Our powers combined: energy efficiency and solar in affordable multifamily buildings

28 Apr 2018

The production and consumption of energy can burden the health, well-being, and finances of people living and working in low-income and minority communities. To mitigate these effects, policymakers and utility regulators have developed policies and programs that increase access to both energy efficiency and solar resources for low-income households. Some affordable multifamily housing providers are now finding that investments in both energy efficiency and solar resources can result in substantial utility cost savings.
Little is known about how affordable multifamily building owners and developers approach the integration of efficiency and solar resources in a building. Programs and policies that support these projects have received limited attention. To address this, the authors interviewed several program administrators, affordable housing providers, and lenders who have taken part in projects involving both efficiency upgrades and rooftop solar installations in affordable multifamily buildings. Their interviews included questions regarding planning, goals, funding sources, and lessons learned. They also analyzed program and project data, where available, and profiled four organizations with a successful record of integrating energy efficiency and solar resources in affordable multifamily properties.
Drawing on their research, the authors make several recommendations to increase investments in both energy efficiency and solar projects for affordable multifamily buildings. These recommendations also increase the value these projects offer for energy efficiency program administrators, potential investors, and affordable multifamily building owners, residents, and staff. They recommend that efficiency and solar program administrators:

  • Offer solar incentives to affordable multifamily owners with the condition that applicants also install energy efficiency upgrades
  • Designate program staff who will serve as the primary point of contact for applicants wishing to take advantage of efficiency, solar, and water conservation program offerings
  • Provide increased funding for structural, health, and safety building upgrades
  • Fund project predevelopment work or provide staff to assist with project planning
  • Encourage energy efficiency contractors, solar installers, and energy auditors to work collaboratively
  • Require that program participants use energy benchmarking services and software
  • Educate tenants about the installation, use, and benefits of a building’s energy efficient equipment and solar systems, and encourage energy-efficient behavior
  • Provide large incentives or financing for owners to reduce renters’ energy use
  • In collaboration with manufacturers and trade associations, train building operators to operate, maintain, and monitor newer energy-efficient and solar technologies

In addition, the authors recommend that housing finance agencies adopt utility allowance adjustment methods that will encourage investments in energy efficiency and solar resources. Opportunities also exist for lenders to create more loan products that can be used to specifically finance energy efficiency and solar projects in affordable multifamily buildings.
Finally, state and local policymakers should take steps to grow the workforce of highly trained building operators. the authors recommend adopting policies that require or incentivize building owners to pursue energy efficiency and solar investments. This increases the value of building operators’ work. They should also work with local or regional stakeholders to identify building operator job opportunities and the specific training that building and construction industry workers will need to fill those positions. Policymakers should provide funding for community colleges, universities, and union apprenticeship programs to expand the number of students and instructors participating in courses focused on high-performance building operations, or direct that instructors integrate a high-performance building curriculum in existing relevant coursework.

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