A new Center for American Progress report, Solar Power to the People: The Rise of Rooftop Solar Among the Middle Class, has found that more than 60% of solar installations are being built in areas with median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000.
The study examined residential solar installation data from the Arizona Public Service, California Solar Initiative and New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program databases to examine solar trends across income levels in the three largest U.S. solar markets Arizona, California and New Jersey.
According to the report, middle-class homeowners are driving rooftop solar adoption and areas with median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000 have experienced the most growth. Neighborhoods with the most year-over-year 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.
The study points out that the findings contradict claims from critics in the utility industry that lower-income customers are subsidizing wealthy customers through solar policies, such as net metering.
Net metering has become a matter of contention in states across the country, including California, Arizona and Colorado. Utilities argue that customers with solar power systems are not paying their fair share for grid maintenance and see rooftop solar as a possible danger for their existing business models, according to the report.
The study points out that solar power proponents see net metering and other solar policies as key to ensuring greater access to rooftop solar and necessary for its continued growth. They furthermore argue that rooftop solar power generation offers many benefits for the grid, including avoided fuel costs, reduced transmission and distribution costs and the reduction of carbon pollution.