Key Findings from the New Berkeley Lab Report on Solar-Adopter Income and Demographic Trends

New evidence that the solar market is deepening and broadening and successfully reaching more diverse income levels.

Bryan Jacob and Amy Vaden | March 17, 2022 | Energy Policy, Solar

In the decade from 2010 to 2020, U.S. solar adopters came from a broader income range, with the median annual household income of residential solar adopters going from $138,000 down to $115,000 during that timeframe. This is the overarching message coming out of the latest edition of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s annual report, Residential Solar-Adopter Income and Demographic Trends, which utilizes address-level data for 2.3 million residential solar adopters across the U.S. The report explores trends including household income levels, but also race & ethnicity, language preference, rural vs. urban, education levels, occupations, age, home value, and credit scores across the population of residential solar adopters in the U.S.

The report authors also created a data visualization tool – a map tool with varying options to explore the many findings of the report in a visual manner.

According to the report, solar-adopter incomes remain higher than the general population: median U.S. household income $63,000 in 2020 ($79,000 for owner-occupied households), but is $115,000 for solar adopters in the same year. But the results also support the case that the disparity between solar-adopter incomes and the general population has been slowly narrowing over time, meaning that overall the market is moving toward becoming more equitable as time passes, exposure and public acceptance increase, and prices decrease. State and local policies advancing solar, including those targeting low- and middle-income customers, also have an influence in the states where they exist to varying degrees.

Source: Residential Solar-Adopter Income and Demographic Trends Report

The market is “deepening” as less affluent households are adopting solar. At the same time, the U.S. solar markets are “broadening,” as market share in low- and middle-income states have been increasing since 2016.

Other trends that emerge within the rooftop solar adapter community when compared to the broader population deliniate solar adopters:

  • Identify as Non-Hispanic White,
  • Primarily English-speaking,
  • Have higher education levels,
  • Middle-aged,
  • Work in business and finance-related occupations,
  • Live in higher-value homes, and 
  • Live in neighborhoods with higher average credit scores.

Read the full report or the abstract to learn more about the nuances associated with the outcomes.

Certain Southeastern states tend to have higher skews, with Tennessee being the worst ranked and Georgia also in the highest 5. Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina all experience a much smaller differential. The takeaway here is that good policies tend to make rooftop solar more affordable for everyone. Tennessee and Georgia have bad policies. The Carolinas have good policies as does Florida, at least for now.

To learn more about the policies affecting solar growth in our region, take a look at SACE’s most recent “Solar in the Southeast” report.

Another particularly notable finding in the new Residential Solar-Adopter Income and Demographic Trends Report is that low- and middle-income states have been steadily increasing their market share since 2016; and that around half of the growth in this sector has occurred in Texas and Florida. This makes it even more concerning that the Florida Legislature has just passed a bill likely to reverse this trend. Under the guise of eliminating a purported “subsidy” or “cost-shift” — and without any evidence to support it — Florida will be eliminating its net metering program. What lawmakers are calling a “glide path” is more like a predictable crash landing for the rooftop solar industry. And instead of making solar more accessible for lower-income Floridians, this change will force solar further out-of-reach. SACE is calling on Governor DeSantis to stand with Floridians and veto the anti-solar bill. Stay tuned as we track this and other policies affecting rooftop solar in the Southeast.

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Bryan Jacob
Bryan joined the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in June 2017. As Solar Program Consultant, Bryan helps to lead activities to promote solar power across the Southeast. These activities range…
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