Cheap Solar Power Is Coming to an Apartment Near You

Biden’s community solar project brings renewables to rentals

  • Renewable power is cheaper than ever, often cheaper than the cheapest coal, but installation costs are still too much for some.
  • Community solar could more than double the US’s total solar capacity.
  • Participants will share installations and could share the profits from excess capacity.
solar panel array during the daytime


If you think of solar panels on homes, you probably think of wealthy, conscientious people in suburban houses, not those in rented accommodations or city apartment blocks. The Biden administration is about to change that. 

Solar installation can be expensive, especially so when you already have perfectly good electricity flowing into your home. But while some cities and countries are forcing commercial operations to clean up their act in terms of emissions (London's drive to make all delivery vehicles electric, power the Tube with renewable energy, and so on), domestic energy use is still a major source of emissions. Biden's community solar plan could be just the ticket to change this.

"The US has fallen behind many other countries when it comes to domestic solar. This is largely due to a lack of government incentives and regulations that make it difficult for solar companies to do business. However, with Biden's new community solar plan, we may start to see a change," Alan Duncan, CEO of Solar Panels Network USA, told Lifewire via email.

Community Solar

Community solar, or shared solar, is designed to let anyone switch to solar power without shouldering the cost. Instead, it allows you to connect to an off-site solar installation and get the power from there. This could be a solar array but for a street to share, an installation on top of an apartment building, and so on. 

Participants would not only enjoy solar power, they could also take a cut of any money made selling excess capacity back to the grid. Unless somebody has been reading too many Facebook conspiracy posts about renewable energy, they’re probably already well aware of the benefits of solar, its long-term cost savings, and its essential role in mitigating the climate emergency. But until now, for most people, it has been a far off, expensive dream. 

The US has fallen behind many other countries when it comes to domestic solar.

"A few years ago, I did a study that showed that everyone in cold and cloudy Michigan would profit from installing solar. Most of the country has better solar opportunities," Joshua M. Pearce, Ph.D., solar power researcher at Western University and director of the Free Appropriate Sustainability Technology (FAST) Research Group, told Lifewire via email. 

"Since then," continued Pearce, "the capital costs have dropped, the efficiencies have continued to inch up, and perhaps most importantly, I assumed low inflation. For anyone with any savings watching their hard-earned dollars become less valuable year after year, investing in solar makes a huge amount of financial sense—the guaranteed electricity generated year after year only becomes more valuable."

Cheaper Than Ever

The price of renewables continues to drop. In 2020, they were the cheapest source of energy. Now, renewables are not only a cheap source, but one which is less subject to geopolitical shifts. 

"[Solar] does not need to be subsidized as the technology is already less expensive than conventional sources," says Pearce. "Today, most homeowners will see a profit [after] installing solar [in] their homes. [Costs] have come down far enough [that] investing in solar is well within reach [for] most of the middle class, and in times of high inflation, solar is a highly profitable capital investment."

man installing solar panels on the roof of a home

Bill Mead / Unsplash

Non-subsidized solar might be fine for homeowners, but Biden's social plan is still essential. As mentioned, it brings solar to people and places that couldn't usually use it. Good luck getting any kind of permission to put panels on the rooftop of your rented New York walk-up, for example. And shared, offsite installations have another advantage: you can use them even if your home itself doesn't get enough sun.

Government subsidies and incentives are necessary, but they need to be combined with other strategies to work. 

"It is going to take a concerted effort from the government, solar companies, and consumers to make solar power more normalized," says Duncan. "The government needs to provide more incentives for people to switch to solar power and make it easier for solar companies to do business. Solar companies need to continue innovating and making their products more affordable. 

"And finally, consumers need to be willing to switch to solar power."

Was this page helpful?