When I came into the solar industry, I never realized that it was an industry of fable, myth and mystery. I saw it as a construction-based industry that was based upon science, technology and education. However, the longer I have been in the field and the deeper I find myself embedded in the business, I have found I spend many hours a week unraveling the solar myths predecessors have sprinkled the market with. Although I love storytelling and can sink my teeth into a good myth, I do not think that the tales I hear are benefitting consumers or allowing for progress within the industry. Myths, fables and mysteries have their place around a campfire, but as a solar installation company focused on education, it is important we take the time to demystify the industry un-truths and promote accurate information being shared with our community and customer base. This article with break down some of the solar myths I have heard on recent sales calls and from curious community members.
#1 – Free Government Solar Programs
As they say, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.” Unfortunately, there is not any government driven programs that provide free solar. There are many government programs that promote solar, but none allow a homeowner to install a system on their home for free. Some programs that do exist include the tax incentive, up to 30% for qualified homeowners. There are also some federal home loans that allow homeowners to cover the cost of energy efficiency upgrades, such as a residential solar system, into their mortgage. Therefore, there are many government programs available that support solar, but none that give a homeowner solar for free. Any company that promises you that is not being honest.
#2 – No More PGE Bill
Although going solar can drastically reduce your PG&E bill, it will not eliminate it. Well designed solar installations are created to offset the typical electricity usage of a household. Assuming the system is built to accurate metrics, the costs billed to a homeowner for electricity usage should be $0.
However, your bill will not disappear. Many large utilities, such as PG&E, manage all of your utilities. This means, you will still receive a monthly bill with balance due for gas usages. Another cost associated with your utility bill are mandatory connection fees. Although you may not be purchasing your electricity from the utility, you are still using the grid to store excess energy on. This is a fee-for-service cost associated with your bill.
Additionally, you will receive an annual “True-Up” billing statement. This “True-Up” bill outlines specifically how much energy your panels produced over the course of the year, how many kilowatt hours of energy the household consumed, and if there is any difference, either a credit or a balance due is outlined. Therefore, going solar does not mean that you will never see another bill from the company again, it means that you should see drastic cost savings on your utility bill. Any solar sales rep that tells you PG&E will disappear is not being honest with you. This, too, is a solar myth.
#3 – Live Off the Grid
Another myth that has somehow woven its way into the solar conversation is the idea of living completely off the gird and being completely independent from the utility company. Again, solar does allow a homeowner to become much more independent from the utility, such as now being able to control for the incessant increasing costs of solar. However, in the state of California, it is illegal for a homeowner to disconnect completely from the grid once going solar. If a home has never been connected to the utility grid, it is feasible a home can be completely independent from the utility, however, it is not common or realistic.
Another issue worth considering is that most homes in California have some sort of dependence on gas to power their home. The utility that provides electricity is often the same utility that provides for gas services. Meaning, unless there is a substitute for gas usage in the home, there is still a need to be connected to the utility.
A final aspect to be aware of is how important the grid is for solar storage. Most homes rely on the electrical grid to store excess power or provide excess power in the case of shortage. Without the connection, there is a demand that the homeowner has enough battery storage to store all of the excess production. Due to technology, this amount of battery storage is not realistic, or affordable, for most California customers. Together, this means that going solar does not mean a homeowner is now going to be able to live off the grid. This is yet another solar myth.
#4 – All Solar Companies Are the Same
Another frequently ‘heard’ comment I hear is “Well, all solar companies are the same.” I have even heard customers report that there have been salesmen who have told them, “All companies are the same – it is all about the price” – from companies that have dirt cheap system quotes. However, there are many important differentiators between solar companies that any consumer should be aware of. Here is a short list:
- Is the company a California licensed and insured contractor? If they are not, they are not a trustworthy company. Solar is a major home improvement project that requires the expertise and knowledge of a contractor and the protection insurance provides.
- Does the company have Worker’s Compensation? The people on your roof need to be well protected. If there is an injury, Worker’s Compensation provides a safety net for the worker. A company that does not provide this protection puts a homeowner at risk that if there is a problem, the homeowner could be liable.
- What sort of mounting and racking system is used? Not all systems are the same. There are many poorly designed mounting systems that actually damage roofs. The cost for a mounting system that ensures there is not leaking, or damage does cost more, but ensures longevity of both the panels and the roof. A panel is only as good as the mounting system used to attach it to a roof.
- Is there a local presence? Having a local presence is vital. It allows the consumer a place to go if there is a problem or you want to learn more about the solar system or install process. Maintenance and troubleshooting become easy when the company is local and can immediately get to your home and assess your system. Additionally, supporting a local business provides for well-paying jobs and feeds into the overall economic development of the community. We stand by our products and installs because we know we will see our customers regularly. Our customers can trust our installs because they know us and can hold us accountable
Be Careful of Solar Myths
Like most well-written myths, it is easy to fall into the story and believe the plot lines. However, it is important to remember that like myths and folktales, solar myths are saturated in untruths and not reality. Going solar is a big decision and a big investment. Ensuring you are taking the time to break past the myths and really understand solar truths will allow you to make confident choices about your solar installation. If you are unsure about what is true and what is a myth, stop by our local showroom and work with one of our Energy Advisers today.