You may have a general idea of how solar energy works, but you may not be totally sure about the details… and at this point you may be too afraid to ask.
Unfortunately, this keeps a lot of consumers—who are perfect candidates for the money-saving benefits of solar energy—in the dark about their options to go solar.
See, solar energy is enjoying quite the boon in popularity these thanks in part to the fact that solar system components are being produced faster and cheaper than ever. Plus, state tax credits, rebates, and incentives are becoming more attractive for consumers every year.
This perfect storm creates a market that breeds competitive pricing and plenty of financing options. So if you’ve been on the fence about installing solar energy, let’s get to the bottom of the 11 most common misconceptions so you know exactly what’s on the table.
Because the truth is, it’s never been a better time to go solar.
According to the Wall Street Journal, “Much of the public understanding of solar—as with wind—is rooted in information that is more than 10 years old.”
So let’s talk about what most people think about solar… and discuss why they’re wrong.
1. I’ll Wait Until Solar Technology Gets More Reliable
It was initially invented because people thought that coal sources would run out—big surprise, right?
While the solar energy sector enjoyed stable growth since its humble beginnings, the technology has improved and the parts are now easier and cheaper to produce.
Unlike other investments in technology that will phase out when the next generation product bursts on the scene, solar panels don’t change much in the way of technology and will remain just as efficient decades after your initial investment as the first day you installed them.
As Jeffrey Ball, scholar-in-residence at Stanford University's Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, writes:
“Renewable energy is making major progress: Its cost is falling, its reliability is increasing, and, both in the U.S. and around much of the world, it is growing fast.”
In fact, the Renewable Electricity Futures Study, completed by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), determined that the U.S. has a foreseeable future in renewable energy that may come a lot sooner than you may think.
According to the study, the renewable energy technology that’s on the market right now is “more than adequate” to supply 80% of total electricity generation in the U.S. by 2050, “while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the country.”
If the current technology is capable of powering the majority of the country, it’s probably safe to assume that it’s much more reliable than it was in the past.
Sure, solar panels will get more efficient than they already are—as all technology tends to improve with more research and development—but prices will never be as low as they are right now. Which means if you wait for an arbitrary “perfect time” to switch to solar, you may miss the boat on the savings you could be earning today.
2. I Don’t Want to Be Totally Off the Grid
You’re not alone in feeling like you have to stay connected to an electrical grid. Most solar energy owners do not live off the grid.
When you decide to go solar, your solar panels will work harmoniously with the power grid owned and operated by your local electricity provider.
During the day, your solar panels will generate tons of electricity from the sun. Whatever you don’t use gets fed back to the power grid.
When you need power at night, but your solar panels are not generating electricity, you’ll still have the power your home needs because you’re still connected to the grid.
You will always be connected to electricity should you need more than your solar panels are producing, such as during very foggy days, so you never need to worry about being without power.
The positive of this relationship is that the electric company will “buy back” whatever you generate in power to feed the electrical needs of other homes on the grid. You’ll be able to use this as a credit on your electric bill so you have lower monthly payments. This practice is known as because you’re only billed for your “net” energy use.
Now, that’s not to say you can’t go off-grid and install solar panels on your property to become completely self-sufficient (except for relying on the sun).
However, going off-grid means you’ll need to store your excess solar energy in hard-to-manage batteries that are not only expensive, but need to be replaced every 5–10 years. And if you have several overcast days, you may not have electricity until the sun comes out, which could take a while during rainy season.
When you’re connected to the grid, you’ll always have power.
3. I Don’t Know How to Install Solar Panels
You don’t need to be an expert to outfit your home with the best in solar technology.
Solar energy companies exist all over the country to help folks just like you create the perfect solar panel grid for your home.
Find a reputable company and schedule a (typically free) consultation so they can go out and assess your property. They’ll give you a quote for the installation and for how much they expect you to save in electricity after you switch to solar.
This will help you determine if your potential monthly electricity savings will outweigh your initial investment (hint: it usually does).
Once you sign off on the installation, the rest is out of your hands.
The solar company will get all the required permits filed, inspections completed, and set up the system for you so you don’t have to lift a finger.
4. I Don’t Know How to Maintain Solar Panels
If you know how to use a hose, you can maintain a solar panel grid.
The beauty of solar energy systems is that solar panels don’t have any moving parts. This means that it’s very improbable that a part would suddenly break or get destroyed as a result of normal wear and tear, such as might happen with a dishwasher or an air conditioner.
Plus, most solar panel manufacturers will give you a 20–25-year warranty at a minimum, so you know they’re made of strong, high-quality material that’s built to last.
Dust, dirt, pollen, and bird droppings tend to cloud the panels and get in the way of sun absorption. So to keep your solar panels running efficiently, all you need to do is rinse off the panels every few months with a hose.
Live in a rainy climate? You may not even have to take this step if your steady rainfall keeps your solar panels squeaky clean. Similarly, light snowfall will also slide off your panels when they get warmed up and may drag debris with it.
You’ll need to routinely check for dirt and leaves on your solar panels and remove anything that seems like it could be blocking or obstructing your panels from soaking in sunlight. This includes trimming any tree branches that may be casting shadows on your grid.
If you’re still unsure about being left alone to manage a solar energy system, have no fear.
Most solar energy companies give you the option of purchasing and installing monitoring software for a small monthly fee or an upfront cost during installation. you be able to see exactly how your system is running, but some of these are even connected to your solar installation provider, so they’ll be able to detect when something’s wrong for you and fix it immediately.
You’ll have the ability to monitor diagnostics such as your usage, output, and energy savings every month so you can track how your investment is stacking up and gauge the efficiency of your system.
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5. I Don’t Live in a Sunny State
Contrary to what most people believe solar energy panels work in states without full sunshine 365 days a year… and sometimes they work even better in cooler climates.
Solar panels perform best when they’re able to stay cool, and they’re less efficient when they have to sit out in the very hot sun all day.
Plus, solar panels don’t actually need that much sunshine to generate electricity. They just need to capture the UV rays the sun is giving off.
To put this in perspective, think about what happens when you skip sunscreen at the beach on an overcast day. In case you haven’t been burned by this blunder, you can still get bad sunburn even when they skies are gray and overcast. UV rays are still getting through the haze even though the sunshine isn’t.
This is how solar panels work. They don’t need the they just need access to the sun’s rays.
UV rays can pass through clouds and fog provided it’s not too dense. If you're experiencing the thickest fog that’s ever rolled into town, your panels may not produce the same amount of electricity they’re normally capable of, but the decrease won’t be that noticeable.
Germany, a country with a year-round average temperature of 55 degrees, gets about as many sunny days as Alaska. So you probably wouldn’t expect them to be the global leader when it comes to adopting solar energy as a country—but they are.
As reports, after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan during 2011, “tens of thousands of German citizens took to the streets calling for the phase out of atomic energy.”
In response, the German government agreed to shut down the country’s 17 nuclear power plants by 2021. In June 2014, Germany broke three national solar records and fulfilled more than 50% of its electricity needs thanks to solar energy.
Moral of the story: Homes in every state of the U.S. are eligible for solar energy, no matter where you live.
Our planet gets 120,000 terawatts of solar radiation from sunlight every single day. That’s 20,000 times more power than what’s need to power the entire world. Surely some of that could be put to good use in your neighborhood.
6. My House Doesn’t Face the Sun
It’s typically best to have your solar panels face the southwest, but this is one factor of solar energy that’s been blown way out of proportion. If your home does not face southwest at all, it’s not the end of your solar energy dream.
You can still position your solar panels to maximize the sun your property does get, whether that’s towards the southeast, northwest, or somewhere in between.
If the roof is not a viable option for positioning purposes, you can always set up freestanding units anywhere on your property that gets sunlight without being overshadowed by landscape or buildings. This could be in the backyard, on top of a shed, etc.
Since solar is becoming so popular, many neighborhoods and communities are investing in shared “solar gardens.”
If one house or shared community space receives an adequate amount of sunlight for solar energy to work, homeowners in the area can opt in to this network of solar panels and reap all the benefits of going solar without having to shoulder all of the costs.
Technically, solar panels are going to protect the portion of the roof they sit on, meaning your roof will stay perfectly preserved underneath and will be shielded from weather, heat, and sun damage.
Bonus: Sometimes the rooms directly underneath the solar panels stay cooler than other rooms in the house. This may help you save even more money on heating and cooling costs if they’re placed strategically.
Solar panels won’t make your house look like an eyesore in the neighborhood, either.
Gone are the bulky solar panels from the 1960s. Since the market for solar has truly opened up, designers are cashing in to appeal to homeowners who desire aesthetically pleasing solar options.
Now you’ll find modern, sleek solar panels and even solar panels that mimic roof shingles to blend seamlessly with your existing roof and boost your home’s curb appeal.
These lightweight, solar slates are designed to interlock with each other on top of your existing roof tiles or shingles. If one cell gets damaged, it’s easy to detach it and replace it.
Check out the roof on this hospital in Germany:
Each of those roofing slates is a solar energy tile. It’s almost impossible to tell that these shingles are actually generating electricity.
Here’s what these tiles look like in a residential setting, to give you an idea of what they’ll look like on your home:
As you can see, you don’t have to install a large, cumbersome rack of solar panels to reap the benefits of solar energy. This roof looks just as pleasing from a curb-appeal perspective as a “normal” roof that doesn’t add anything to your investment.
Worried about what your neighbors will say?
Vikram Aggarwal, Chief Executive and Founder of EnergySage, told Tech Insider:
People love solar; there's very little not to like about it. No noise, no emissions, out of sight, produces electricity, it's beautiful, and it makes financial sense. I think as more people find out about it and more people become comfortable shopping for solar, and they don't feel like they're being sold but they have control, I think the sky's the limit.
8. I Can Install Solar Panels Myself
DIY solar panel kits have been making a splash with homeowners looking to save money on the most expensive part of switching to solar: the installation.
While a do-it-yourself attitude is certainly commendable, solar panel installation is best left to the experts.
You may think DIY solar is just about attaching panels to your roof, but that’s not even a quarter of what the job entails.
As Laura Fisher Kaiser writes for HGTV:
“Proper installation does require the expertise of a skilled roofer and solar contractor, not to mention a licensed electrician who can run wires through the attic space and walls to a solar inverter.”
So first, you’ll need to research and plan for a system that will provide the most energy for your property based on your electrical usage. Not an easy task.
Then you need to take measurements of the angle of your roof to ensure that your solar panels aren’t reflecting the sun’s rays, but capturing them. An expert will know how to calculate your system’s optimal tilt for the panels to work most efficiently.
If you wing all of this and try to take this project on yourself, you run the risk of installing a less-than-efficient unit and only saving a fraction of the money you should be pocketing.
On the other hand, a professional will know exactly how to maximize your unit’s efficiency to save you more. They’ll even know which rebates and tax incentives you’ll be able to qualify for based on your specific unit.
Second, if you install your solar panels incorrectly, you may unknowingly cause structural damage to your roof or create holes that will need patching. These costly repairs may not be worth your installation savings in the long run.
Third, you do know that wiring a solar energy unit takes complicated electrical skills, right?
You not only need to be skilled with wiring solar panels, but you need to know how to connect to the local grid. Certain states require you to be a licensed electrician to make sure you don’t damage the whole neighborhood’s system.
Plus, if you install the solar panels incorrectly, you have the potential to create a power surge capable of blowing up your inverter. Not only do you risk injury to yourself, your house may catch on fire as a result!
Without the expertise and peace of mind of a professional install, you may be seriously electrocuted while you’re in the middle of your installation, or take a chance for something to go wrong later down the line, such as your wires being shorted out during a heavy rainstorm.
Find a solar energy company that’s been in business for a long time and has several years of experience with different rooftops and properties. Check their customer service reviews on their website, Facebook page, Better Business Bureau, and other sites like Yelp!. Should anything go wrong during the install, it’s on the installation company—not you—to pay for the damages.
9. It’ll Cost More than I’ll Save
Thanks to advances in technology that allow solar components to be produced quicker and cheaper, the price of solar energy installation has dropped dramatically.
“The growth of the solar market and increased competition within the sector has reduced cost by 70% over the past 10 years.”
Tech Insider says that back in 2006, “It cost per watt of power generated by solar panels. Today, it's just $3.79 per watt.”
What used to be an alternative energy source only for the rich, famous, and super environmentally-conscious, solar energy is now thriving in neighborhoods of middle-income families looking to save money on—or completely eliminate—their high electric bills every month.
The average price of a solar energy installation ranges from $10,000–$30,000, depending on the size of the solar grid and the location of your property.
While this may sound like a steep investment, consider that 48 states have a solar or renewable energy incentive to help cut or cover the costs of your solar energy installation. These incentives range from 30% to 85% of your installation costs.
Plus, don’t forget that you also get a 30% federal tax credit, but that’s set to expire at the end of 2016.
If that upfront money is still too rich for your blood even after the tax incentives, there are financing options that make solar energy more affordable than it ever has been.
You won’t have to face huge costs upfront for an installation if you go with a solar lease.
You’ll pay zero to very little money down and your solar provider will install your system and maintain it. You’ll enjoy electricity discounts in the 20%–40% range, but you won’t be eligible for the tax credits.
If you go with a standard installation instead of a lease, estimates from solar experts agree that solar panels save so much off your electricity bills that you will recoup the money you spent on installation within 7–15 years.
Solar panel adopters in states with highly attractive incentives and tax credits could see their return on investment occur in as little as 2–4 years, as long as they use the credits to pay down their installation fees.
Most families see electricity savings between $100–$300 every month, depending on the size of their house. In Hawaii, solar panel owners saved an average of $64,000 after 20 years.
The more electricity your home currently uses, the more money you’ll save switching to solar.
10. I Don’t Want My Property Taxes to Go Up
Installing solar panels will not only increase the value of your home, but it’s also property-tax exempt in most states. This means you won’t see any solar energy-related taxes or hikes in your property taxes after you make the switch.
What will go up is your home’s value.
According to A Homebuilder’s Guide to Going Solar, “Solar homes sell at up to twice the rate of their conventional counterparts.”
And the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says that every $1,000 saved in annual electric costs, raises your home’s value by $20,000.
Not a bad investment from that point of view when it comes time to resell.
11. Solar Energy Is Just Not for Me
While you may still think that making the switch to solar isn't for you, the results from a poll of 200 homeowners who decided to go solar may surprise you about the demographics of solar adopters.
The average solar homeowner is:
Not a Tree Hugger
When asked if the solar adopters would have switched to solar if there was zero financial benefit to them, 74% of homeowners said no.
This means that 3 out of 4 homeowners switched to solar strictly because they knew they were going to save money. Saving the planet was just an added perk.
Not Super Liberal or Ultra Conservative
On a scale of 1 being extremely liberal and 10 being extremely conservative, poll responses indicated that the majority of solar owners fall between a 3 and a 4, which is between somewhat liberal and middle of the road on the political spectrum.
Not Rolling in Cash
If you’re making so much money that your electric bills are just a drop in the bucket of spending—and you don’t worry about your rates increasing in the future—you probably wouldn’t appreciate the same solar energy savings as a middle-class family would.
To a family trying to squeeze the most out of their paychecks, eliminating a high electricity bill means more cash to save for college tuition, retirement, paying down debt, or monthly bills.
According to the poll, 70% of solar homeowners described themselves as “savvy spenders or budget conscious”.
Solar adopters had a combined annual income between $76,000–$100,000.
Usually Convinced to Go Solar By their Male Partner
According to the statistics of the poll:
- 77% of female partners are in control of paying the electric bill
- 97% of women admit to conserving energy around the house
- 90% of women want solar energy to be a very or somewhat important option for our country’s future
But the first person in the household interested in going solar is typically the male partner (68%). And then the poll discovered that men did most of the legwork to bring solar energy to the home (77%).
*Note: The poll only represented heterosexual married couples.
Likes Cars and High-Tech Gadgets
These may seem unrelated, but a large number of solar energy adopters admit to being in love with cars.
Some owners claim to offset driving their large trucks and SUVs by using solar energy to balance out their carbon footprint. Others actually use their solar panels to power their electric cars, taking green living another
44% of solar homeowners admitted to being “tech/gadget crazy,” which should come as no surprise since solar energy is the coolest piece of home technology that also saves you money.
Keep the Thermostat Cranked Down Way Low
If you live in a warm climate, it may be impossible to go a day without air conditioning. But you may feel guilty about turning the thermostat down to polar chill levels after a long day mowing the yard or working on your car outside due to the expense.
However, solar homeowners admit that they lower the thermostat without worry because they know they’re saving so much money with their panels.
Does it surprise you to learn that 18% of solar adopters in the poll served in the U.S. military?
Well, it’s no surprise that the government wants to push towards solar for their military operations:
“The Department of Defense has committed to meet 25% of its energy needs with renewable energy by 2025, and the Navy, Army, and Air Force have each implemented aggressive plans that are increasing the U.S. investment in solar and encouraging innovation in the industry.”
Plus, military personnel are used to relying on solar energy when they need it most. Thanks to remote solar off-grid power, our troops have a “tactical edge” to refuel and resupply in hostile areas without being detected by loud generators that can attract enemy fire.
Know a Perfect Investment Opportunity When They See One
While the market isn’t keen on supplying high-percentage returns, solar adopters admit to seeing a two or threefold return on their solar energy system.
Check out these quotes that demonstrate their financial prowess:
- “Why wouldn’t I want to invest in something that returns at least 16% on my money, year in and year out?”
- “My solar system will pay itself off in 5–6 years. Then the savings will help fund my children’s college education.”
- “I figure I’m earning about 8% on my investment. And it’s tax free! Where can you get that rate now?
- “We figured the one sure thing in life was that the electricity rates would not go down over time. It was a good investment.”
So as you can see, solar adopters are probably a lot like you. They’re just middle-of-the-road Americans looking to save money and find an investment that will pay off in the present and in the future.
We hope you’ve seen a different side of the solar energy debate.
Most people only have a general idea of how solar energy works and what benefits it brings to the lives of everyday people. After dispelling the most common misconceptions today, you should certainly know more about solar than you did before we started our discussion.
Now that you have all the facts, it’s up to you to make the decision to go solar for yourself.