Ask three friends what types of people are installing solar on their homes, and you may get three different answers. That’s because the profile of solar owners has changed considerably over the past ten or even just five years.
In the past, people with higher incomes were more likely to install solar. Today’s solar owners come from all income levels, and demographics.
A new national report laying out solar owner demographic and socio-economic trends finds:
- Solar has gradually been moving into less affluent areas of the country
- More solar is being installed on homes with lower household incomes
- The percentage of people going solar who live in disadvantaged communities is increasing.
Let’s dig into the report to learn who’s going solar, what they make a year, what education they have received, what type of jobs they have, how old they are, their race and ethnicity, and where they live. We also look at how system size correlates to income, and how many solar energy systems are being paired with battery storage.
A Brief History of the Solar Market
In the early days of the modern solar market, roughly 10-12 years ago, most people putting solar panels on their roofs self-identified as “tree huggers”. The environmental aspect of producing their own clean energy, plus the independence aspect as they relied less on the utilities for their power, drew these homeowners to solar. Price wasn’t really a concern.
Then solar panel prices began to drop, panels became more readily available, and more companies began offering solar energy system installations, which increased competition and further lowered prices. Homeowners started going solar for the savings first, and the environmental benefit second. Still, with limited financing options in those days, people going solar tended to have higher-than-average incomes.
States like California introduced programs to make solar more affordable and help reach government sustainability and climate change targets. And banks introduced solar-specific loans after realizing what a safe investment solar is, for them and for the homeowners. They didn’t have to worry about borrowers defaulting on loans when their solar income was practically guaranteed!
“Suddenly”, the solar market took off as systems became more economical than ever. Solar was finally in reach for people of all income levels. Solar adoption continues to grow. Solar energy is no longer a niche product for “early adopters”. It has reached the “mass market". It is mainstream.
About the Study
The data and findings referenced in this article come from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) renowned Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), which published a report called “Residential Solar-Adopter Income and Demographic Trends” in November 2022.
The report’s data is based on 2.8 million residential rooftop solar energy systems installed through 2021. That equates to 86% of the home solar systems in the country. In California, 1.36 million solar owners are included in the data, which is 96% of our residential solar market.
The report confirms a trend that anyone interested in slowing climate change and providing equal access to clean energy wants to see: Solar has shifted away from being a luxury installed by affluent homeowners to one that is increasingly installed by low- and middle-income households.
A full third of those installing solar in 2021 are considered “middle-income” with household income in the $50,000-100,000 range. And 15% of solar owners have income below that.
(“Household income” or HHI refers to the combined income of the members of a household.)
In California, 41% of the households that installed solar panels in 2021 had HHI below $100,000. And in a state where incomes are higher than average (reflecting the higher than average cost of living), that’s saying something.
This trend of solar owners better mirroring the country’s population began in earnest five years ago.
Berkeley Lab attributes the increase in solar installations by lower-income households to:
- Falling PV panel prices
- More financing options
- More programs focused on low- and moderate-income people
- Maturation of the market.
The percentage of home solar installations in the country’s disadvantaged communities was 5% in 2010. That increased to 11% in 2021. So solar is becoming more accessible to these homeowners as time goes on.
Still, 18% of American households are in disadvantaged communities, according to the DOE, so there is a way to go before this group is fully represented among solar owners.
Citadel helps homeowners in disadvantaged communities find the ideal financing solution so they can lower their electric bills with solar. The sun shines on us all; everyone should have the ability to benefit from that free, non-polluting energy source.
Only 3% of the solar systems installed in 2021 were on multi-family buildings, and most of those were owner-occupied, such as condos.
In California, rural residents make up 5% of all households, but 12% of solar owners. In Citadel’s experience, solar can work in any setting: rural, suburban or urban.
Not surprisingly, people with higher HHI tend to be the ones installing larger solar energy systems. They’re more likely to be able to afford larger systems, but they also tend to have larger homes with higher electric bills. They need larger systems to offset the same percentage of their electric bills as the owner of a smaller home would get with a smaller solar system.
Solar Installed with Batteries
The trend of pairing battery storage systems with solar energy systems is growing. In 2021, around 12% of solar PV systems were paired with solar.
Race & Ethnicity
The people installing solar in 2021 were:
- 55% White
- 25% Hispanic
- 12% Asian
- 7% Black
In general, compared to their percentage of the general population, more Whites and Asians are going solar; Hispanics and Blacks tend to be underrepresented among solar owners.
California has a higher percentage of Hispanic solar owners than the national average.
The percentage of people without college degrees going solar is increasing. In 2021:
- 43% of new solar owners had a bachelor’s degree or higher
- 33% had some college education
- 24% had no college education.
“Blue-collar workers” (skilled and unskilled laborers) make up an increasing share of solar owners. In 2010, some 11% of the people going solar were considered blue-collar. That number rose to 19% in 2021.
Looking at all occupations, in 2021 these three job categories had similar percentages of the solar ownership pie: Blue Collar, Professional, and Business/Financial.
People of all ages are going solar, but the 25-35 and 65+ age groups are underrepresented.
With younger people, this is likely because they have lower incomes and fewer own their homes.
The percentage of solar owners 65 and older, while low today, is on the rise. The Berkeley Lab report suggests two reasons for this:
- Solar is perceived as less risky than it used to be, as people get more comfortable with the idea and the technology.
- More financing options, which help retirees (and others) on fixed incomes go solar, are available.
At Citadel, we would add that increasing awareness of solar’s ability to increase property values is also encouraging more seniors to go solar. We’ve had older customers tell us they no longer care whether or not they’ll be here to enjoy their solar savings for the decades-long life of the system. They feel good about leaving a property that will be worth even more to their heirs.
Government incentives programs have also played a significant role in increasing solar adoption among all types of homeowners.
In August 2022, the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act increased and extended the Investment Tax Credit that pays homeowners back nearly one-third of their solar system’s price. That’s a huge boost that makes solar economical for many who purchase their systems with or without the help of a loan.
And you can still opt for a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) if you prefer not to purchase the system.
The income and demographic differences between people going solar and the general population are decreasing. Solar truly is becoming the “power of the people”.
Solar today is a great financial decision for anyone looking to save money:
- It’s easy. Your installer does 98% of the work for you.
- It’s relatively fast. Installation usually takes a few days. Inspections and approvals are the more time-consuming part.
- It’s safe. The technology is extremely reliable with very low failure rates. (Just be sure to choose a reputable installer!)
Solar is accessible and affordable for virtually everyone these days. Citadel Roofing & Solar offers solar loans with no money down. That means you don’t have to come up with any money to own your solar energy system and benefit from electric bill savings right away.
Is it time for you to go solar? Contact Citadel today and we’ll work up a free, no-obligation quote that details what you can save with solar.
See the Berkeley Lab study here.
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