Free solar panels thanks to California’s cap and trade system

As part of a new program in California, solar power will be made available to low income families using money from their cap and trade system, which forces factories, power plants, oil refineries and other large businesses to buy credits for every tonne of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The program is run by an Oakland not for profit group Grid Alternatives. In total, $14.7 million raised from the system will be used to install home solar systems in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.


Grid Alternatives specialises in solar and energy efficiency projects in working class communities, and plans to install more than 1,600 homes throughout California by the end of December 2016. Installers are recruited from job training programs and the group relies on donated equipment from bay area solar companies including SunEdison, SunPower and Enphase.


Homeowners make small contributions to the installation cost such as feeding the workers installing the systems or by agreeing to assist with the installation. Householders will save between $400 and $100 per year on electricity costs depending on where they live.


California’s cap and trade system sells emissions credits at quarterly auctions with a large portion of the profits going to the State. So far $1.6 billion has been raised and companies can also sell the credits to each other. Following a 2013 California law, 10% of the money raised must be spent on projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or improve the environment in disadvantaged communities, which are defined as cities or neighbourhoods with low incomes, high unemployment and significant pollution.

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This Californian program further demonstrates their leadership in the climate change space, and is an illustration of how climate change should be viewed from a combination of perspectives-environmental, economic and human rights. In reality, this is indeed how it should be-after all-if we don’t have an environment, nothing else matters or is really relevant. This approach can and should be replicated everywhere around the world that has a cap and trade system, as it can help the less fortunate by reducing their power expenditure and doing so sustainably.

In terms of Australia, where the uptake of rooftop solar systems has been more rapid than some State Governments and perhaps even some stakeholders in the renewable energy industry anticipated, such a program would be ideal. The major hurdle is of course that Australia doesn’t have such a cap and trade system, and remains the only country in the world to remove one.

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