Orange County: Rotary/Habitat for Humanity

Project Overview

East Chapel Hill Rotary is working with Habitat to install solar PV and solarize Habitat homes, at first locally in Orange County, then using the model and what we have learned, to potentially expand to NC and nationally. Though Habitat has implemented energy efficiency structures, the rates of rooftop solar adaptation differ from affiliate to affiliate and State by State. Habitat has been slow to adopt solar PV as well as passive design, due to a long list of hurdles. The greatest challenges are the upfront costs as much as $17,000 per home, and federal rebate structure which cannot be used by some low income homeowners who pay limited tax.

ECH Rotary has just funded a single home in Orange Cty. and are actively researching and applying for funding to solarize the next 10 homes. The initial goal will be to create a mitigation pool of capital to provide long-term self-sufficiency to the program, and to thoroughly analyze the hurdles to adoption and design mechanisms for flexibility and quicker integration of this technology in all of Habitat's homes.

Habitat is the largest home builder in the world and the 6th largest in the US. We would like to see Habitat become a leader in home solar installation and energy efficient home building. Habitat uses its non-profit status to receive donated labor and resources to build homes for low income families. Electricity costs represent a significant percentage of the low-income homeowners monthly outlay and high energy costs perpetuate the cycle of poverty. Therefore, reduction of the monthly power bill by adding solar to Habitat houses has an enormous positive impact


  • Solar electric
  • Passive Solar
  • Env. Justice
  • High potential for replication, and institutional support
  • Habitat for Humanity homes
  • Rotary as lead agency

Megawatts and Energy Efficiency

 5kW residential solar system is a small to medium sized system. It will comprise approximately 14-17 solar panels depending on choice of solar panels and is designed to supply approximately 7000kWh of power and 5 tons of CO2 reduced annually. This will result in 192,000kWh of electricity and  130 tons over 30 years of CO2 reduction with a savings of roughly $700 per year to the rate payer at $.11 per kWh.  Initial cost of the system would be approximately $14K with Duke Power rebates (or less with donations of equipment and labor). So the system will pay for itself in 20 yrs. With and added $100 per ton in carbon reduction, payback would be 11 years. 

Passive solar orientation and design could double the efficiency of the PV system and overall efficiency of the home.  Through better PV panel orientation, use of winter time, passive radiant heat and summer shade cooling, the system may gain as much as 2-3MW per year of either energy efficiency or PV electricity.  Unfortunately, passive solar requires realigning homes to the sun , often a challenge given lots, ordinances and aesthetics.

Megawatts: Rate Your Project 

1 low impact ← ← ← 5 medium → → → 10 high impact

8 with panels, 10 with passive orientation

Renewable Energy Produced?

high impact

Carbon Sequestration?

No carbon sequestration unless the home building materials are included.

Sequestration: low impact

Local Resiliency

Impact on local resiliency is high, by adding daytime, peak load energy production, increasing the capacity of local solar installers, integrating passive solar into design and lowering grid dependency and demand.  If battery backup was added, then resiliency would be increased during  peak load and during outages. If local installers hire local employees and add training to chronically underemployed, then resiliency would increase by improving economic multipliers.  In addition, lowering costs to low income communities has a high resiliency impact in that they pay a higher percentage of their budget to energy and can use the money for food, health, education and other critical needs, thus reducing need for support from broader community and building individual family self-sufficiency.


1 low impact ← ← ← 5 medium → → → 10 high impact

7, 8 with battery back up and 9 with engaging local training

Systems or Life-cycle Approach

New panels made overseas will have a relatively high footprint. If panels are made from sustainable materials, recycled and from American manufacturers, lifecycle would be higher.  However, American made panels may make them more expensive and thus the return may take longer.

Lifecycle: Medium

Social and Environmental Justice

Social and environmental Justice values are very high because of Habitat's use of sweat equity and donations to build homes for low income families.  This would be a high profile project, improving perception, raising awareness and increasing both pride and community solidarity.

  • Energy costs disproportionately affect low-income families because energy bills account for a much higher percentage of their income. High energy costs contribute to the cycle of poverty. 
  • Low-income families cannot afford the upfront cost of solar and frequently do not qualify for loans. 
  • The tax code perpetuates this inequality by giving tax credits for home solar installation, but these credits frequently cannot be used by those with lowest incomes

Home solar should not be available just for those with higher incomes. Building Habitat homes with rooftop solar address the lack of equity when it comes to the benefits of renewable energy.

 The justice component would increase substantially if Rotary and Habitat hire installers of color, or mandate that local installers hire local employees of color.  Key would be training for chronically underemployed, working with local community colleges or HBCU, and teaching and inspiring the next generation the fundamentals of sustainability.

Justice: Rate Your Project

 high impact: with local training of chronically underemployed or local minority firm


We are looking immediately for a revolving loan fund. Any amount would help but we are looking to raise $100K which would  fully cover rooftop solar on roughly 7 houses.