NewEnergyNews: TODAY’S STUDY: Rooftop Solar Is NOT Just For Rich Folks


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  • MONDAY’S STUDY AT NewEnergyNews, April 12:
  • SoCalEdison’s Newest Plan To Mitigate Wildfires

    Monday, April 30, 2018

    TODAY’S STUDY: Rooftop Solar Is NOT Just For Rich Folks

    Income Trends of Residential PV; Adopters An analysis of household-level income estimates

    Galen Barbose, Naïm Darghouth, Ben Hoen, and Ryan Wiser, April 2018 (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

    Objective: Describe income trends among U.S. residential solar adopters, highlighting trends related to low- and moderate-income (LMI) households

    Unique features of this analysis – Household-level income estimates: Experian* address-level income estimates allows for more-precise characterization of PV-adopter incomes – Relatively extensive coverage of the U.S. solar market:

    Based on Berkeley Lab’s latest Tracking the Sun (TTS) dataset, covering ~82% of the total U.S. market (with street addresses for ~63% of the market)

    Scope – Rooftop solar on single-family homes: Underlying data consist primarily of single-family rooftop PV, but later work may extend analysis to multi-family homes and also to community solar subscribers – Systems installed through 2016 in 13 states: Focuses on states in latest TTS dataset with address data available for large fraction of the market; later work may evaluate more-recent adopters and additional states – Basic descriptive trends: Focus here is on establishing basic trends, but later work may examine underlying causal factors more directly, using more-sophisticated statistical methods

    This work seeks to refine and expand upon prior analyses of PV adopter income trends

    • Prior analyses have examined PV-adopter income and other demographic trends: – Kevala, Center for American Progress, GTM and PowerScout, UC Energy Institute, CT Green Bank, Energy+Environmental Economics, SolarPulse, NREL, others

    • Though their data and methods vary, these prior studies generally: – Focus on somewhat limited geographies (single states or several larger state markets) – Rely on median incomes at the block-group or zip-code level as proxies for individual PV-adopter incomes (or, in limited cases, survey data from a sample of households) – Are somewhat dated

    • These studies have yielded mixed results and messages: – Some show that PV adopters tend to be more affluent and educated than non-adopters, while perhaps highlighting an attenuation of this trend over time – Others emphasize that middle-class adopters are most common and that their numbers have risen over time – Varying conclusions about the role of TPO in driving LMI adoption

    Experian household income estimates Used to characterize income of PV households…Census data Used to characterize income of broader population…A note on defining the “reference” population

    • Throughout the analysis, PV adopters are compared or characterized relative to some “reference” population

    • These reference populations can vary according to their geographical scope – Our analysis uses reference populations based on MSAs, states, and the collection of all states

    • Reference populations can also be defined in terms of sub-populations within a given geographical area – We consider reference populations based on:

    (a) all households (HH) as well as

    (b) just owner-occupied households (OO-HH) – Ideally, we would also use reference populations based on just owner-occupied, single-family households (as most PV adopters fall within this group), but Census data do not provide income segmented by single vs. multi-family

    The median income of all PV adopters is notably higher than other HHs, but difference is much smaller when compared to just OO-HHs

    • Median income of all PV adopters in the sample is $32k (54%) higher than all HH

    • But more than half of that difference is associated with home ownership – Home ownership rates much higher for HHs above state median income (77%, on average) than below (44%); see slide 31 in appendix for additional details – Standard “split incentive” barrier endemic to distributed energy resources generally, including energy efficiency

    • Median income of PV adopters is $13k (17%) higher than that of all OO-HH • Gap is amplified by the concentration of PV adopters in relatively high-income states – Pulls PV median upward, while medians for all HHs and OO-HHs reflect distribution of broader population

    Similar trends exhibited in most states, with greatest PV-adopter income disparities in states with relatively low statewide incomes

    • PV-adopter median incomes across the 13 states in the sample are ~$20k$30k (30%-70%) higher than for all HH • Differences consistently much smaller when comparing to just OO-HH

    • Gap between PV adopters and all OOHHs vary with overall statewide income levels – Gap is smaller for high-income states—and is even inverted for the three states (DC, MA, CT) with the highest statewide incomes – In states with relatively low statewide incomes, PV-adopter incomes are also lower, but not to the same extent as the overall population of OO-HHs

    PV-adopter median incomes converging toward broader population

    • Prior results focused on all PV adopters cumulatively, but annual trends show that PVadopter median incomes have been trending downward in recent years

    • PV adopters converging toward median income of all OO-HHs: PV-adopter median income 10% higher than all OO-HHs in 2016 ($87k vs. $79k), compared to 27% higher in 2010

    • Figure here focuses on period since 2010; later slide contrasts these trends with the earlier era

    • Aggregate PV-adopter median income across all states is driven heavily by CA, but most states show similar downward trend

    Most states show a decline in PV-adopter median incomes over time…2016 PV-adopter median incomes in most states were greater than other OO-HHs, though four states have reached “income parity”… Even if often under-represented, “moderate-income” households nevertheless constitute a sizeable share of cumulative PV adopters

    • 43% of all PV adopters in the sample (33%-50% across individual states) fall within the lower 3 income quintiles

    • 48% of all PV adopters (47%-60% across individual states) fall within Pew’s definition of “middle class” (see notes)

    • Even low-income groups are represented, with 15% of all PV adopters below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level: a common benchmark used in low-income programs – Though some questions exist about income estimates at the lower end, discussed later

    • Cross-state differences largely driven by more-general income differences across states.

    PV adoption has generally been trending towards more-moderate income HHs in recent years, in contrast to earlier trend…Most states also trending toward more-moderate income adopters With some exceptions, depending on the set of income quintiles considered…Estimating LMI Adoption Rates…


    • The choice of data and metrics clearly matter: For example, results and associated take-away messages can differ significantly depending on use HH-level data vs. Census BG medians or zip-code average incomes; and depending on whether PV adopters are compared to all HH or just OO-HHs

    • Home-ownership is a key driver for differences in PV adoption among income groups: Reinforces importance of business models and programs aimed at renters

    • PV-adopter incomes are diverse: While PV adopters as a whole are higher-income than the population at large, it should not be overlooked that “moderate-income” or “middle-class” households are already a significant beneficiary of existing solar markets

    • The income profile of residential PV adopters is dynamic and evolving: Suggests some value in periodically re-assessing PV-adopter income trends, and raises questions about the underlying drivers for recent trends and about how those trends may evolve going forward

    • Local and regional factors impact the income characteristics of PV adopters: Though much of the cross-state variation in PV income trends is a function of more-general statewide income differences, other market and policy drivers likely play a role as well, and could become more significant in the years ahead…

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