Making Renewables Reality: Solutions for Multifamily Properties

Updated: Apr 5

Written By: Brian Keller

We like to say there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. As we look to reverse the damage of climate change in the coming decades, there will be two more certainties: the need to implement renewable technologies for energy generation and the need to transition to alternative fuels in the transportation industry. While these are solutions that will take a lot of work and decades to fully implement, there are steps that can be taken today.

Solar panels are now more efficient and affordable than ever. Similarly, the automobile industry is stepping up and manufacturing more and more electric vehicles (EVs) to provide consumers with multiple options and various price points. There are still many questions that one will need to ask themselves before diving into any one of these technologies, however: How can I best integrate the additional energy generated by the solar panels? Once I have my new, electric car, how am I going to charge it reliably?

Single family homes and commercial buildings have found viable solutions to most of these questions in recent years, but the intricacies of multifamily properties create additional barriers to implementing solar and EV. Multifamily property owners must overcome the same hurdles that single family and commercial buildings do (i.e., installation cost, having sufficient space on the roof or around the property, and navigating local building codes and permitting processes). However, because the electricity service for multifamily properties is metered separately for the common areas and metered individually for each living unit, it is difficult to efficiently distribute and accurately be credited for the newly generated electricity. This situation often makes it difficult to justify the solar installation because the upfront cost can outweigh the long-term benefit if the solar panels are only able to contribute to the common areas of the building.

It is similarly challenging for multifamily properties to install EV charging stations, but for a different set of reasons. EVs and EV charging stations present the ultimate “chicken or the egg” situation: consumers are reluctant to purchase EVs if there is not a robust charging infrastructure in place, but there is also a reluctance to invest in building the charging infrastructure if there is not high demand for EVs.

In recent years, we have seen a greater demand for EVs as well as a shift in research and development in EVs by automobile manufacturers. This can be partially credited to having charging stations installed in single family homes and in the parking lots of commercial buildings. There is still a population of consumers that are left in the dark. Condo owners and apartment renters do not always have on-site parking garages. Even with assigned parking spaces, they are unable to install a personal EV charging station. This shifts the responsibility to the property owners to take on the financial risk of investing in EV charging stations for their residents.

As daunting as all these barriers to implementation are, there are solutions, resources, and incentives available to help. One solution is net metering, which is available in most of the country. Net metering allows the property to be credited by the utility for additional electricity added back into the grid. More specifically, virtual net metering can solve the issue of solar panels effectively generating electricity for both common areas and tenant units. The Center for Sustainable Energy in San Diego describes virtual net metering as, “a billing arrangement allowing for a single solar system to offset multiple common area and tenant loads. It is the method in which participating utility accounts are each credited for the solar system generation.”

There are also financial incentives, tax rebates, and loan services available from the federal, state, and local utility levels. A great resource to search for available incentives is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE).

EVs and EV charging stations also have federal, state, and local utility incentives available and can be found on DSIRE. It has become more common in recent years for cities and utilities to devote funding towards incentives for installing EV charging stations. These available incentives can greatly reduce the initial investment required for installation. A once risky investment can now be a cost effective “value add” to a multifamily property. Properties with EV charging stations set themselves apart from the local competition and are a major draw for tenants who own electric vehicles or are considering purchasing one in the near future.

With the right information and guidance, multifamily properties can simplify complex and challenging solar and EV charging projects.

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