Rooftop Solar’s Emerging Markets Are In Middle-Class Neighborhoods


Middle-class households are a major force in driving rooftop solar installations in emerging residential solar markets. Last year, a Center for American Progress (CAP) study found that rooftop solar had reached beyond wealthy homeowners, with the overwhelming majority of solar panels being installed in areas with median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000 in Arizona, California, and New Jersey — the three largest solar markets.

To determine whether rooftop solar had become more mainstream in other states, CAP’s latest study analyzes the income characteristics of solar photovoltaic (PV) system owners in emerging residential solar markets, including Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York. The study found that both Massachusetts and New York followed a similar pattern to the more developed solar markets, with more than 80 percent of installations in New York and nearly 70 percent of installations in Massachusetts occurring in zip codes with median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000. Interestingly, just 45 percent of Maryland’s rooftop solar installations had occurred in middle class neighborhoods — a significant percentage, but much lower than the other states in the study (see chart below).

According to the CAP paper, the areas that experienced the most year-over-year percentage increase from 2012 to 2013 had median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $50,000 in Maryland and Massachusetts and $110,000 to $120,000 in New York.

While the study did not examine the reason behind some of the current adoption trends in these emerging markets, it did discuss the importance of solar-friendly policies to the growth of rooftop solar among middle- and low-income households. As utility executives and others push for changes to net metering and other solar policies, they ignore the fact that those policies benefit middle class households in addition to adding value to the grid. The issue brief argued that policymakers should create or expand solar programs to ensure that even more middle- and low-income residents can take advantage of rooftop solar going forward.