DOE’s Solar In Your Community Challenge to help low-income families, non-profits access solar

By Ben Delman on January 7, 2017
A solar panel field in Nebraska
A solar panel field in Nebraska

In 2011, the Department of Energy set a goal for solar to become cost-competitive with other electricity sources by 2020. This meant residential solar would cost 9 cents per kilowatt-hour. We are now 70% of the way toward this goal. So, DoE raised the bar. It wants solar to be roughly half the cost of traditional electricity by 2030. Increasing solar access, through community solar, will help us reach this goal. To that end, the Department developed the Solar in Your Community Challenge.

This Challenge is focused on innovation, but also on social good. It aims to expand solar access to low-income residents and non-profits across the country, two groups that have been largely left out of the booming solar market.

If you are working on a project that will benefit low-income families and/or non-profits, and will result in at least 25 kW of solar, this opportunity might be a good fit for you! You can apply as a Project Team, a Program Team, a Coach, or a Consultant. Project and Program Teams are eligible for seed funding, vouchers for technical assistance, and final prizes of up to $500,000.

Community Power Network is applying to be a consultant on the Challenge. This will enable us to collaborate with any Team across the country participating in the Challenge. We are providing consulting on program design, business models, customer acquisition, and outreach and education. If you’re applying as a Team and are interested in our help, let us know! Your technical assistance vouchers from DOE can cover the cost. Email us at: [email protected].

Want more info on the Challenge? Here’s the skinny:

Because it is a prize, not a grant, teams will get seed funding to start. Winning teams will take home a sizable reward. DoE assures us that the reporting requirements will be much lower than for grant projects.

For teams developing projects between 25 kW and 100 kW, seed funding will be up to $24,000. For teams developing projects 100 kW or over, seed funding will be up to $60,000. The seed funding will be disbursed over time: 25% at the beginning, 25% when you secure permits, 35% when you secure financing, and 15% when you secure subscribers.

Project Teams should develop a physical solar project by the end of the challenge, and program teams should develop a sustainable program for low-income or non-profit solar customers. For Program teams, DOE is looking for institutions with robust financial capacity. This could be a local government or bank.

Final prizes will be awarded to the first and second place Project Teams working on a low-income solar project ($500,000 and $200,000, respectively), the first-place low-income solar Program Team ($100,000), the first-place non-profit-serving Project Team ($100,000), and the first-place non-profit-serving Program Team ($100,000).

If you work on community solar or low-income solar, but do not have a project in the works, you can apply as part of a team, or separately as a Coach or Consultant.

Coaches and Consultants will be paid through the technical assistance vouchers provided to each team, but you are also welcome to establish additional agreements outside the Challenge. Coaches assist teams with project administration, coordination with DOE, and reporting. Coaches are paid $10,000 for working with 5 teams, or $15,000 for working with 10 teams. Consultants can offer their services and rates to all Challenge Teams through DOE’s Solar in Your Community website, and are paid when teams request their help.

To learn more or apply, check out If you’d like to speak with us about the Challenge, email Isabel Ricker at [email protected]. We’re looking forward to seeing the great projects you’re working on!