Solar energy is available to U.S. renters. Most don’t know it.

  • Anam Tariq
  • Rakhim Rakhimov
  • Sania Ashraf
  • Travis Niles
July 27, 2023

Renters in the United States care about climate change.

Based on our research, more than 70% of U.S. renters are concerned about global warming and understand that using clean energy like solar and wind are great ways to combat it. Several U.S. states have made solar accessible to renters through community solar policies, which allow interested households to benefit from a large solar installation without installing their own panels. And with the Inflation Reduction Act allocating $27 billion to support greenhouse gas reduction through initiatives including community solar, deploying community solar projects has a chance to expand rapidly and benefit neighborhoods across the country.

This version of ‘going solar’ is an easy one-time switch that makes solar possible for millions of households. But most renters don’t sign up for community solar despite its apparent benefits. We wanted to know why.

Why don’t U.S. renters adopt community solar?

In 2023, Rare conducted a nationally representative survey to measure the state of Americans’ beliefs related to eight carbon emission-reducing behaviors, including signing up for community solar. The result? Only 20% of American renters have considered getting community solar.

In interviews with climate-concerned renters in New York and Illinois, we found that most respondents had never heard about community solar or had any knowledge of its benefits or the process of obtaining it. They were only familiar with rooftop solar, which they believe carries a high upfront cost and is only available to people who own their homes. We conclude that this result stems from gaps in awareness and self-efficacy: “I didn’t know I could have community solar” and “I don’t feel confident that I can do this.”

For the uninformed or inexperienced, “solar” is a shortcut for “not for me.” This mental shortcut made it easy for people to discount new information on solar availability for renters. Remarkably, this was true even among employees at Rare. In a pilot program to promote several highly accessible sustainable behaviors, we found evidence of this shortcut in our staff’s feedback. To quote one survey respondent: “I am a renter, so the energy-related component of the program [promoting climate-friendly behaviors] was not relevant for me…[so] I did not read any emails about it or attend the webinars [on solar panels and community solar].”

The existence of this mental shortcut has consequences: a consumer education campaign will be largely ineffective if the intended audience ignores it because they believe that solar is categorically impossible.

Strategies to help more U.S. renters adopt community solar

Based on our research, we suggest two strategies to help grow community solar adoption among renters:

  1. Help renters believe they can go solar

You might be tempted to lead with messages about savings or environmental benefits from community solar, but more is needed to defeat a mental shortcut. Educating prospective customers only works if they read your material, so you must win their attention.

Instead of leading with savings, build curiosity and self-efficacy (their self-belief that they can participate in solar) in your messaging by addressing the points of confusion directly:

Do Don’t
Renters – you can use solar at home! Save money with community solar!
Your apartment can go solar. Subscribe to community solar to fight climate change.


Your messages can further increase self-efficacy through localization — the more you know about your audience, the more specific you can be, increasing your chances of winning their attention and persuading them:

Do Don’t
Chicago renters – you can use solar at home! Live in Illinois? You can save money with community solar!
Your Chicago apartment can go solar. Subscribe to Illinois community solar to fight climate change.


  1. Use social proof to build renters’ confidence

Our panel of renters was largely unaware of how community solar worked. Their most common questions focused on cost and implications for their daily lives. We heard things like:

“What will be the cost of signing up?”

 “Will I save any money on energy costs if I sign up?”

“Will it affect how my household runs?”

 “If the solar farm is located far away from my home, or if it’s not sunny, does it impact the quality of energy?”

Rare’s research into individual climate action shows that one of the strongest unique predictors of intention to take climate action is whether a person believes others are already taking action. Our survey showed that most American renters know someone already using community solar. So, while you may not be able to lean on their shared experience with a friend or acquaintance, you can do the next best thing: show them reviews from other community solar customers like them.

Renters can gain valuable insights, facts, and the confidence needed to take the next step in community solar by connecting renters with firsthand experiences or learning about successful participation.

Learn more about Rare’s work helping Americans switch to clean energy