Making solar available to all: Moving beyond the early adopter phase

The solar power industry is growing rapidly. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), residential solar’s 2015-second-quarter growth was 70 percent, year over year. Our industry now also produces enough electricity to power 4.6 million homes.

The solar market, however, is still in its infancy. Ten years ago, the only way to go solar was to write a five-figure check or take out a home equity loan. That limited solar to a certain type of customer.

However, things are starting to change. Our market is evolving beyond its early adopter phase, toward a more mainstream era. This era will be characterized by solar’s availability to people across a broad economic spectrum.

Evolution driven by economics

Our industry has worked hard to make this evolution happen. But it’s also happening because of the simple economics of supply and demand.

The cost of solar is dropping—fast. Residential solar costs have decreased 45 percent since 2010, according to the SEIA. Meanwhile, polls continue to show that solar is the most popular energy choice in America. That popularity will only grow as more Americans get the opportunity to take advantage of solar’s benefits.

For people with modest incomes, those benefits can be substantial. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, utility costs are the largest household expense faced by most families, after their mortgage. Savings from solar are typically 10 to 15 percent of an electric bill—a significant amount.

Prioritizing broader access to solar power

Third-party-owned rooftop solar power systems have been a game changer. They’ve helped hundreds of thousands of families become part of the solar revolution. But, by their nature—the fact that these systems need to be installed on a roof—going solar is still largely limited to owners of single-family homes.

That’s changing. Today, 24 states have at least one, active “community solar” project. These let people enjoy solar’s benefits without a rooftop system. GTM Research predicts the energy generated by community solar projects in the U.S. will increase fivefold in 2015, and top a half gigawatt annually by 2020. That’s enough to power 82,000 homes, according to SEIA estimates.

Companies like SolarCity are helping push this trend. Earlier this year, we introduced a community solar program to help renters reap the benefits of affordable, clean energy. We’ve also announced a new solar service that can make it possible for affordable housing developers, builders and residents to pay less for solar electricity than they currently pay for utility power.

Solar for all

The effort to democratize solar is broad. Last month, the White House announced a new initiative to help low-and middle-income Americans gain access to residential solar power. The Obama administration plans to install more solar in federally subsidized housing, make it easier for homeowners to access solar, and push community solar nationwide so renters can access it.

With broad access to solar, families can spend less on commodities like electricity, and save more for things like education and retirement.

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