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Obama renews goal to bring solar to low-income housing

All the attention may be on the Republican Convention in Cleveland, but this week the Obama administration quietly continued with its increasingly ambitious efforts to slash emissions across the U.S. energy system.

The White House announced a series of presidential executive orders designed to accelerate the rollout of solar power, beefing up solar industry training services and setting a goal to deliver 1 gigawatt of capacity to low and moderate income communities by the end of the decade.

Dubbed the Clean Energy Savings For All Initiative, the programme represents a tenfold increase on the Obama administration's previous target to install 100 megawatt of renewable energy on federally assisted affordable housing by 2020.

It will see the Departments of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Veteran's Affairs, and the Environmental Protection Agency all work together to improve access to solar power and energy-efficiency upgrades for some of the poorest households in the U.S.

The executive orders seek to expand the Property-Assessed Clean Energy financing scheme which allows homeowners to finance solar and energy-efficiency improvements at no upfront cost and to pay back the cost over time through their property tax bill; introduce a new Community Solar Challenge to support innovative models around the country for boosting solar uptake; and introduce a new nationwide Solar Training Network to help people find jobs in the fast-expanding industry.

The White House said that since Barack Obama took office, "solar electricity generation has increased thirtyfold and solar jobs are growing 12 times faster than the rest of the economy."

The new training network will be delivered by NGO the Solar Foundation in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges and the National Association of Workforce Boards, as well as a number of solar industry groups.

The group said the new network was aiming to train 75,000 people for jobs in the solar industry by 2020.

"As the number of solar jobs increases dramatically each year, the Solar Training Network will help give job seekers the training opportunities they need, while helping employers gain access to qualified candidates," said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of the Solar Foundation. "A lot of great work has already been conducted by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council and the Department of Energy, and we look forward to building a sustainable program that will meet the workforce needs of the solar industry for years to come."

The launch of the new network follows a National Solar Jobs Census earlier this year, which revealed the sector now boasts nearly 209,000 workers, up 20.2 percent since 2014 and up 123 percent since 2010.

The latest support from the Obama administration comes as the U.S. renewables industry watches this year's presidential election with a mixture of optimism and trepidation.

Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton has vowed to defend the Clean Power Plan to cut power sector emissions by over 30 percent by 2030, which is being challenged in the courts; deliver a 700 percent increase in U.S. solar capacity by 2020; and ensure sufficient renewable energy to power every U.S. home by 2027.

However, her rival, Republican candidate Donald Trump, has declared he would extricate the U.S. from the Paris climate change agreement and has hinted at a coal-focused energy strategy while consistently criticizing renewables.

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