Amid increased concern about global climate change, most U.S. adults prioritize developing alternative energy sources for the country such as solar or wind power rather than increasing U.S. exploration and production of fossil fuels (77% vs. 22%). The same Pew Research Center survey finds a growing share of homeowners are considering solar panels for home use.
Just 6% of U.S. homeowners say they have already installed solar panels at home. Another 46% say they have given serious thought to adding solar panels at their home in the past year. The share of homeowners considering getting solar panels is up from 40% in 2016 and has especially increased among those living in the South Atlantic states ranging from Delaware to Florida.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), a government agency that collects and analyzes information about the energy industry, forecast earlier this year that small-scale solar, such as home rooftop panels, will add 9 gigawatts of electricity-generating capacity in 2019 and 2020, an increase of 44%. Solar power (both small- and large-scale) generated only 2% of the total electricity in the United States from October 2018 to September 2019. By comparison, natural gas generated 37% and coal generated 25% of total electricity.
About half of homeowners in the South Atlantic states (51%) say they are considering installing solar panels, up 20 percentage points from 2016. Homeowners in other Southern states (the East and West South Central region) tend to express more interest in installing solar panels (45% in 2019 compared with 34% in 2016), though this 11 percentage point difference is not statistically significant. Just 3% of Southern homeowners say they have solar panels at their residence, a similar share as in 2016.
Southern states have favorable weather conditions for solar power. North Carolina, Georgia and Florida are among the national leaders in capacity from large-scale solar projects, such as solar panel farms, but not for small-scale solar such as those for residential use. Advocates for solar power argue that states in the region have not enacted policies to support the installation and use of rooftop solar panels. For example, Florida and some other Southern states do not allow a third party other than the primary utility to install and own solar residential rooftop panels, which makes the cost of installing solar panels higher.
Western homeowners are particularly likely to say they have already installed solar panels at home. Some 14% of homeowners in Pacific states and 17% of homeowners in the Mountain region have done so.
California leads the country in electricity-generating capacity from small-scale solar power. As of September 2019, 43% of all electricity-generating capacity from small-scale solar in the U.S. came from California, according to the EIA. California is expected to require solar panels on most new houses starting in 2020. Other Western states, such as Arizona and Hawaii, also rank among the leaders in small-scale solar power in the United States.
Homeowners point to a variety of reasons for considering solar panels. A large majority of homeowners who have already installed or have given serious thought to installing solar panels say they want to help the environment (87%). And almost all (96%) say they want to save money on utility bills. A recent report also found that installing solar panels can increase a home’s value.
A smaller majority of homeowners (67%) say getting a solar investment tax credit is a reason they have installed or would install solar power at home. A federal tax credit for solar projects has been in place since 2005 and is available to homeowners in some form through 2021 for residential projects.
Note: The findings are based on a survey conducted Oct. 1-13, 2019, among 3,627 U.S. adults on Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is plus or minus 2.1 percentage points. The margin of error for the 2,564 U.S. homeowners is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. See full topline results.