4 Practical Ways Renters Can Go Solar

If you live in a high-rise or rent a rancher, installing rooftop solar might be impractical. But that doesn't mean you should give up on renewable energy.

solar panels on the roof of an apartment

Buying rooftop panels isn't an option for millions of Americans who rent. But they can still reap the benefits of solar energy.

Richard Newstead/Getty Images

Now that pandemic-related supply chain issues are easing, and the solar tax credit has been extended to 2034, solar power is more accessible than ever. 

Investing in a photovoltaic system allows homeowners to save money, ensure a steady supply of energy and provide for a more sustainable future.  

Read more: The Best Portable Solar Generators

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But what about the 44 million American households who rent? Or the 5 million who live in condos and co-ops?

Even if you can't put panels on the roof yourself, there are definitely ways to benefit from solar energy. Earlier this year, the Department of Energy launched a $10 million prize to accelerate community solar projects.

For more on solar, learn about the best portable solar systems and how to save on air conditioning.

1. Talk to your landlord about installing solar panels

If your landlord covers utilities, they may be swayed by the savings. If not, the benefit to property values could sweeten the deal: Homes with rooftop solar sell for over 4% more, according to Zillow. For a median-valued home, that's an extra $9,300.

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There are also federal and state tax breaks for adding a solar system. Your landlord can't claim a credit on revenue-generating housing he doesn't live in, but if you're renting a space in a single-family home or a floor on a townhouse, they may benefit.

Whatever the situation, do your research: 

You might even want to get price quotes from local solar companies.

Read on: You Can Get Solar Panels Even in an HOA. Here's How.

2. Subscribe to community solar

Getting your landlord to invest in a solar setup is a tall order. But if you're paying the electricity bill, you don't need their permission to sign up for a community solar project.

Rather than getting it from rooftop panels, subscribers draw power from large offsite solar farms that are often owned by nonprofits or even the utilities themselves. 

In addition to doing your part for the environment, you'll save about 10% on your annual electricity bills, according to the Department of Energy.

Currently, community solar projects can be found in at least 41 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Solar Energies Industry Association.

To see if there are any in your area, you can check the Common Energy. website or EnergySage's community solar marketplace. (You also try searching "community solar project near me.")

3. Buy portable solar panels

If a full-scale PV system isn't an option, there are many different portable systems. While not as powerful or reliable, they can charge smaller appliances and devices, or can be useful on camping trips.

They're also easy to transport and can be taken with you when you move out.   

Many plug-in solar setups can be quickly installed on balconies, railings or window ledges. (Some work indoors too.) 

EcoFlow's PowerStream combines solar panels and a storage battery with an innovative microinverter unit that allows you to feed power back into your home grid just by plugging it into an outlet, with no installation required.

You might even qualify for the 30% federal solar tax credit: According to the Department of Energy, a PV system doesn't have to be on the roof or connected to the grid for you to claim it, as long as you own it and it's generating electricity for your personal use.

You'll still need to get the okay from your landlord, and you probably want to check in with your utility company about their policies on these plug-and-play systems.  

4. Explore green alternatives

Unlike other ways of going green, solar panels can involve a lot of money and resources. And they may just not be practical for you.

But that doesn't mean you have to give up on embracing solar. There are solar-powered chargers for your laptop, phone and other devices.

And a growing number of utilities have a "green rate," essentially a premium customers pay to ensure at least a portion of their energy is coming from renewable sources.

You can also purchase renewable energy certificates, which are created every time a clean power source generates a megawatt hour of electricity (about what the average American household uses in a month).

The energy itself is used up, but the REC stays with the energy producer until they decide to sell or retire it.

Whoever takes an REC out of circulation can claim the environmental benefits of that megawatt. By buying RECs, you cover your own energy use and increase demand for them, however modestly.

Read on: Best Portable Solar Panels

Article updated on July 3, 2023 at 7:00 AM PDT

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Dan Avery
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Dan Avery Former Writer
Dan was a writer on CNET's How-To and Thought Leadership teams. His byline has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, NBC News, Architectural Digest and elsewhere. He is a crossword junkie and is interested in the intersection of tech and marginalized communities.
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