Solar Power in Manufactured Housing Communities

Nov. 20, 2017 by Benjamin Mow

Efforts to expand solar access to harder-to-reach markets have been the focus of dedicated low- and moderate-income (LMI) solar policies and programs over the past several years. Community solar programs and various financing mechanisms have been enacted at the state and local levels to extend solar access across diverse populations. However, one sector that remains largely absent from the current solar market—including the LMI solar dialogue—is manufactured housing communities. Manufactured homes, which are constructed in a factory and transported to the housing site where they are installed, are commonly referred to as mobile homes, but in fact they tend to be relatively permanent and are distinct from truly mobile recreational vehicles (RVs) or travel trailers.

Manufactured homes constitute 6% of the nation’s housing stock, providing a place to live for more than 20 million people. States’ share of manufactured housing units varies significantly across the U.S., with South Carolina, New Mexico, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Wyoming having the highest percentages of manufactured homes (Figure 1). Residents living in manufactured housing are more likely to qualify as low-income.

Map of states with percent of manufactured housing.
 Figure 1: Manufactured housing share of occupied housing units by state

Source: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

The topic of installing solar systems in conjunction with manufactured housing communities was the basis of a recent Solar Technical Assistance Team (STAT) Network TA request. More specifically, STAT, which assists state-level decision makers with research and analysis on solar policy, technology, and financing questions, was asked by a state energy office to explore potential solar ownership scenarios within the manufactured housing context.

The manufactured housing market has several unique features that potentially influence on-site solar development. Within manufactured housing communities (commonly referred to as mobile home parks), residents typically own the housing structure itself, but do not own the underlying land. The manufactured housing park owner owns the land and rents individual lots to tenants. Structural constraints generally preclude rooftop PV installations on existing manufactured homes, but this split land versus unit ownership arrangement introduces complex solar ownership issues for potential ground-mounted PV systems. Due to the preponderance of LMI manufactured housing residents, this scenario is often further complicated by barriers associated with extending solar access to LMI customers more broadly, such as lack of access to financing and inability to leverage tax credits available for solar.

To date, there has been little discussion regarding solar development in the manufactured housing space, and notable developments on the topic have been limited to new construction or solar applications for communal areas. For example, in 2016 a new manufactured housing development in Waltham, Vermont was built with solar-plus-storage capabilities. In 2017, a manufactured housing development in Huntington Beach, California received Property Assessment Clean Energy (PACE) financing to install solar PV systems on common area roofs and carports. As with other LMI solar scenarios, community solar may be a viable alternative for manufactured housing residents, though there have not been any specific examples in the manufactured housing context to-date. Nor were we able to find any examples of ground-mounted solar PV development in conjunction with existing houses within a manufactured housing community.

The STAT team will be pursuing additional analysis on the topic of solar access in manufactured housing communities in the coming months. Follow the STAT blog to stay in the loop!

To request solar technical assistance, visit the STAT website.