The midwest is brimming with potential for solar development

Rising energy costs, along with a high concentration of solar viable roofs, put Midwest states at the forefront of future solar development

Solar power is often associated with states like California and Arizona, which are known for their sunny climates. High energy costs and valuable local and state incentives help too.

The midwest, on the other hand, is not the first region people tend to think of when they think of solar energy. In states like Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska, you can drive for hours without seeing a single home with solar panels. But this could be set to change in the coming years.

Although the Midwest is not known for year-round sunshine, Google’s Project Sunroof shows that more than 80% of homes in the region receive enough sunlight in the course of a year to make solar energy production viable. On top of this, the cost of power from traditional utilities, historically on the cheaper side in the region, is climbing, at the same time as the cost of solar installation drops. These factors combine to make the Midwest a potential hotspot for solar development in the near future.


Estimated solar panel installation potential for Kansas homeowners Source: Project Sunroof data explorer (November 2018).

Kansas is a great example of a state with room to grow in the solar space. Right now, there are less than a thousand solar installations in the state, despite close to half a million homes with viable roofs, according to Project Sunroof. The average viable roof in Kansas can support an estimated 10.3 kW system, which is more than enough to meet the energy demands of an average home.

Although the cost of energy from Kansas utilities is not high (about 10 cents per kilowatt hour, on average), the costs of solar installation are dropping at a rate that makes solar investment compelling for many homeowners in the state. 


Estimated solar panel installation potential for Iowa homeowners Source: Project Sunroof data explorer (November 2018).

It’s a similar story in Iowa, where an estimated 350,000 homes are viable for solar. The estimated capacity of an average system is a little lower, at 8.8 kW, but even this capacity is plenty to meet an average home’s demand. 

The rate of increase in utility costs is a little steeper in Iowa, at around 1.5% per year. Although that trend in and of itself is not jaw-dropping, with the decline in solar installation costs, the math in Iowa is trending in a favorable direction for homeowners interested in solar.

Iowa is also home to some generous solar incentives, including a state tax credit worth 15% of the value of the system (on top of the 26% federal tax credit). 


Estimated solar panel installation potential for Nebraska homeowners Project Sunroof data explorer (November 2018).

Iowa’s western neighbor has similar numbers. Roughly 283,000 roofs, or 85 percent, are viable for solar power. With only around 200 installations, the state’s solar potential is virtually untapped.

Nebraskans enjoy cheap power from the utility, but even though their bills aren’t eye-popping, as solar installation costs drop, many homeowners stand to save on their current expenses.


Estimated solar panel installation potential for Oklahoma homeowners Source: Project Sunroof data explorer (November 2018).

As the southernmost of these states, 92% of roofs in the Sooner State are viable for solar installation. The average capacity of these roofs is an impressive 13 kW, which would supply adequate power for most any household. With less than a thousand existing installations, there’s lots of room for growth. 

Oklahoma does have some of the lowest utility rates in the country, but the cost of solar installation will be competitive even with rates that low sooner than later. 


Estimated solar panel installation potential for Missouri homeowners Source: Project Sunroof data explorer (November 2018).

A million Missouri roofs are great candidates for solar, with room for an average 10.3 kW of capacity. Like Kansas, energy costs are low, but Missouri benefits from favorable solar billing structures that allow solar investment to add up for homeowners. 

In general, homeowners in the Midwest aren’t too alarmed when their energy bills show up each month. But with the impressive amount of solar capacity on homes in the region, many Midwesterners may be sitting underneath a gold mine without realizing it. As the cost of solar installation continues to drop, and rates for utility electricity rise (even at a slow pace), more and more homeowners will be able to save money by going solar. Homeowners in the area should investigate whether their home is one of the millions of viable candidates for solar production, and if so, see how much they can save by making the switch.

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