Few American Homes Heated With Solar Power
A lot more homes in the United States could be running on solar power, concludes an analysis of 2000 US Census data. Among 105 million American households, just 47,000 were heated with solar panels, less than half a percent of all homes.
The nation was a long ways from meeting President Carter's vision of solar power supplying 20 percent of domestic energy needs by the year 2000.
Solar energy is an environmentally friendly way to heat houses. Unlike fossil fuels, solar power generation does not release into the air greenhouse gasses and pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and particulate matter.
In the study, researchers at Colorado State University and Texas A&M University pinpointed the counties that had the highest proportion of residences heated with solar energy. With that information, they developed a profile of the typical homeowner who lives with solar power.
Clusters of Solar-Powered Houses
The most enthusiasm for residential solar panels was in Colorado, particularly in the counties of Hinsdale, Gilpin, Saguacke, San Juan and La Plata. The county with the highest adoption rate in the United States for solar-powered heating was Taos, New Mexico, where 2.84% of the 12,700 households ran on solar energy. The nation's county with the most residences using solar power was Santa Fe, New Mexico, where 774 homes had solar panels.
Across the US, installations of residential solar panels are concentrated in the western sunbelt, stretching from California through Arizona and New Mexico and up through Colorado. Another region of solar energy acceptance is along the Atlantic Coast between southern Maine and eastern Pennsylvania, and also in southern Florida.
In many places though, solar power hasn't at all caught on with homeowners. In 1,736 counties, no houses rely on solar power for heating. These counties are clustered in western Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, as well as near the Canadian border in Montana and North Dakota.
Who Uses Residential Solar Panels?
Not surprisingly, people living in sunny climates, and where temperatures get neither extremely hot nor cold, are more inclined to put solar panels on their homes.
But social and economic factors have just as much influence on who embraces solar energy.
A typical homeowner using solar panels is in his or her 40s, and votes Democratic in presidential elections. They live in a county where average house values are relatively high. Counties with local governments that promote energy efficiency and sustainability by participating in the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) tend to see greater acceptance of residential solar power.
More Homes Could Be Solar Powered
Not all counties fitting those characteristics have had homeowners incorporate solar panels into their houses.
The study's authors identified areas of the US well-suited for solar-powered home heating, but with scant uptake in 2000. Texas had the highest potential for greater use of solar energy, notably the counties of McMullen, La Salle, Karnes, DeWitt, Crane, Loving and Jim Hogg. Other parts of the country prime for more homes with solar panels were Vermilion County, Illinois; Union County, Florida; Clinch County, Georgia and Stone County, Mississippi.
Sammy Zahran, Samuel D. Brody, Arnold Vedlitz, Michael G. Lacy, and Chelsea Lynn Schelly. 2008. Greening Local Energy: Explaining the Geographic Distribution of Household Solar Energy Use in the United States. Journal of the American Planning Association. 74( 4): 419-434.