Greening Local Energy Explaining the Geographic Distribution of Household Solar Energy Use in the United States Academic Article uri icon


  • Problem: Solar energy has potential to solve many types of planning problems. Knowing where existing household solar energy users are located and what factors explain this distribution can help craft appropriate local policies. Purpose: This study analyzes the spatial distribution of households who heat their homes with solar energy across the contiguous United States. Methods: We use geographic information systems (GIS) and zero-inflated negative binomial statistical techniques to test three sets of geographic predictors at the scale of the county: environmental, economic, and sociopolitical. Results and conclusions: Descriptive, GIS, and regression results indicate that the expected number of households using solar energy to heat their homes increases significantly with the amount of solar radiation received, but that other environmental, socioeconomic, and political factors are also significant predictors. The number of solar households in a county is a positive function of wealth (operationalized as median home value), urbanization, and the percentage of residents in the peak period of the lifecycle-consumption curve. Having a solar energy technology provider in the county did not appear to be significant. Finally, we confirmed that households heating with solar energy increase with the percentage of persons who vote for the Democratic Party in presidential elections and with local government involvement in the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. Takeaway for practice: Our model can be used to enhance adoption of solar technologies by showing which localities possess most of the attributes that predict solar use, but adoption lags expectations. This can help design efficient and effective local plans and incentives calibrated to local environmental, economic, and sociopolitical conditions. Research support: Portions of the data collection for this research were supported under Award No. NA03OAR4310164 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the Department of Commerce.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Zahran, S., Brody, S. D., Vedlitz, A., Lacy, M. G., & Schelly, C. L.

citation count

  • 32

complete list of authors

  • Zahran, Sammy||Brody, Samuel D||Vedlitz, Arnold||Lacy, Michael G||Schelly, Chelsea Lynn

publication date

  • October 2008