Bring solar power to Habitat homes

Leverage the Rotary-Habitat for Humanity partnership to increase your club’s impact
Members of the Rockingham Rotary Club (Virginia, U.S.) help install solar panels in their September 2022 service project to help make solar accessible for a family in need, completed in collaboration with their local Habitat for Humanity affiliate and GiveSolar. Photograph courtesy of GiveSolar.

By Dr. Liz Henke, Habitat Solar Lead for Renewable Energy Task Force (RETF) of the Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group (ESRAG) and member of East Chapel Hill Rotary Club, North Carolina, U.S.

If your club cares about affordable housing and wants to increase the impact of your community service work, then this Solar for Habitat Guide is for you. In it, Rotary members unpack a powerful approach that makes housing more affordable for low-income families and slows climate change. Created by the Renewable Energy Task Force (RETF) of the Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group (ESRAG) in support of Rotary International’s service partnership with Habitat for Humanity, this manual synthesizes lessons clubs have learned from adding rooftop solar power to homes built in partnership with local Habitat for Humanity affiliates. The guide encourages and assists other Rotary and Rotaract clubs to work with Habitat for Humanity in adding rooftop solar to eligible homes.

While the guide is written for a U.S. audience, it includes advice, case studies, and funding strategies that can be adapted to initiatives outside of the U.S. as well. RETF members have years of experience supporting solar installs on home builds and assisting Habitat with Rotary grants, county government grants, utility rebates, and solar panel donations. This guide documents lessons learned for others who may not have considered incorporating solar or who did not have the professional know-how to add it to their Rotary service projects.

Partnering with Habitat to install solar on the homes of low and moderate-income families benefits the environment and reduces energy costs for families, increasing Rotary’s impact in the Environment area of focus. As a renewable power source, solar energy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on finite energy resources, improve air quality, and reduce water use from energy production. In fact, a typical 5.4 kW solar installation in North Carolina prevents more than 300,000 lbs. of carbon emissions over 30 years, the equivalent of planting more than 3,000 trees or saving the gas of a 350,000-mile road trip.

In addition to being good for the environment, building homes with solar power systems also helps families achieve significant savings, increasing Rotary’s impact in the Community Economic Development area of focus. By reducing the homeowners’ electricity costs, families save money each month. Solar also makes the cost of homeownership more stable over time as families are less affected by increasing unit cost of gas and electricity. Low-income families proportionately pay a much higher percentage of their income on their power bills, so any decrease in families’ electric bills can help interrupt the cycle of poverty. Moreover, incorporating solar also creates local well-paid jobs.

The local-level service projects that make advances in helping the environment and in providing people with a path out of poverty also increase Rotary members’ impact in the Peace area of focus by addressing underlying causes of conflict such as poverty, discrimination, lack of education, and unequal distribution of resources.

Solar power does not shine equally on everyone. Access to renewable energy is not equal across the globe. For example, the average income of families with solar in 2021 in the U.S. was $110,000. The barriers to adding solar are many but include cost, obtaining loans, and regulations. In the U.S., low-income families are frequently not able to claim the federal tax credit that reduces the cost of solar for their wealthier neighbors by 30%. The Rotary-Habitat partnership to add solar to Habitat homes helps correct this inequity

The guide already has helped other clubs consider solar for their community projects. U.S. clubs in Delaware and New York are considering solar partnerships with their local Habitat affiliates, and three Rotary clubs in Virginia are adding solar to Habitat homes, in partnership with GiveSolar, a project to offer solar solutions for organizations and low-income households that is directed by RETF member Jeff Heie. The guide also has had an international reach. Rotarians, Rotaractors, and Habitat Côte d’Ivoire are partnering to add solar and battery power to Habitat homes in Abidjan that are off the electricity grid.

The ESRAG Renewable Energy Task Force is available to discuss how they created the guide and how they now use it as an advocacy tool to increase the impact of Rotary projects. If you would like to add solar to your Rotary-Habitat collaboration, review the guide. 

For more information and support adding solar to your project, or to discuss creating an advocacy tool, contact Rotarian and ESRAG member, Liz Henke at

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