Climate Change Is Making Rooftop Solar More Valuable, Research Shows

In a warmer world, it will take more energy to cool people off. Rooftop solar could step in to fill the energy gap.

A wooden thermometer reading 100 degrees Fahrenheit/40 degrees Celsius in front of a blue sky and sun.

As temperatures rise and places get sunnier, solar can be more valuable.

SimpleImages/Getty Images

Last year was the hottest year on record. This year could beat it.

Thanks to the past and ongoing fossil fuel use that drives climate change, more people are going to need more energy to keep cool, comfortable and safe. When it comes to the increased electricity demand for household cooling, rooftop solar panels can fill some of that void and save homeowners even more money down the road than it does today.

That's according to new research published in the journal Nature Climate Change, which models the value of a rooftop solar system in a changing climate. For nearly all the 17 cities the researchers analyzed, rooftop solar got more valuable in 2050 and 2100 than it is today.

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"Across all but one of our cities, households see an increase in the value of their rooftop solar by midcentury and by end of century," said Michael Craig, a professor in energy systems at the University of Michigan and one of the researchers involved in the study.

How climate change makes solar more valuable

Solar is valuable to homeowners in two ways: by helping them avoid buying energy from their utility and by earning them more savings for sending energy back to the grid. Recent regulation has made returning electricity to the grid less valuable in some places. 

"In general, it's better to consume the electricity you produce than it is to sell it off onto the distribution grid," said Craig. "You basically get paid a better premium for it if you consume it yourself."

That's why solar batteries, which let you avoid even more grid electricity by saving solar energy for later, can be a money-saving investment for some people. (The impact of battery storage is one thing the study doesn't fully consider, Craig said.)

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In a changing climate, solar panels can be more valuable because they'll produce more energy in places where it gets sunnier and offset more energy with an increase in demand for air conditioning.

Air conditioning uses 6% of all the electricity generated in the US, according to the Department of Energy, and makes up a significant portion of a home's electricity bill. Besides keeping people comfortable, it can also keep them safe as dangerously hot weather is expected to increase.

A red and orange map of the contiguous United States showing the average maximum temperature for May in 2090-2099.

Projected average maximum temperatures for May from 2090-2099.


Miami, the city with the largest jump in rooftop solar's value, sees a 14% increase by the end of the century because cooling demand will go up while the city gets less cloudy. 

The only city that saw the value of solar decrease, Minneapolis, is likely to see solar panels produce less energy because it will be cloudier in the future. Other cities will also get cloudier, but the increased demand for cooling still makes solar panels more valuable.

Rooftop solar systems, which can last for decades, are often sized to match a house's past demand. Considering future conditions could help unlock even more value from rooftop solar.

"When you put a rooftop solar system in place, that's gonna be operating for 10, 20, maybe 30 years," Craig said. "If you put a panel on your roof today, that's gonna be operating in a midcentury context."

It can cost thousands of dollars to install solar panels on your home, but they can recoup that cost and more. Some sources put the payback period on rooftop solar panels at eight to nine years, though that timeline varies depending on factors like a state or utility's solar feed-in tariff

Article updated on May 17, 2024 at 6:00 AM PDT

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Andrew Blok
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Andrew Blok Editor I
Andrew Blok is a former editor for CNET who covered home energy, with a focus on solar. As an environmental journalist, he navigates the changing energy landscape to help people make smart energy decisions. He's a graduate of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State and has written for several publications in the Great Lakes region, including Great Lakes Now and Environmental Health News, since 2019. You can find him in western Michigan watching birds.
Expertise Solar providers and portable solar power; coffee makers, grinders and products Credentials
  • Master's degree in environmental journalism
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