The middle-class is slowly building its own distributed utilitySolar power is doing well, beating new wind power capacity worldwide for the first time this year. Prices have been dropping fast, and even stores like IKEA want to get in on the solar action. But who's buying all that solar equipment? On the commercial side, it's pretty obvious: utilities build big solar farms out in the desert and companies put solar panels on the rooftop of their big buildings. But on the residential side, it's not quite as clear.
Your first thought is probably that the wealthy are the only ones putting solar panels on their houses in large numbers, but according to a new report on residential solar in Arizona, Califaornia, and New Jersey, that's not the case.
The Center for American Progress found that the solar installations are overwhelmingly taking place in middle-class neighborhoods, where median incomes range from $40,000 to $90,000, and the areas that experienced the most 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.
That's not exactly the country club crowd...
As you can see in the graphs at the top and bottom of this article, the ratios are pretty striking. There's a very large bulge in the middle of the income range in the three states surveyed (APS is Arizona, NJCEP is New Jersy, and CSI is California).
The second graph, below, is particularly interesting because it shows that over time the proportion of solar systems installed by the middle-class is actually growing.
I think a lot of this can probably be explained by the 'solar lease' model which allows residential customers to amortize the cost of a system over time rather than pay for it all upfront. After all, if you can put solar panels on your roof without paying anything more than what you are paying for electricity from sources that aren't as clean, why not go solar?