California may have been edged out by New Jersey for the most installed solar capacity in first quarter 2012, but it may not have lost its spot as the top American market for solar power for very long.
A new study out from home solar company Sunrun and market analysts PV Solar Report reveals an 80 percent surge in California’s third-party home solar market so far in 2012, compared to 2011. More importantly, this growth has been largely fueled by 13 median-income cities, labeled “solar stars,” all showing triple-digit growth.
The report notes that solar adoption continues to grow in traditional California hotbeds like Fresno and Bakersfield, but the sun has broken through the clouds in new communities like Santa Clarita, Castaic, Palmdale, Clovis, and Pleasanton — the top five cities.
While solar growth is notable in any instance, the economics of this new surge could be indicators of a growing trend. The average median annual household income across all 13 solar star cities was $57,000 — a range that would typically make the upfront cost of installing solar difficult. However, in nine of the solar star cities, at least 75 percent of homeowners preferred installing solar through a third-party provider — and that’s where Sunrun comes in.
The company owns, insures, and maintains the rooftop solar arrays installed on their customers’ homes, thus eliminating the cost of buying and installing solar. In addition, customers using a third-party solar service can lock in stable electric costs for years.
By making solar more affordable and even profitable, third-party solar providers say they can keep the industry growing. “Home solar is at the tip of the iceberg in terms of growth,” said Lynn Jurich, Sunrun president and co-founder. “As costs continue to drop and more homeowners realize they can go solar without high upfront payments, adoption will scale exponentially.”
Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy public relations company based in Washington, D.C.