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A rooftop revolution? A multidisciplinary analysis of state-level residential solar programs in New Jersey and Massachusetts


  • Alden Griffith
  • Monica Higgins
  • James Turner



The success of alternative energy policies is usually measured in terms of energy capacity. By this metric, state-level policies to promote solar installations in New Jersey and Massachusetts have been a success. To fully evaluate these policies, however, it is necessary to consider how these policy programs are structured and funded, who participates in these programs, and the complete life cycle consequences of “clean” energy technologies. This paper focuses specifically on residential solar installations, which represent more than half of the total US rooftop solar capacity potential. It takes a multidisciplinary approach that draws on policy analysis, spatial and demographic analyses, and life cycle assessment. The analyses reveal three key conclusions: first, state-level policies have shifted from subsidies for solar installations to incentive-based support based on system performance, which has reduced the payback period for residential solar to less than 10 years and has contributed to the growth of third-party leasing companies. Second, communities with low median income and/or a high percentage of non-white residents generally remain at lower than expected levels of participation. Third, while residential solar installations significantly offset greenhouse gas emissions and compounds that harm human respiratory health after 18 months, switching to photovoltaic panels generates a net increase in the production of ecotoxic chemicals. Drawing on these observations, we recommend policy changes to encourage broader geographic and demographic participation, to recognize the importance of solar leasing companies and landlords, and to promote the use of solar panels with lower environmental impacts across the life cycle. Copyright AESS 2014

Suggested Citation

  • Alden Griffith & Monica Higgins & James Turner, 2014. "A rooftop revolution? A multidisciplinary analysis of state-level residential solar programs in New Jersey and Massachusetts," Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, Springer;Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences, vol. 4(2), pages 163-171, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:jenvss:v:4:y:2014:i:2:p:163-171
    DOI: 10.1007/s13412-013-0156-6

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gaul, Chip & Carley, Sanya, 2012. "Solar set asides and renewable electricity certificates: Early lessons from North Carolina's experience with its renewable portfolio standard," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 460-469.
    2. Gireesh Shrimali & Steffen Jenner & Felix Groba & Gabriel Chan & Joe Indvik, 2012. "Have State Renewable Portfolio Standards Really Worked?: Synthesizing Past Policy Assessments," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 1258, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    3. Hart, David M., 2010. "Making, breaking, and (partially) remaking markets: State regulation and photovoltaic electricity in New Jersey," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(11), pages 6662-6673, November.
    4. Wiser, Ryan & Barbose, Galen & Holt, Edward, 2011. "Supporting solar power in renewables portfolio standards: Experience from the United States," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(7), pages 3894-3905, July.
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