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Demystifying Residential Solar

When polled, 89 percent of Americans say they support the development of solar energy at both the residential and utility scale. This proves true across the entire US, among all political and economic demographics. So why isn’t solar being installed on more homes?

For starters, many people have misconceptions about solar technology and the solar industry that are deterring them from installing solar systems. Below are four common myths about solar energy which continue to cause doubt among consumers:

  • Myth 1: Solar is too expensive

By far the biggest challenge facing the industry is educating consumers about how they can become solar power consumers with little or no upfront cost. 48 percent of Americans still cite cost as their biggest concern with solar energy, despite the fact that the cost of modules has decreased 30 percent since the beginning of 2010. What’s more, there are numerous residential solar leasing modules (SolarCity and SunRun) that eliminate up-front cost. In addition to dropping panel prices, many states offer incentives for installing solar systems on top of the 30 percent federal investment tax credit for solar systems available to every homeowner. For example, New York has several incentives for homeowners who install solar systems. Not only does solar cost much less than it used to, but it adds value to a home. The average solar installation adds roughly $17,000 to a home’s resale value. Once solar is installed, homeowners receive immediate financial savings on their energy bill that continues over the entire life of the system.

  • Myth 2: Solar panels do not provide very much energy

One of the major concerns for most homeowners considering solar is that their entire roof will be littered with solar panels. Although this may have been true several years ago before solar technology was as developed, the truth is that solar panels are much more efficient and provide a lot more energy per square foot than they used to. Additionally, solar panels have become slimmer and can be conspicuously integrated onto a home’s roof using building integrated photovoltaics.

Also, homeowners can reduce the amount of solar panels they need on their home by increasing the efficiency of their home. By taking advantage of efficiency opportunities around the house, people can reduce their energy-use significantly and reduce the need for numerous solar panels.

Another misconception about the solar industry is that solar panels require more energy to manufacture than they produce in their lifetime. Studies show that energy payback for a photovoltaic system is now less than three years, sometimes as little as one year. Given the warranty for most panels is 20 years, and most panels last much longer, homeowners will produce much more energy with their solar panels than it took to produce them. This payback period will continue to decrease as manufacturing processes improve and solar panels become more efficient and longer lasting.

  • Myth 3: Solar systems only work in sunny places like southern California and Florida.

Solar systems capture ultra-violate light, which passes through clouds, even on rainy days. Although solar systems work better on sunny days, cloudy days still offer significant solar potential. For example, Germany has the same amount of sunshine as Alaska and has achieved 20 percent of its total energy production using renewable energy, mostly solar. In the US this year, New Jersey installed more solar energy than any other state, proving that solar is viable in almost any climatic condition.

  • Myth 4: Solar cannot exist without expensive government subsidies

At a time when budgets are tight and programs are getting cut, many people believe that the government needs to reduce its expenses. While solar does receive subsidies from the federal government – like many industries in the US do – solar is less subsidized than the fossil fuel industries – five times less.  In 2010 alone, worldwide subsidies to fossil fuel consumption totaled $409 billion while total renewable energy subsidies were $60 billion. This means that governments worldwide are spending more to subsidize greenhouse-gas-producing fossil fuels that are non-renewable instead of cleaner, renewable energy sources. Despite such inequity, solar energy is becoming as cheap, or cheaper, than fossil fuel sources in many parts of the country where energy prices are higher, like in the Northeast. Instead of costing taxpayers money like many believe, the solar industry costs less to the government than fossil fuels and helps make the US more energy-independent.

Despite government support for solar not being as strong as it could – or should – be, the solar industry has been able to reduce costs significantly and improve quality and performance. With new leasing options, local incentives, and the continued growth of the industry, solar energy is now a realistic option for many homeowners in the US. If you have considered solar in the past and have become discouraged for whatever reason, it may be the perfect time take another look.