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Yes, You Can Use Solar Power as a Renter

You don't need to own your home to start adopting solar energy.

Solar panels on three houses in a row.
Solar power is accessible to renters, with a little creativity.
peart/Getty Images

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

Forty-four million households rent their homes. While these renters likely can't make major changes to their homes, they have plenty of options for saving electricity and money. They can seal up their windowslower their water heater's temperature, unplug appliances and turn off their lights. But larger moves, like buying solar panels, are likely out of reach.

Renters aren't without solar-powered options, though. While landlords likely won't install solar panels on a rental property (though they could), renters have ways large and small to use some solar electricity. While inflation is driving up household costs, you can save money around the house by taking getting creative about where your energy comes from.

Read more: Lower Your Electric Bill This Summer With These Air Conditioning Tips

How to ask your landlord to go solar

While it might seem impossible to convince a landlord to put thousands of dollars of improvement into the house you live in, it's worth a shot. And the proposal might not be as outlandish as it first sounds, especially if you rent a single family home.

Solar panels' appeal for many who decide to buy them is long-term savings. If your landlord pays utilities as part of your rental agreement, the savings could be enough to convince them. If the tenant is on the hook for paying the electric bill, a more persuasive argument might be increased property values. Research in 2019 by the real estate website Zillow found that solar panels boosted the resale value of a home 4.1% in the US. In New York City, homes with solar sold for 5.4% more, the highest premium in the country.

Whatever your tactic, you'll want to go in prepared. Make sure you know key facts like how much electricity costs over a month and year, whether net metering is available and how much solar panels are likely to cost. A few success stories online highlight the way creative solutions like cost sharing and rent negotiations can help convince a landlord.

How to subscribe to community solar

In much of America, you can only buy electricity from one option: your utility. But in a growing number of states consumers have a choice thanks to community solar.

Community solar allows people to subscribe to a portion of a solar array and receive credits for the electricity their portion generates. A community solar subscriber will often see credits on their utility bill, bringing down overall electricity costs. They'll also receive the solar renewable energy certificates, or SRECs, for that electricity, which represent and give them sole claim to its environmental benefits.

As of the end of 2021, 39 states had community solar projects, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory reported, though not all of those projects are created equally. Of those states, 22 have legislation supporting community solar, which typically makes it more competitive. In these states, community solar subscriptions can be cheaper than buying electricity only from a utility. In states without supporting legislation, solar subscriptions can cost a premium. Some utilities might have an option to purchase green power directly from them.

How to purchase renewable energy certificates

If community solar is unavailable, you can buy SRECs. There's some debate about the environmental value of buying SRECs voluntarily. In states where utilities and others are required to get a certain amount of electricity from solar, mandated purchases of SRECs have helped make solar projects profitable and expand the solar industry.

While purchasing SRECs for personal electricity use may not have a profound impact on the energy market, you will be able to say that you used solar electricity, as long as you don't resell them.

A woman holds a phone in one hand and a solar charger in another.

Solar powered chargers for personal devices are one way to get a little solar power into your life.

RuslanDashinsky/Getty Images

Small steps to adopting solar

There are plenty of products that allow you to go solar in smaller ways.

If your goal is to lower your dependence on dirty energy, think about efficiency. Seal your windows, turn off lights, lower your water heater temperature or shift your thermostat's temperature or location.

Expand your definition of solar power

Just like there's nothing in the rules that says a dog can't play basketball, there's nothing that says you can't redefine solar power for your own personal use.

Do you have a south-facing window that lets in warming sunlight on cold days? Say some of your heating is solar powered (and be sure to open the blinds when the sun is out). Did you grow a tomato on your deck? Call it a solar-grown tomato. Hang a clothesline and dry your clothes using the power of the sun.

While the above examples stray pretty far from the standard definition of solar power, they show that incorporating solar power isn't an impossibility for a renter, even if a landlord doesn't install rooftop solar when asked.