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Homeowner associations cover 13 million housing units suitable for residential solar but red tape often prevents project approvals. A new report from The Solar Foundation aims to streamline the process and tap the 3.3GW potential of HOA communities.


New Solar Guide Could Tap 3.3GW Potential Of HOA Communities

Homeowner associations cover 13 million housing units suitable for residential solar but red tape often prevents project approvals.

A new report from The Solar Foundation aims to streamline the process and tap the 3.3GW potential of HOA communities.

Homeowner associations (HOAs) are often the bane of people’s lives, governing community appearance and deciding what improvements people can make to their home exteriors – from garden gnomes to solar panels.

Since HOAs represent over 63 million people living in 26 million housing units in America, and 13 million of these units are suitable for residential solar installations, overcoming administrative roadblocks to adding solar panels could be a boon for our clean energy future.

Unfortunately, homeowners in communities governed by HOAs can often run into administrative red tape when seeking approval for solar installations or lose energy output and the economic value of solar power via rigid architectural guidelines.

HOA Rooftop Solar’s 3.3GW Potential

Good thing then, that The Solar Foundation (TSF) has just released a guide outlining best practices for HOA boards to installing residential solar in managed communities. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is a part of the US Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot initiative, and it covers potential hurdles to HOA solar development from architectural guidelines to homeowner rights.

Rooftop solar in HOA communities represent a massive potential boost for our transition to a clean energy future. According to TSF, if 5% of the 13 million solar-suitable HOA housing units installed an average-sized residential solar system, they would add 3.3 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity to the grid – the same amount of solar added across America in 2012.

Less Emissions, More Home Resale Value

That solar surge would equal an annual reduction of 6 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to taking over 1.1 million vehicles off our roads. TSF estimates the average solar module takes two years to generate enough electricity to offset the emissions created by manufacturing it, making them carbon negative soon into the life of an average 25-year solar module warranty.

Beyond environmental benefits, HOA solar installations could also increase home resale values. TSF cites a study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showing home resale values increase $17,000 with a solar system, and a DOE finding that homes with solar sell twice as fast as homes without solar – in any real estate market setting.

Overcoming HOA Solar Barriers In Three Steps

Despite these environmental and economic benefits, homeowners in HOAs are often prevented from going solar. Barriers like tree preservation and planting, legal responsibility for electrical work and other safety issues, and concerns about community aesthetics have stymied many solar home hopefuls, but can be overcome through three steps.

TSF’s first recommendation is to develop a solid understanding of the basic technical aspects of residential solar systems. This may seem trivial, but many states permit HOAs to enforce restrictions on how and where solar panels are installed.

Solar rights laws in America

US solar rights laws map via The Solar Foundation

These solar rights provisions cover system size, panel orientation and tilt, and shading – any one of which can reduce system efficiency and power output. Since the economics  of residential solar hinge on power output and payback period, solar rights are a huge deal. TSF notes 22 states have passed legislation protecting solar rights, limiting HOA control over homeowner solar access and creating solar easements protecting a system from future obstructions.

Another best practice for HOAs to follow is setting rules that clarify what’s permissible for residents who want to install solar. Clearly specifying reasonable restrictions on solar development and publishing them in HOA architectural guidelines can reduce the “hassle factor” of HOA applications and streamline the decision-making process.

TSF recommends HOAs set guidelines on community aesthetics (such as how visible panels can be), tree preservation and planting (like future height and shade), and building codes (including product certifications and electrical installation).

Finally, HOAs should collaborate – both with other HOAs and their residents. TSF suggests HOAs convene local stakeholders to collaboratively develop association guidelines that start with existing language borrowed from other HOAs and work for each community’s specific circumstances.

Election Signs No, Rooftop Solar Yes

So while HOAs are almost certainly going to still be ground zero for legal battles over pressing issues like election lawn signs and the color of aluminum siding, at least TSF’s guide may help clear the clouds blotting out a residential solar future.

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Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.


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