For the past decade, the stereotypical profile of the American solar consumer has stayed more or less the same: left-leaning, eco-conscious, and wealthy enough to buy or lease a panel system with a five-figure price tag. These assumptions aren’t always fair, but for many years, it was reasonable to view solar energy as a product not yet ready for mainstream use. However, while a new solar installation in 2010 might have required an executive’s salary, things have changed significantly in the decade since.
Over the past ten years, the cost of a mid-sized residential solar installation has fallen by 50%. Most U.S. states offer some form of tax credit or incentive for new solar installations, while the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit currently offers a 26% tax credit for residential solar systems (scheduled to decrease to 22% in 2021), providing a financial incentive to customers in all fifty states. What’s more, residential solar companies continue to compete with new financing options ranging from low-APR loans to leasing, enabling new customers to go solar with minimal monthly payments and often with no down payment.
With solar energy more accessible than ever before, the residential solar market is growing rapidly: BNEF predicts 22% year-on-year growth for residential PV 2021. As these new entrants to the marketplace change the face of the American solar consumer, our industry has a responsibility to steward them towards the solution that delivers the best value and reliability. In an industry driven by environmental justice and the goal of living in a cleaner world, fairness and consumer protection should be at the heart of every transaction.
Our industry must agree to and deliver basic rights as new consumers commit to going solar. Here’s what to prioritize:
- Right to a Competitive Market – Americans thrive in marketplaces defined by healthy competition, and regions with multiple solar dealers benefit from improved product selection, quality of installations, and customer experience. As installers and manufacturers chart new territory in emerging solar markets, having multiple competitors will be crucial to ensuring that customers are able to choose a solution that offers them the performance they need at a fair price. When considering a solar installation, customers should be able to quickly and conveniently solicit two or more quotes and should be given the time and information necessary to make informed judgments on the cost, quality and level of service associated with each offer.
- Right to Fair Financing – Predatory financing products have no place in our industry, and solar consumers should be able to choose from multiple fair financing solutions to find the one best suited to their needs.
- Right to Transparency – American energy consumers rarely have to think about how they get their electricity; as long as their monthly bill seems reasonable, they likely aren’t going to spend too much time considering the costs and complexities of their home energy. Going solar means that these consumers will have new choices to make, and solar providers have an obligation to help them make knowledgeable decisions with their new system. The solar consumer’s right to transparency includes understanding how their system generates (and in some cases, stores) energy, what they gain by making adjustments to their system, as well as the economics of what’s happening in their monthly energy bill.
- Right to a User-Friendly Experience – When a consumer goes solar, it’s because they’re seeking something better than their current energy solution. Not only should solar be more affordable, it should also be easier to use—a high bar to clear when, for most customers, getting electricity is as simple as flipping a switch. The key here is in empowering consumers with intuitive software that allows them to exercise greater control over their energy. Well-designed mobile applications make it easy to manage energy, while a clunky program will have customers regretting they ever made the change.
- Right to Net Metering – Consumer protection isn’t just the domain of solar manufacturers and dealers. Our federal and state governments can pursue policies that would provide a more fair and competitive energy marketplace for consumers in every corner of the country. One such policy is full retail net metering, which compensates customers for any excess energy they produce at the full cost of retail electricity. After a year of blackouts making national news, elected officials should take advantage of this opportunity to encourage resilience and support for the grid. Making net metering mandatory in all 50 states would protect solar consumers from the often-unfair policies of their local energy company, while providing another financial incentive to improve solar’s accessibility.
The past decade’s remarkable progress in lowering the cost of home solar systems has come as a result of the combined effort of manufacturers, legislators, and the early adopters who helped us to build this economy of scale. As we enter this new period of growth for renewable energy, all of us in the solar industry need to do our part to work with integrity, treat customers fairly, and continue laying the groundwork for the industry to thrive for the next decade and beyond.
Tony Garzolini is Vice President of Sales at SunPower.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.
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