Two new reports attest to the popularity of solar among homeowners across the U.S. While the two reports come from very different sources—The Center for American Progress (CAP) is a progressive advocacy organization and Market Strategies advises 20 of the U.S.’s largest utilities—their conclusions are roughly the same: U.S. homeowners are interested in and want solar. The studies suggest that utilities, policymakers and regulators should consider this as they consider current and future net-metering and other solar incentive policies.
Market Strategies’ report, released on Oct. 16, is based on 1,001 interviews conducted in June of 2013. The survey and the resulting E2 (Energy & Environment) report found that interest in residential solar energy installations is stronger and broader than expected. That includes when homeowners are informed that the average PV system still costs about $30,000, Market Strategies said. “With few exceptions, this interest is strong across virtually all age and income groups,” the company found. “A majority of respondents across every income group continued to show interest, even low-income households with incomes under $25,000.”
Overall, Market Strategies found that 61 percent or respondents were 'somewhat' or 'very interested' in purchasing and installing a home solar system. The response was most favorable (75 percent) among the youngest age group—18 to 34 year olds—while 66 percent of those between the ages of 35 and 54 were interested. Consumers over 55 years old were least interested with only 46 percent showing interest.
The CAP report (released Oct. 21), “Solar Power to the People: The Rise of Rooftop Solar Among the Middle Class” based its results on who has installed solar in three of the U.S.’s top markets: Arizona, California and New Jersey, and used U.S. Census data to determine median household incomes for each zip code. In all, it looked at more than 100,000 solar homes installed from as early as 2002.
As suggested by the title, CAP’s report found the highest among middle-class homeowners. “Through our analysis of solar installation data from Arizona, California, and New Jersey, we found that these installations are overwhelmingly occurring in middle-class neighborhoods that have median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000,” the report stated. “The areas that experienced the most growth from 2011 to 2012 had median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $50,000 in both Arizona and California and $30,000 to $40,000 in New Jersey.”
“Rooftop solar has become an important energy resource for the middle class,” said report author and CAP Research Associate Mari Hernandez. “Smart solar policies such as net metering have helped to expand access to clean, renewable solar power to middle-class homeowners.”
The CAP report also attempted to debunk utility claims that the wealthy are adopting the most solar. “Concerned by the threat that rooftop solar’s rapid growth poses to traditional utility business models, some utility executives have used this claim to support a rising desire within the industry to alter existing solar programs and policies,” CAP asserted. “The idea is that through solar policies such as net metering, middle- and low-income customers who cannot afford to go solar are subsidizing the wealthy customers who can.”
“It’s pretty clear that most utilities in the US have to figure out an effective strategy for working with their customers who want solar power,” said Jack Lloyd, Market Strategies Energy Division senior vice president. “Companies will take different approaches in adapting to the situation, but rooftop solar appears to be poised to move beyond its early adopter niche and become a more mainstream phenomenon.”
CAP came to a similar conclusion. It called on regulators and policymakers to consider how net metering and other solar rebates and policies can support rooftop growth among middle-class homeowners.