Thinking strategically to identify policy “pivot points”

binoculars with money and solar panels

Working with DC SUN I’ve learned the importance of thinking strategically when it comes to creating a successful social initiative. Even though we have a large number of supporters across the city, we’re also an all-volunteer organization with limited time and resources.

In order to be most effective we are always looking for “pivot points” that will create lasting change for (relatively) limited effort. That means identifying ways to dramatically and systematically improve DC’s solar market using the least amount of time and resources. While some might argue this is “lazy,” I think it’s both strategic and necessary. There’s no virtue in spending significant amounts of time or money to achieve an end goal for the sake of being deemed “hard working” or “committed.”

In DC’s solar market, we recently identified a critical “pivot point” that has the potential to dramatically improve the District’s solar capacity: community solar legislation. Right now, the only way for you to go solar is if you own home or building. Not only that, but your home’s roof must be unshaded and in good enough condition to support solar panels. Unfortunately, in DC an estimated 60 to 75% of homeowners either rent; live in apartments or condos; cannot afford to purchase their own solar systems; or have roofs that aren’t suitable for solar. That means a significant portion of DC residents can’t benefit from solar energy (which is a problem, since the cost of solar in DC is low enough that going solar means significant savings on your electricity bill).

Community solar legislation would open up the solar market to anyone in DC. The legislation would allow “virtual net metering,” a process in which the power produced by a solar system is electronically credited to your Pepco bill even if that solar system isn’t installed on your roof. Effectively, participating in virtual net metering means you could purchase a share in a solar system installed on a warehouse in Anacostia and receive a credit on your bill for the electricity those panels produce each month. This bill has not yet passed, but when it does, it will have a dramatic effect on the DC solar market.

By being realistic about what we as an organization could accomplish we were able to identify this powerful solution. It wasn’t feasible for us to reach out to every DC homeowner and get them to go solar, but it was much more realistic for our group to do a legislative push that would end up having just as much (or more) impact.

We also made sure we focused on real, pragmatic solutions to growing DC’s solar market, rather than taking the “moral high ground.” Yes, we could have pushed for other policies that might have done a better job of growing demand for solar in DC (such as feed-in tariffs in Germany, or a carbon tax), but those policies were politically unviable and would have failed, as well as have taken up a lot of our time.

This approach to creating change works across sectors, whether you’re trying to grow your business’s market share or address poverty within a specific population. You have to be more strategic at the beginning of the process, but taking time to be reflective can create big payoffs in the end. Especially with limited resources, finding those simple pivot points can make all the difference.

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About the Author

Emily

Emily Stiever

Emily Stiever is a Program Director at DC Solar United Neighborhoods (DC SUN), a coalition of neighborhood solar coops dedicated to making solar accessible and affordable to all residents of DC. She also provides programmatic and online organizing support to DC SUN’s … Continue reading