California’s middle class gets most of the credit for the growth in the solar industry, according to a study released by PV Solar Report, a leading industry analyst organization which published the report in conjunction with SunRun, a leader in solar leasing installations.
The study looked at 1,639 zip codes, broken down by median household income statistics, and cross-referenced the data with the number of photovoltaic (PV) energy installations in the corresponding zip codes. In 2011, households with incomes between $40,000 and $84,999 accounted for a whopping 62% of residential solar systems, with 10,193 installations. In 2007, the rate was only 57.8%.
Solar leases comprised 59% of home solar installations in the third quarter of 2010. Lynn Jurich, president of SunRun, says the company’s solar leasing programs have allowed more middle-class homeowners go solar. One out of four SunRun customers make less than $50,000 per year.
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“The data from PV Solar Report shows this model is working,” says Jurich, “and that it’s not just the wealthy driving and benefiting from solar adoption. We are working to educate consumers that solar is finally affordable.”
PV Solar Report founder Stephen Torres concurs, saying that “models like SunRun are helping drive growth because they eliminate large upfront investments.”
Second place on the solar power system installation scale goes to those in the upper-middle class. Of all the solar panel systems installed this year, 32% occurred in households whose incomes were between $85,000 and $159,999, with 5,260 installations. That’s a decrease from 2007, when the rate was 34.8%.
Wealthy Solar Homes Now a Minority
Perhaps the most surprising data of the PV Solar Report is that households with incomes above $160,000 made such a poor showing when it comes to home solar systems. In 2007, those wealthier households accounted for only 3.7% of all California home PV systems. This year, that rate has fallen to 1.9%, with just 309 installations.
In fact, those households who made under $39,999 this year had more solar panels than the wealthiest Californians, accounting for 666 solar energy systems, or 4.1% of the state’s total home PV installations. While participation in solar energy is decreasing among high-income households, low-income participation is rising, up from 3.6% in 2007.
A more sober statistic revealed by the study showed that zip codes with household incomes below $40,000 are growing at a faster rate than other income levels. This can be attributed to successful government grants, as well as nonprofits like GRID Alternatives, which serves low-income homeowners in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, and other regions of California.
Historically, cultural change almost always comes from a bottom/up model, rarely from the top/down, and it appears that growth in the solar market will follow that pattern. The PV Solar Report data not only reveals that significant change can be effected by everyday people taking action on an individual basis, but proves that individuals don’t need great wealth to enact those changes.
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