For years, those against the widespread adoption of solar power for homes have argued that solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are too expensive for the majority of homeowners. They claim that the only families who can take advantage of the cost savings from solar energy are those with high incomes.
Not so, says the Center for American Progress (CAP), a think tank based in Washington, D.C. By analyzing data about solar electric system installations across the country, they found that in many areas, including California, the distribution of rooftop PV mirrored the population in terms of income distribution.
Relying on Solar Data from Reputable Sources
The study used information from three principal sources:
- California Solar Initiative (CSI): California’s solar installation rebate program that covers the service areas of PG&E, SCE and SDG&E (our state’s three biggest investor-owned utilities).
- Arizona Public Service (APS): Arizona’s largest public utility, the APS also provides rebates for solar installations and delivers power to most of the state’s residents.
- New Jersey Clean Energy Program (NJCEP): New Jersey’s best resource for solar installation data. The NJCEP has a database on all PV systems installed under several of the state’s major solar initiatives.
The study evaluated the median household income of each zip code where solar panel systems were installed and compared the distribution of the installations to the way income is spread over the population. They found that there was a significant overlap between the two.
In other words, those communities that make up the largest portion of the state’s population, the middle class, accounted for the largest percentage of PV installations.
Solar Panel Facts and California’s Middle Class
In California specifically, the think tank found that 67.16 percent of the systems installed under the program were within communities with median household incomes between $40,000 and $90,000. Communities exceeding $90,000 in median household income accounted for only 28.63 percent of the installations, while areas with median incomes under $40,000 made up about 4 percent of those receiving rebates under CSI.
Similar results were found in Arizona and New Jersey.
CAP also determined that the percentage of solar panel installations for middle class households under the California rebate program has grown from 65 percent of installations in 2009 to 70 percent in 2013.
Solar Energy Benefits All Communities
Solar energy provides benefits for customers on both a micro and macro scale. Of course, individual families and businesses can enjoy lower electricity costs by switching to solar power. On a greater scale, the advantages of solar power can benefit our communities as a whole with improved air quality, local job growth and lowered carbon emissions.
However, this will only be realized when as many people as possible invest in solar panels for their rooftops. As solar power becomes even more accessible to the middle and lower classes, achieving these economic and environmental goals will become more of a reality.