by Antonio Pasolini
Solar power is on the increase and is expected to triple over the next five years, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. But who are the homeowners buying solar? It may be intuitive to point to the wealthier strata of society, which is partially true, but not the whole picture as a new study by PowerScout and GTM research points out.
Painting an accurate picture of the demographics of solar power is limited to zip code estimates and incomplete state incentive databases. In order to zoom in a little closer on exactly who is going solar, PowerScout’s used its state of the art image recognition technology to detect solar panels in satellite images of homes.
Based on a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) algorithm, this type of machine learning is behind the latest advances in self-driving cars, Facebook’s auto-tagging algorithms, and dozens of other computer vision applications.
"We used this algorithm to pinpoint where residential solar is being installed down to the household level. Next, we used robust consumer marketing databases to determine the income bracket for each solar home, and compared the distribution of solar installations across income brackets to the distribution of the general population," PowerScout said in a blog post.
So, what has the research found? One of the key findings is that more than 70% of solar households have annual income between $45,000 and $150,000, a range roughly aligned with “middle-income”. This is compared with 65% of the general population in the same middle income bracket, meaning that in general middle income homes are overrepresented in the solar sample. The most overrepresented demographic is that in the $100,000-150,000 range, which does indicate that solar households tend to have a higher income than the overall population.
This doesn't mean low-income households are not getting solarized. The study says they are underrepresented in comparison with the general population, have also accounted for a significant share of solar capacity with a GTM estimated 530MW of installations in the four states covered in the study.
To read the full study, follow the link.