Each day, our solar industry sits down and whittles the unsightly knots off the tree we call solar energy. We, as a group, spend more time than we should pointing to one of a growing number of reasons why solar energy isn’t taking hold in America: that perhaps our government incentives were cut too quickly, that our state’s SREC program is broken, that the net-metering requirements aren’t strong enough.
Not that those things wouldn’t further bolster our industry, but go out and ask your friends and family about solar energy. The problem with solar energy in America isn’t a result of the deficiencies of the incentives (although improved incentives would set this industry on fire), it’s with the astounding lack of knowledge about a technology that can transform the lives of everyone in our nation and around the world.
Do you know how much of a return on your investment you would receive if you installed solar on your home or business right now? Do you know enough to even estimate the amount of money you’d save over 25 or 30 years? Would you guess that solar energy is actually a financial investment with returns more solid than stocks and bonds? Do you know that solar energy works in colder climates and on cloudy days? Did you know that nearly any solar installation company will gladly provide you these numbers for free? Not many Americans can begin to answer these questions.
Our industry is still young. We’re not the like the big corporations with seemingly unlimited budgets to pay for lobbying and well-placed television commercials. We reach out to a media who has no idea what solar energy really is. We have so much passion to help our country, and yet many nights feel like we are strangers to all. You can’t explain the entirety of the benefits of solar energy in 140 characters. It’s both a great and terrible feeling to know what you can give people if only they knew what you could give. It’s unrequited love in the form of a solar panel, and we have thousands upon thousands of them waiting to find good homes.
We’re not at war with the other energy companies, either. People will still need oil for a very long time. No energy employee from fossil-fuel plants will end up on skid row because of solar anytime soon. What about utility companies? Utilities are actually required by the state governments to purchase renewable energy, and most of them have employees that are themselves dedicated to the renewable energy sector. They are not our enemies, either. Banks? Banks are in the business of lending—they would love for solar modules to be included in home appraisals. The real estate market? Solar panels on a home sells that home much easier and the real estate market is not our enemy.
What we do face is a nation who just doesn’t understand us. We’re right here, and there’s not been a better time to go solar than today. The systems pay for themselves typically about halfway through their life cycle, and the rest is yours to keep. There is a 30% federal tax credit for installing a solar energy system on a home or business. Many states have similar tax incentives to add. In many states, you can get paid to send your excess energy back to the grid—or at least use it to offset future energy use. You can also sell solar credits to utility companies. And if you own a business, there’s a good chance you can depreciate the entire installation in one year. Did you know you’ll see, on average, a more steady return from “going solar” than folks have seen on stocks and bonds? Most people don’t know that.
So here we are: an industry with such a powerful solution for our country and citizens. We are, as a nation, being passed up by other countries. Look at countries like Germany and what they are doing with solar energy—it’s amazing. But we in the United States can’t afford to tell everyone what they need to know. We, instead, have to rely on people finding us. We try to reach out, but we just don’t have the financial size and subsequent influence to achieve the success solar energy deserves. The solar industry is young, lacking the means to get the word out in the way that giants of other industries are able to do.
We can see what is ahead, and we’ll still be here waiting. And when you say “Oh man, I wish I knew about this sooner,” we won’t judge. We’ll love and support you just the same. It was Marty McFly in Back to the Future who said: “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it.” See you soon, America.
Terrill Dines • Honeycomb Solar