Green Revolution Goes Blue Collar

Solar Power to the People: The Rise of Rooftop Solar Among the Middle Class. Actually it was the Middle Class who started the revolution. They always do.

“Let the ruling classes tremble ……… The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite!”

― Karl MarxThe Communist Manifesto

Middle class has come up big in a recent survey completed on the economic demographic of those who put solar panels on their roof. The study by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for American Progress (CAP),

revolution graffitiStudy author Mari Hernandez, a research associate on the CAP’s energy team, says she was surprised to find that the overwhelming majority of solar customers were in the middle class.

“With solar panel costs falling so dramatically over the last several years, I figured that rooftop solar had to be reaching more than just the wealthy,” she says. “I wasn’t sure what I would find, though, given how different California, Arizona and New Jersey are with respect to income distribution and energy policies.”


The study indicated that in Arizona, California and New Jersey, most of the rooftop installations were in neighborhoods where homeowners earned median incomes of $40,000 to $90,000.

But anyone who has been on the front lines of the solar revolution – actually selling solar knows that the middle class has always been the driver of “The Solar Revolution” – right from the very beginning.

The fact is that “the upper classes” have been slow to adopt solar. The early adopters have been predominantly in the middle class. There are a number reasons for this.

  1.  Middle Class households have tighter budgets. Energy costs take a greater portion of their income. They are thus more acutely aware of utility costs and their annual increases.  Wealthier households tend to be less focused on utility expense. 
  2.  Middle Class households are more willing to change the appearance of their house, if it will save them money. Wealthier households have more concerns about the resale value of their homes. Concerns about appearance and  the resale value of their home make wealthier household are more reluctant to install  solar panels.
  3.  Middle Class households are less mobile, so they tend to plan on living in the same house for longer periods of time. Wealthier households tend to think that their stay in their home will be  shorter, making long term paybacks less attractive.
  4. Middle Class Households have smaller utility usage, therefore the impact of going  solar is much greater and thus perceived as more worthwhile. Wealthier households with larger homes and utility bills  find that they cover a small fraction of their large electric bill. making it seem like more trouble than it is worth to go solar.

Going solar is not a feel good investment. People install solar in most cases because they believe it will save them substantial money.

That is why solar – the democratization of solar belongs to the middle class.



The study also found that the percentage of solar on middle-class homes has increased steadily from 2009 to 2012. Meanwhile, the share of high-income homes with solar decreased over that time period.

This is due to the introduction of the solar lease and PPA onto the market. This has made solar more accessible .  Companies like Vivint – it is their business strategy to  specifically focus on middle class neighborhoods. Because this product  requires no money and offers  immediate savings,  especially in the aftermath of the Great Recession, this has made solar even more attractive and available to the middle class. (see article on solar pitch.)


Profile photo of George

Written by

One Comment

  1. Yes the tendency is to think of solar as a rich person’s pursuit. like the Testla is the plaything of the wealthy. but I guess not – I believe it is the middle class that initiates all revolutions.

  2. Pingback: Is Free Solar Too Good to be True?PowerTWO Solar Forum

Leave a Comment