A new California analysis confirms what may of us in the solar space already know, but utilities frequently deny: that rooftop solar is no longer primarily being installed by the wealthy, but by ordinary middle- and lower-income Californians.
The new study (pdf) by Kevala Analytics analyzed California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) solar interconnection data for 386,000 net metered solar systems installed from 2008-2015. It shows that as solar deployment has expanded statewide, an increasing percentage of installations within that time frame are in low- and middle-income median zip codes, with a decreasing fraction of installations in upper-income zip codes. To wit: In 2015, 65% of residential solar is being installed in zip codes with median household incomes of $70,000 or less (up from 49% in 2008). And in 2015, just 6% of residential solar is being installed in zip codes with median household incomes of greater than $100,000 (down from 19% in 2008).
Kevala also analyzed city and county-specific installation data. In Fresno County, long known as a leader in solar deployment per capita, zip codes with median incomes of $40,000 - $55,000 consistently represent roughly half of solar deployment, including this year. Furthermore, Fresno County saw a recent incline in deployment of solar in the lowest income group (<$40,000), which now surpasses the two highest income brackets in the county.
This is some news to celebrate-- not least because it means our forward- thinking solar policies are working beautifully to bring down costs and make clean homegrown energy truly accessible to the mainstream. Net metering is one of those critical solar policies, and its future in California currently hangs in the balance: the CPUC will issue a proposed decision on the future of the net metering program any day now. We urge the Commission and Gov Brown to recognize the progress we have made thanks in large part to their leadership, and to stay the course for more solar progress by preserving fair compensation for solar customers.
You can read more about the California net metering campaign here.