Rooftop Solar in Emerging U.S. Markets Is Not Leaving out the Middle Class


A new report from the Center for American Progress looks at solar in the emerging markets of Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York. The report finds many similarities between these markets and the more established ones examined previously, with strong solar adoption in middle-income areas.

Last fall, we wrote about a report that found solar was on the rise among middle-income people — and that instead of being bad for those with lower incomes, net metering has actually helped spread solar among all income levels.

That study was conducted by the Center for American Progress (CAP) in three relatively mature solar markets: Arizona, California, and New Jersey. Because those states led the nation in solar installations, so they were considered good representatives of national trends.


Now, CAP has extended their studies to the “up and coming” markets of Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York in a new report, “Rooftop Solar Adoption in Emerging Residential Markets.”


Last year’s report, “Solar Power to the People: The Rise of Rooftop Solar Among the Middle Class,” suggested that trends in the more established residential solar markets would provide important insights into the way that rooftop solar is being adopted in other states. That turned out to be true for Massachusetts and New York, but not quite as much for Maryland.


The new report, like the previous one, looks at installations in the median-income range of $40,000 to $90,000. Data were collected at the zip code level.


The results showed a lot of similarities between these emerging markets and the more established ones examined previously. Again, it turned out that solar adoption is strong in middle-income areas.


Of the three states, Maryland has the lowest percentage of residential installations in the $40,000 to $90,000 income range, at just 44.5%. New York had the most, at more than 80%, with Massachusetts not too far behind at 68%.


Why the difference in Maryland? You might think the state has a higher percentage of households in higher-income brackets. However, it turns out that in Maryland, installations are skewed more to the higher income levels than households.


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Maryland also has an average homeownership rate that’s between those in Massachusetts and New York, which means the issue is not that fewer middle-income folks own homes there.


In Massachusetts and New York, as was the case in the three more established markets studied last year, the adoption of rooftop solar across income levels followed household distribution pretty closely, showing that residential installations are being spread fairly evenly over the population.


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Whatever the reason for the different Maryland results, the report emphasizes that it’s crucial for states to understand the current trends and promote policies that will continue to expand solar among low- and middle-income households. The author points to the many favorable policies in California that have not only propelled the state to the #1 solar position but also helped those in lower-income brackets participate in that trend.


And that, the report reminds us, is good for everyone, since generating more clean, distributed power reduces carbon emissions and adds value to the grid.


For more details, see the full report.