Abstract

The rapid growth of distributed solar adoption in California provides an opportunity to lower electricity bills for the adopters and realize additional community benefits, including grid resilience and lower grid emissions. It is unclear, however, whether this transition is occurring equitably across the state’s various demographic and socioeconomic groups and whether historically disadvantaged environmental justice (EJ) communities have been able to exploit the bill savings and other associated benefits of rooftop solar. Here we analyze the cumulative and annualized (spatial and temporal) rates of PV adoption across California and compare those with data from the state’s cumulative impact EJ methodology (CalEnviroScreen). We find persistently lower levels of PV adoption in disadvantaged communities, suggesting clear distributive and equity impacts of existing PV support policies, and indicating that the benefits bypass some of the state’s most vulnerable populations. The analysis reveals strong correlation of solar adoption with not only socioeconomic variables, but also with health, environmental and demographic indicators, contributing to our growing understanding of the role these factors play in household clean-energy adoption trends. The results provide a baseline from which to develop more effective policies, strategically design incentives, and track the efficacy of existing solar programs that target disadvantaged communities.

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