Clean Power

Published on May 31st, 2014 | by Robyn Purchia


Middle-Class Americans Leading The Solar Rooftop Revolution

May 31st, 2014 by  

rooftop solar installerAccording to recent Center for American Progress (CAP) studies, middle-class America is buying into the solar market. This is great news — rooftop solar isn’t just for mansions and millionaires anymore; it is accessible to suburban households across the country. How will the power industry and legislators react to this power being in the hands of the people?

Last year, CAP found that in Arizona, California, and New Jersey – the three largest solar markets in the United States – the majority of solar panels being installed are in areas with median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000. And this year, CAP found that emerging solar markets in Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York are following similar patterns. More than 80% of installations in New York and nearly 70% of installations in Massachusetts occur in areas with incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000. Interestingly, just 45% of Maryland’s rooftop solar installations occurred in middle-class neighborhoods — a lower percentage than New York and Massachusetts, but still a significant percentage.

While the studies didn’t look at the reason behind the trend, it can be assumed that it has to do with the cost benefits of going solar. Net metering and other solar policies allow households to save money while doing something good for the environment. And saving $600 or even thousands of dollars in electricity costs a year means a lot to middle-class families.

But utilities and fossil fuel companies don’t want to give up their power, so to speak, to the people. They argue that net metering unfairly advantages people who produce their own electricity through solar. They don’t pay to maintain transmission lines, substations, and computer systems that make up the grid, although they rely on them for backup.

This “unfairness” has prompted the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — a conservative organization funded by big oil — to draft model legislation targeted to undercut net metering benefits, as well as states’ renewable energy standards. ALEC hasn’t had much success yet, but many are looking at Ohio right now and the possible decision by the state House to gut Ohio’s renewable energy standards in response to ALEC’s lobbying.

The power industry’s actions only serve to highlight how powerful solar is becoming in the United States. An energy revolution has begun that threatens the wealthy, old establishments. And with more and more families installing rooftop systems, legislators may hopefully become less interested in turning their back on the voting public and gutting renewable energy benefits.

As Victor Hugo said, “All the forces in the world are not as powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

Image Credit: Rooftop solar installer via Shutterstock

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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, field work, and most recently writing. Be inspired to connect your spirit to environmentalism on my site Eden Keeper. You can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .

  • jburt56

    The housing base will be shifting over to apartment towers so the PV is going vertical. The ultracapacitor energy storage will be panels laminated of the back of the PV. The elevators will serve a gravitational energy storage with full regenerative breaking, tracks rather than cables. Rooftop agriculture will be implemented with robotic greenhouses. Sewage from the structure will be chemically reprocessed to retrieve nutrients for the plants. Diets will be vegetarian.

  • Charlotte Omoto

    I wonder what the effect of solar leasing programs such as those by Solar City has had in getting middle-class America to install solar?

  • LookingForward

    They argue that net metering unfairly advantages people who produce their own electricity through solar. They don’t pay to maintain transmission lines, substations, and computer systems that make up the grid, although they rely on them for backup.

    About that, do centralised electricity producers pay to maintain transmission lines, substations and computer systems? Technically they do, because most of the time they own the grid, but if they didn’t, like with a PPA or some other deal of selling electricity? You don’t here utillities talk about that…

    There should be a bigger difference in the US between being an electricity producer and a grid owner, meaning, grid owners who are also electricity producers shouldn’t be able to use there power of grid ownership, because they get more competition in electricity production, I even believe that’s unconstitutional, but what do I know.

    In order to survive the new balance of power with decentralised renewables, utilities should separate there grid ownership from there production ownership, either financially or even as a compagny, that way they know they will survive the power transition because we will allways need a grid and grid consumers will allways pay for that use and if it’s surmised that grid owners don’t make enough money to service the grid when enough people and business went from being consumers to net producers, which I doubt will even happen. Then you can talk about all net producers paying, I don’t know, 1 cent per KW, for expenses to maintain the grid.
    Remember America the grid should be a service, not a way to make a profit.

    • Mahdi

      The EU legislation unbundled electricity production (free enterprice, at least in theory), transmission (public service), distribution (outsourced public service) and selling (free enterpice). Works pretty well.

      • LookingForward

        I rest my case 😛

      • nakedChimp

        OffTopic: to bad Germany jumped the gun with the rail-network back then though.. it’s not all happy lala land over there. 😉

    • Matt

      Yes the distribution grid should not be mixed with generation.

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