Who’s the typical solar power user? You’d be surprised.

Chances are most people think of someone who buys solar power systems as being rich and educated, city-dwellers, or perhaps young, liberal environmentalists.

But the demographics of solar buyers is changing. A new Australian study has found that, at least in that country, families with low and medium incomes in the suburbs are buying the most solar power right now.

The cost of solar power has steadily gone down in the past few years, thanks to advances in technology. Financial incentives from governments are also boosting the technology’s consumption.

In Australia, the government has used incentives such as feed-in tariffs to encourage solar uptake, Jeff Sommerfeld of the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane wrote in the paper published in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. The number of Australians installing solar photovoltaic (PV) technology grew from 8,000 to more than one million between 2008 and 2013.

In the past, high income and education as well as home ownership were the defining features of those who bought solar power. Sommerfeld and his colleagues wanted to get a more nuanced, comprehensive understanding of the various factors involved.

They performed a detailed statistical analysis of more than 2 million people in southeast Queensland over five years. They factored in variables such as income, mortgage repayments, rent, family size, ownership, education status, and number of bedrooms.

They found that a typical solar consumer’s profile is very different than a decade ago. The vast majority of people acquiring solar are in outer suburbs that often have lower average incomes.

One thing hasn’t changed: home ownership is still a feature of a solar user. The researchers found that solar homes were most likely to have three or more bedrooms and were occupied by a family of two or more. What’s more, those over 55 years of age are big solar purchasers, probably because they want to control electricity costs.

A study by California-based power data company Powerscout unveiled a demographic surprise among American solar users as well. Despite clean energy being a partisan issue, the penchant for solar might cross party lines, the report found. Assessing 1.5 million rooftops in the country’s top 20 solar markets, the company found that Democratic and Republican party donors installed solar power at very similar rates: 3.06 percent of Democrats and 2.24 percent of Republicans.

Source: Jeff Sommerfeld et al. Influence of demographic variables on uptake of domestic solar photovoltaic technology. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. 2016.
Photo: Kate Ausburn, Flickr Creative Commons

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