As talks of Tesla moving their plant to San Antonio heat up, solar energy is becoming a hot topic as well. Fast Company recently named the Alamo City one of the top ten cities in the country for solar energy. Add that to CPS Energy’s recent announcement to construct a 400-megawatt solar project, and it’s safe to say Bexar County is pro-solar energy.
I work for Sammis & Ochoa, the public relations firm hired by Self Reliant Solar and the main challenge that we’ve found when working with solar installation companies is that there is still a mental block for many people when it comes to solar. While the green technology has its supporters, there are still plenty of misconceptions about the cost, installation, and implementation of a solar system.
Matt Lingvai, principal at Self Reliant Solar, said education and open dialogue are the most important factors in debunking these myths.
“A lot of times when people think of solar energy, they think of these giant panels strewn across your yard, or that it’s way too expensive for them to consider,” Lingvai said. “We really enjoy watching people’s minds change when we help them understand the reality of solar power.”
Skeets Rapier, owner at Renewable Republic, agrees that solar energy can still be a tough sell, despite the well-known benefits.
“The customers that approach us are usually pretty savvy about both finance and the environment, but solar is such a new concept for most buyers that we have to be very involved in the process from sale to final commissioning,” Rapier said. “A large part of our job is handling the paperwork with the utility company and the city.”
So what are the biggest misconceptions and how does it differ from the genuine experience?
1. Solar energy is too expensive.
Lingvai said those interested in solar power have to have long-term vision, because the cost is seen at the front end instead of over the lifespan of the system.
“The truth is that solar energy leveled over the lifespan of the system is quite cost-effective and in fact cheaper than most energy sources,” Lingvai said. “Even with the tax benefits and tapering local and utility subsidies, we are asking our customers to make a three to eight year investment for 25 to 75 years of energy.”
Lingvai also notes that potential new grid and installation fees from CPS Energy are something to keep an eye on in the coming weeks. Investing in solar now before the fees are possibly implemented in June might be a thrifty option.
If the CPS Energy fees are approved, he says, it will lengthen the amount of time before a return on investment is seen (before the savings on your electricity “pays for” the solar installation). Rapier said it’s simply a matter of where you want to spend your money.
[Read more: CPS Energy Proposes New Grid Fees for Solar Customers.]
“You’re using money that you’re already spending monthly to provide one of your basic needs and putting it towards a tangible asset on your home that pays for itself many times over,” Rapier said.
2. A solar system will decrease the value of a property.
Rapier said there is a simple equation to debunk this one.
“The industry’s standard equation is to take the first year savings and multiply by 20 years to determine the value of the added equity to the property,” said Rapier. “It’s based on very simple logic: is a home worth more if it has less of an energy liability?”
Most people assume holes will need to be made in the roof of a property, but Lingvai said that’s simply not necessary in most cases.
“A solar system is not going to damage your roof, or be the first thing people notice when they see your property for the first time,” he said. “Texas also maintains a property tax exemption on installed solar equipment, and the early evidence is showing home values increase with solar system installations.”
3. It has to be hot and sunny for a solar system to work.
The silicon that most solar systems use is actually more efficient and has less resistance at lower temperatures, so Lingvai said Texans needn’t worry about their systems only functioning well in the summer months.
“People are often surprised to learn that historically one of the leading countries for solar installation is Germany, which is located in line with Northern Canada,” Lingvai said.
Rapier also mentions that even the few cloudy days we do experience in South Texas are taken into account.
“Our estimating software uses a location’s weather data from the last 40 years to determine the annual output of the solar. This gives us a very accurate estimate of what the system can do.” He also said the Netherlands, even in their Northern climate, has managed to produce 120 percent of their country’s energy needs with solely renewable energy.
This means there was enough left over to sell to other countries and earn green in the form of cold, hard cash.
4. Solar energy has to be directed to something specific in the building.
To make sense of a solar system, it’s often assumed that it will directly power an individual part of the home, like heating and cooling. However, Rapier said it’s a little more complicated than that.
“Solar energizes a home or business’ main electrical service where it either goes directly to the load and offsetting electrical use, or back to the grid where it will be used by a very close service,” Rapier said. “Thanks to modern technology and an emerging smart grid, CPS buys back the power at full retail cost.”
Thinking big picture can also be cost-effective, according to Lingvai. “Most solar applications right now are tied to the grid, meaning they simply offset energy usage from the utility company. It’s normally not appropriate or cost-effective to back up a whole structure, so this is a better option for most people.”
In the future, Lingvai said solar systems will eventually be viewed as just another “appliance” for the home, much like refrigerators or air conditioners. And the biggest benefit will be to the early adopters who take advantage of tax credits that won’t be around forever. Until then, solar start ups in San Antonio and the country as a whole will be changing minds one solar system at a time.