help determine if and when a formal re-verification process is needed.

Validating Community Solar Benefits in the District

  • The community solar branch of the Solar for All (SFA) program aims to save Washington, DC, households $500 a year on their energy bills by providing solar energy credits for 4,200 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity generated within the District. As the current subscriber services provider and as a part of their grant partnership responsibilities with DOEE, Groundswell has completed this research to assess the performance of the SFA program toward meeting the annual $500 and 4,200 kWh goals.

LIFT: Project Finance for Accelerating LMI Solar Access Everywhere

  • Accelerating Low-Income Financing and Transactions for Solar Access Everywhere (LIFT Solar) is a research effort funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) and led by Groundswell in collaboration with Elevate, Clean Energy Works, and Southface Institute. LIFT Solar seeks to understand the financial performance and customer experience of community solar projects that serve low- and moderate-income (LMI) customers, with the goal of providing insights, tools, and best practices that accelerate the development of these projects nationwide.

    The reports below, outline research on LMI Solar Financing, Customer Experience, and Growth of LMI Community Solar.

Analyzing Rural Energy Burdens in North Carolina

  • While North Carolina has lower electricity rates than the national average, North Carolina’s statewide average energy burden for low and moderate-income households is 19.8% — significantly above the 6% threshold that is widely agreed upon as delineating high energy burdens. The average energy burden for North Carolina households living at 50% of the Federal Poverty Level is 32.8%, meaning these households have energy burdens five times higher than North Carolina households earning $55,500 or more per year. Rural counties across North Carolina carry the heaviest energy burdens across all income brackets due in part to energy inefficient housing and an increasing number of cooling degree days and heating degree days in the region stemming from climate change.

Rural Energy Burden Georgia

  • While Georgia has lower electricity rates than the national average (of 14.12 ¢ / kWh), Georgia’s statewide average energy burden for low and moderate-income households is 19.4%. The average energy burden for Georgia households living at 50% of the Federal Poverty Level is 30% -  five times that of Georgia households earning $55,500 (or 200% of the Federal Poverty Level) or more per year. Rural counties across Georgia carry the heaviest energy burdens across income brackets - driven by rural poverty, unemployment, and the prevalence of older, single-family rental housing.

Energy Impoverished

  • Equitable energy distribution has long been an issue of concern when studying the prevalence of high energy burdens, as not many low-income households benefit from energy-efficiency programs that are designed to reduce economic hardship and poverty. Rather, many low-income households continue to live in older homes, which are often characterized by structural issues such as poor insulation, inefficient HVAC systems, leaky roofs, inefficient and sometimes oversized appliances which increase energy costs. Despite energy abundance in the US and the propagation of energy efficiency programs and weatherization policies, low-income households continue to pay high energy bills while their environmental, social, and economic conditions have eroded.

Breaking Barriers

  • The Breaking Barriers project is designed to improve electricity resilience at four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in West Atlanta and within the surrounding energy-burdened community. To achieve this outcome, the project is designed to construct innovative urban energy resiliency hubs integrating microgrid technology, solar generation, and energy storage in these West Atlanta colleges and communities. These hubs will help Atlanta HBCUs and the energy-burdened broader community become resilient, inform new course curricula at Atlanta University Center campuses, and inspire similar efforts at other HBCUs and beyond.

    This 36-page final report outlines project objectives, highlights, collaborators, products, and challenges, which came to light as a result of this research. 

Corporate and Community Engagement Primer

  • The Corporate and Community Engagement Primer, developed by REBA Institute and Groundswell, outlines suggestions, processes, and additional resources to support key stakeholders at the beginning of the renewable energy procurement journey. The companion tool for the Primer, the Corporate and Community Engagement Decision Framework, provides guidance on the assessment process, building a business case, and establishing internal and external teams to pursue community engagement as a part of your renewable energy strategy.

Modeling Inclusive Utility Investments in On-Site Solar

  • The ability to access on-site solar is often determined by whether a household can either pay cash upfront or arrange financing for a 20-year investment. Most households in the United States are not able or willing to do either on their own. LIFT Solar Everywhere is exploring methods to accelerate access to solar for low- and moderate-income (LMI) homeowners as well as renters by identifying scalable finance and customer models, addressing both residential rooftop and community solar. One such model is a well-demonstrated method of inclusive utility investment in energy efficiency upgrades called Pay As You Save® (PAYS®). Following a white paper in 2020 investigating the viability of applying PAYS to on-site solar, LIFT Solar Everywhere advanced that thinking by quantifying the concept in an open-source financial model to help more analysts explore this option in specific contexts. This white paper provides descriptive documentation for the financial model as well as four illustrative examples with input assumptions that vary based on geography, utility type, electricity cost, and other factors. 

Summary of the Working Wisdom Listening Tour

  • Over the course of four online sessions in February 2021, community leaders shared their community-building stories and suggested a language of connection, principles, and frameworks at the Working Wisdom Listening Tour. This series brought together corporate leaders in renewable energy and frontline community leaders to mutually recognize the power of being good neighbors. These recommendations are designed to guide corporate energy buyers in building authentic non-extractive relationships to support equitable and community-led renewable project development with multiple benefits for all parties. The Tour was a first step in Groundswell’s more extensive Communities + Corporates program.

PAYSR Solar Study

  • The LIFT Solar Everywhere research project has developed a three-part research report to determine whether and how the PAYS® system for tariffed on-bill investment could make on-site solar systems available to low- and moderate-income (LMI) customers. The PAYS system is designed to facilitate utility investment in cost-effective energy upgrades and has the potential to provide a distinct financing solution for increasing clean energy access for low and moderate-income households.

Customer Experience Benchmarking Analysis

  • LIFT Solar has conducted benchmarking research of existing LMI clean energy and resource efficiency programs to assess customer experience and financial performance at the program or project level. This benchmarking research will inform the delivery of the LIFT Solar Tool Kit and provide insights and recommendations for clean energy and resource efficiency program administrators nationally serving LMI participants.

Accelerating LMI Access to Solar

  • This preliminary project finance report from LIFT’s early data collection notes trends and patterns marking community solar finance - namely, that due to tax code and state or local regulations, nearly every solar project is financed with unique structures.  

Solar Empowers Some

  • The solar marketplace has experienced exponential growth on a global, national, and local scale. In both the District of Columbia and Baltimore, solar developers, financiers, and solar engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) firms are shaping a market that is rich with innovation and profitability. Critically, however, minority and women-owned businesses are underrepresented at every level of the solar supply chain in the District – especially as business owners and principals. As a result, the solar industry and its wealth-building economic expansion in the District of Columbia and in Baltimore is not fulfilling its potential to drive equitable economic development. In order to create successful pathways of participation, business ownership and employment opportunities must be made known to underrepresented entrepreneurs; financing must be accessible; and guidance in establishing specialized administrative functions must be available.

From Power to Empowerment

  • Just as far sighted regulators and entrepreneurs leveraged universal access to electricity to drive inclusive economic growth in the 20th century, today’s leaders must take significant strides to make renewable energy accessible for all Americans. This is not simply a matter of fairness and equity. Existing market practices and public policies in both renewable energy production and energy efficiency are failing to benefit low and moderate income families, resulting in missed opportunities for economic growth. This white paper details the critical relationship between energy and economic opportunity in the United States, as well as a call to action to accelerate the adoption of community solar legislation, to expand and support energy efficiency programs that align with community solar, and to drive consumer adoption of these programs through place-based community organizations.

Solar for All: 2023 Annual Impact Report

  • In 2016, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser launched DC Solar for All with a goal of providing 100,000 low-to-moderate income families with the benefits of locally generated clean energy. This initiative remains one of the most progressive solar programs in the United States, and it has established DC as a national leader for energy equity. In fact, the program has become a nationally recognized template for equitable community solar that is now being applied in communities across the country.