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Challenge Underway to Bring Solar to Low-Income Communities

Three teams from Maryland are competing for $1 million in prize money in a renewable-energy contest. (SUNY Polytechnic Institute)
Three teams from Maryland are competing for $1 million in prize money in a renewable-energy contest. (SUNY Polytechnic Institute)
May 3, 2017

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Low- and moderate-income households represent 40 percent of America's population, but less than 5 percent of all solar customers.

A national competition is underway to expand solar electricity access to low-income communities. Forty-eight teams from 23 states and Washington, D.C., have been selected to compete for $1 million in prize money.

It's sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative and run by SUNY Polytechnic University, where Michael Fancher – executive director of SUNY Polytechnic's Center for Advanced Technology in Nano Materials and Nano Electronics – said to win, teams must develop a business plan that will work in under-served communities.

"So that, long after the program, you have a vibrant community of these professionals able to continue and incorporate what they've learned from each other," said Fancher, "and replicating that in other low- and moderate-income communities."

Three teams from Baltimore and Annapolis are participating in the contest and will now put their project together over the next eighteen months. The winning entry must directly benefit low- and moderate-income households, local governments or nonprofits.

According to Fancher, the idea is to match solar installers with agencies that want to make the move to renewable energy.

"Getting the network activated, and then working with the not-for-profit community and the other participants in the low- and moderate-income communities, is really kind of the focus of this program," he said, "and you can see that in the allocation of its funding."

There's a grand prize of $500,000, with other awards of $100,000 and $200,000.


Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MD