The State of Solar and Storage -- Retailers, Buyers, and the Future of Energy 2

by Anna Gretz
May 9, 2017
Energy

Part 2. Buyers

Solar has had a huge year. If you’ve been tracking with The Swell, you’ve seen the articles about record growth and unprecedented sales, and know that free power from the sun is on the rise in a big way. We thought it was time to do a highlight post on solar in a more comprehensive way, with an overview on how retailers are doing, what buyers are thinking, and what the future of solar might look like in the coming years. Some of it might surprise you, but all of it is pretty encouraging and hopeful (that part shouldn’t be too surprising.)

This is the State of Solar and Storage: Buyer Edition

Who is Investing in Solar Right Now?

The short answer? A LOT of homeowners. But the long answer is way more interesting.

Greentech Media and PowerScout recently did some in-depth research on the income levels of households that have recently installed rooftop solar. A lot of people are pretty interested in their findings, especially policymakers who are looking into how to create incentives to get even more people interested in joining the residential solar revolution. Up to this point, regulators have been doing a lot of guessing. Not anymore. GTM Research and PowerScout have finally released their findings on the relationship between residential solar and household income, and it’s raising some eyebrows… in a good way.

How did they get their data? PowerScout developed brand-new technology to be able recognize solar vs. non-solar rooftops by looking at satellite images, then match the solar homes to their income brackets. By adding GTM Research’s extensive data on the solar market as a whole, the two companies were able to draw some accurate conclusions about the correlation between rooftop solar installations and household income, specifically in the leading solar states of California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York (these states together make up for about 65 percent of all residential solar installations.)

One of the main, super-interesting conclusions of the report was that 70 percent of households investing in solar are middle-income. This means that the majority of homeowners going solar have an annual income between $45,000 and $150,000, with the remaining 30 percent of solar installations split between homeowners with income either lesser or greater than this range. In an industry that has historically been dubbed as one for higher-income customers, this is a satisfying and valuable conclusions. It means that rooftop solar really has entered into more mainstream markets, and a wider audience than simply the elite.

That said (and don’t you forget it’s been said…) households with an annual income between $100K and $150K are the very biggest solar demographic, if everything is parsed out. This is the higher end of the “middle income” spectrum, representing a population with more disposable income than the lower half of the bracket. This means that the very lowest income households, under $45K of income a year, are pretty underrepresented. With all of the benefits solar can provide, particularly to more vulnerable populations, a lot of people see this as a problem.

This is why the White House came out with an initiative about a year ago in July of 2016 to focus on bringing at least 1 gigawatt of new solar to lower income households. The Clean Energy Savings for All Americans Initiative set the 1 gigawatt goal to be met within four years, hoping that 2020 would bring with it data that showed some major solar growth in the lower income bracket. As of right now, it looks like it’s working. Even though the number of lower-income households investing in rooftop solar is on the lower end, it definitely exists. There are over 100,000 low-income households in the top four solar states that have installed rooftop solar so far, totaling over 532 megawatts of solar capacity. Yeah. That’s already past the halfway mark set by the Obama administration a year ago. We’re excited to watch this number grow in the next years, especially in the presence of more funding and incentives for residential solar customers.

It’s a huge understatement to say that this information is “good to know.” The work that GTM Research and PowerScout has done in this area is hugely important to pretty much everyone, but it would be a stretch to say that it’s complete. Since the data sample only covers the top four states, and the number of residential solar installations is growing literally every day, we’re looking forward to seeing more from this research partnership, and watching the infiltration of rooftop solar take over households everywhere, in every state, over every demographic. We think it will, because it’s never been a better time for homeowners to check out solar. Here’s why.

Why Now is a Great Time for Solar Buyers

If you read The State of Solar and Storage - Part 1 about retailers, you know that not all solar retailers have been churning out great numbers, even though solar is hitting rooftops at an unprecedented rate. Innovation and smart marketing have been key in the race to win over solar customers, and not everyone has struck a chord with buyers. Though some solar companies have run up against tough times, solar buyers are basically in their heyday. The residential solar sector is more consumer-friendly than ever. In short, since companies themselves are working extra hard to get an edge on the competition, it’s a great time to be a solar customers.

The simple and awesome fact is, solar panel prices are down, and continue to drop. This means buyers have a lot of choices, and investing in solar is more economically viable than ever. The solar industry has gone through a major shift from being pretty opaque and hard to navigate for consumers, to being completely transparent and consumer-focused. Buyers have a lot of information, and a lot of choices to make… but all of their options are looking better than ever.

As solar gets cheaper and more transparent, energy storage is stepping in to complete the full package for solar customers, giving them a way to store the energy generated from their rooftop solar panels, and use it when they need it the most. Buyers are getting the best of both worlds--solar companies with low prices vying for their business, and great energy storage technology complete with government incentives (not to mention energy security and freedom.)

Now that we’ve covered retailers and buyers, the next post will focus on the future of solar and energy storage. Spoiler alert: it’s looking pretty bright.