Choosing Solar Becomes a "Free Market" Issue per SolarCity/Clean Edge Study

study feature

Homeowners interested in solar are more concerned with the personal economics and free market availability to choose than the environmental impact of clean energy according to a recent joint study by SolarCity and Clean Edge conducted by national polling firm Zogby Analytics. The new report, “U.S. Homeowners on Clean Energy: A National Survey,” is available for download at Clean Edge. Let's take a look at what else America homeowners know and think about solar energy and consumer choice. How should this inform how we, as an industry, position our products and services?

Top Level Survey Results: What You Should Know

  • Homeowners Want Choice.
    • A majority (69%) viewed their utility favorably but wanted more choices in their energy supply.
  • It Comes Down to Economics.
    • Most homeowners (45%) still don't know the price of solar has changed/come down over the last 3 years.
  • Support for Renewables Crosses Party and Demographic Lines.
    • Republicans: 87%
    • Democrats: 93%
    • Independents: 83%

Homeowners stated that low up-front costs and savings over time would drive their increased adoption of solar power and other clean-energy purchase. The solar industry has a major opportunity to educate homeowners on the rapid change in project economics over the last several years, driven mostly by falling equipment costs which cannot reasonably fall any further. Prospects may be "waiting for prices to fall more" and will need clear incentives and messages to encourage them to buy after the rapid price falling trend of the last 3-4 years. Media messages to consumers on the price and viability of residential solar have been mixed in the last 3-4 years as well. The story has been rapidly changing as thrid-party ownership has been introduced, prices have fallen, and incentive structures have changed. Media has reported these stories and the general public has repeated them with a variety of accuracy and sophistication depending on geographic area.

Solar Demographics are Changing

Once considered a purchase of well-to-do progressive or left-leaning greenies, solar has increasingly become a purchase choice of middle-class families with more conservative, libertarian, and economic motives. Truth be told, solar is not the tool of a particular demographic. Survey respondents ranked the primary factor most likely to convince them to install solar power:

Source: SolarCity/CleanEdge

With 29% of respondents indicating "installation and equipment is free, I only pay for electricity," as a primary benefit, this indicates a preference for the PPA model is strong. Note how "ability to pay monthly for solar instead of buying outright" received a significantly lower response of preference at 6% indicating the lease model is not the preferred method of buying for consumers who wish to experience the hassle-free options of going solar. Installers should take note as they consider which styles of financing options to offer in their market.

Economic reasons ranked at the top, with savings on energy bills and cost control ranking highly while environmental reasons came in dead last at 4% and 3%, a far cry from the buyer persona of solar energy products in the early to mid-2000s.

As An Installer: What Can You Do?