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Solar Power Rises Among Middle Class Households

In this May 8, 2009 photo, Len Bicknell walks from his house to his garage where his solar energy panels are mounted on the roof in Marshfield, Mass. Bicknell's home is fitted with both thermal panels for hot water production and electric solar panels for energy production.

CREDIT: AP/Stephan Savoia

Over 1,460 megawatts of residential solar panels have been installed in homes throughout the U.S., and in the past four years, more than 80 percent of that capacity was added.

Two separate reports released earlier this month indicate that residential solar installations are increasingly popular among middle class Americans. A survey done by Market Strategies International and data analysis from the Center for American Progress (CAP) looked to see who is behind the growth in solar. Despite claims by the utility industry that wealthy customers are behind the increase, data shows that it is middle class America that is stepping up its renewable energy game.

CAP performed a comprehensive data analysis of home solar installations in the three states leading the solar revolutionArizona, California, and New Jersey. Collecting solar data through state-run databases, and analyzed the median household income in ZIP codes where residential solar panels were being used/installed. American Progress found that at least 60 percent of homeowners installing solar systems were in neighborhoods with median incomes from $40,000 to $90,000.

While residential solar power only makes up about one-quarter of one percent of the electricity produced in the U.S., this rapidly growing trend has utility companies moving fast to include new business models. Rooftop solar panels reduce the amount of electricity a family buys from the utility. In order to maintain the electric grid, utilities will need to raise electric rates and fixed costs of energy-use charges, which will cause more people to choose solar.

This spiral is what worries the utility industryso new ideas for incentives and energy credits are some of the current ideas. But utility executives still say that wealthy customers will be subsidized by those who cannot afford rooftop solar panelsthey will have to pick up the increased fixed costs to keep the grid going.

The research above tells a different story. It is not the wealthy who are leading home solar powerit is the middle class. And while solar panels become more accessible and renewable incentives begin to come into play, residential solar power is poised to spread across the country. Surveys show that there is an increasing interest to adapt solar power in the population.

Market Strategies International released their latest E2 (Energy + Environment) survey where they performed 1,001 interviews in June of 2013. They found that 61 percent of survey respondents were either somewhat or very interested in purchasing a a home solar system. But when the participants were told about reduced installation prices through tax cuts, interest rose even more. This data shows that people are already interested in renewable options, especially if supported through subsidies or tax cuts.

While the survey found that interest in solar was strong across all income groups, interest was especially strong in the 18-34 age bracket. While Millenials might not currently be able to afford a solar system, they represent a strong future market for residential solar power. As this generation moves forward, this trend will undoubtedly grow across America.

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