For consumers, one of the major benefits of storage technology is driving down their energy bills, alone or in combination with renewable generation like rooftop solar. That’s why we’ve seen an increasing number of homeowners invest in the technology, either on their own or as part of a utility-led project.

So far, though, these benefits have accrued largely to more affluent homeowners who can afford to make the up-front investment in a Distributed Energy Resource (DER). That leaves out a big segment of the population: low-income families, particularly those in affordable rental housing (and there are 450,000 such families in California alone).

For these families, energy can represent a significant percentage of their monthly spending – an average of 7.2% and, in some cases, up to 35%. Finding ways for them to reduce their bills is a significant part of President Obama’s energy initiative announced last year; it includes plans to increase energy efficiency for 300,000 low-income households. And energy policy is sure to be one of the major policy debates of the coming presidential election.

Yet while there has been a lot of attention paid to getting solar PV installed on affordable rental units – and there are numerous programs and tax subsidies available to help low-income consumers benefit from solar – the same isn’t true for storage. Yet having storage incorporated as part of a low-income DER is just as important as solar PV — in fact, storage is a more cost-effective way for low-income households to reduce their bills than solar alone.

“[T]he combination of solar and storage technologies could virtually eliminate electric bills for many owners of affordable housing properties.”

That’s one of the conclusions of this report that I’ve referenced in previous blogs, and it’s pretty direct: “[T]he combination of solar and storage technologies could virtually eliminate electric bills for many owners of affordable housing properties.”

The primary reason is that storage adds the essential flexibility for consumers to be able to avoid demand charges. Low-income families may not have the same flexibility as others to defer their energy needs to low-demand times, nor be able to afford intelligent home control systems or appliances. Reducing demand charges using storage can double the savings provided by solar alone according to the report.

Just as compelling is the finding that these storage-driven savings can be achieved for just a third of the cost of solar. Even if solar is not an option – for example, on buildings with insufficient roofprint or where structural issues make it impractical – storage can be used alone to derive significant savings for low-income families.

We have direct evidence of this with our partner the Glasgow Electric Plant Board in Kentucky, where Sunverge SIS storage systems are part of a pilot project aimed at reducing peak demand and using intelligence to recharge the batteries when costs are lowest. As reported here in Utility Dive, Glasgow’s goal was to reduce its demand peak by 25% — yet in a trial last fall, it was reduced by 64%, and the utility estimates that the project is saving each customer about $400 a year.

Making this a reality requires us to revise policies and programs aimed at making it possible for low-income households to participate. We will need to expand and extend to storage the kind of incentives we now provide for solar installations to private sector owners of affordable housing units. We also need to make it possible for low-income homeowners to acquire storage systems as well. Applied correctly, these incentives can provide direct benefits to both property owners and residents, a win-win that will help accelerate adoption.

It’s also important that we make incorporation of storage technology the norm in both existing and new public housing, where the savings can benefit residents and taxpayers alike.

By Ken Munson