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Bringing solar power to low income families

The number of Americans who qualify for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is rising, and despite the increase in eligibility, funding for the program has been cut. Many Americans will go without the vital assistance they need in order to keep the lights and heat on especially in the winter, when energy prices can become unpredictable. 

Fortunately, there are a number of initiatives to combat the energy insecurity these households face. One way these initiatives and programs are doing this is by providing low-cost solar power for the home in an effort to combat the instability faced by the most vulnerable – the elderly and families with children.

Energy insecurity creates tough choices
Energy bills can fluctuate wildly, and that leaves some families in a state of energy insecurity. What this means is that in the event of a spike in their energy bills, families on a tight budget will be forced to make difficult choices – do they pay to keep the heat on and go without food or medical care? Because prices can change so quickly, it leaves these families wondering what their finances are going to look like month-to-month. 

LIHEAP reported that in some cases, low-income households end up paying up to 30 percent of their monthly income on utility bills. Families that opt to pay these onerous bills often go without food. Children who are forced to go hungry face numerous problems – low performance in school, malnutrition and developmental issues. 

Solar initiatives lead the way
In the void left by the cuts to LIHEAP, several nonprofits have stepped up to make up the difference. Renewable Energy World found one nonprofit, Grid Alternatives, that provides low-to-no cost solar PV systems for those in need. They work throughout the United States, in locations that include Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. Anyone who makes 80 percent or less of the median annual income in their state can qualify for a PV system through their program.

Grid Alternatives works by installing the system on the client's home in exchange for 16 hours of work from the homeowner. The homeowner can help in their office, with the installation of their system or even just cook lunches for the workers.

The families in the programs are definitely seeing the relief that solar power is bringing them – Grid Alternatives found that their customers have reduced their monthly bills by 50-75 percent.

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