Solar panels no longer domain of rich, new research finds

The highest uptake of solar PV systems is coming from families and those on lower incomes, new research from the Queensland University of Technology has found.

The research, led by Dr Jeff Sommerfeld from QUT’s Creative Industries Faculty School of Design, puts lie to the common view that solar panels are mostly installed by those on high incomes – a view that has in the past led to attacks on solar subsidies as a transfer of wealth to the rich.

Dr Sommerfeld said financial capacity, education status and home ownership had in the past been important prerequisites for solar uptake, but there were now a more complex system of variable factors at play.

“For the first time we have compared solar installation data since 2001 against factors including income, mortgage repayments, rent, family size, ownership, education status and number of bedrooms,” he said.

“This revealed that the current uptake of solar PV is based on a complex mix of demographic factors rather than taking for granted a person’s income, education or living in trendy suburbs.

“Despite the initial upfront investment, the vast majority of people acquiring solar are in outer suburbs that often have lower average incomes.”

The study, which looked at two million people in south-east Queensland, found that home ownership, particularly homes with three or more bedrooms, remained a crucial factor in solar uptake – pointing to the challenges still faced by those in the rental market.

Being aged over 55 also came out as an important factor, with the report suggesting it could reflect concern about controlling electricity costs among this demographic.

Dr Sommerfeld said the results of the study offered important policy implications for introducing emerging technology, such as battery systems.

“At the moment this technology is very new, priced out of reach for many and considered innovative,” he said.

“But just like we have seen with the solar PV uptake – where innovators take the lead, early adopters quickly follow and then the wider population comes on board – this research is a signpost of what we might expect to see with the introduction of battery systems.”

Influence of demographic variables on uptake of domestic solar photovoltaic technology is published in the latest edition of Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

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