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Published on March 10th, 2014 | by Roy L Hales

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SolarCity & Clean Edge Poll: What Do US Homeowners Think About Clean Energy?

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March 10th, 2014 by
 
solarcity poll

Originally published on the ECOreport.

In January, SolarCity and Clean Edge commissioned Zogby Analytics to do a survey of what US homeowners think about clean energy products, services, electric utilities, third-party energy service providers, and consumer choice. The vast majority (88%) stated that renewable energy was important for America’s future and this opinion was shared by all political persuasions: Democrats (93%), Republicans (87%), Independents (83%). Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity, and Ron Pernick, Managing Director of Clean Edge, introduced the media to the data today.

SolarCIty Webinar New National Poll – U.S. Homeowners Weigh In on Clean Energy

While there have been polls before, they tended to either focus on broader green consumerism or were customer based. This sampling was specifically designed for homeowners.

“It is important for corporations to understand why people are buying,” Rive said. “We are coming to a tipping point.” As the prices of renewable products are becoming more competitive, people are asking, “If you are not sustainable, why should I buy from you?”

“The support for renewables is very widespread,” Pernick said. “Homeowners weigh environmental impacts, but economics rule.”

One of the keys is to watch how they spend their money.

New National Poll – U.S. Homeowners Weigh In on Clean Energy

These percentages were reflected when people were asked about clean-energy purchases. The most popular were: LED lights, that cost only $10 (31%), smart thermostats (11%), double or triple pane windows (10%), hybrid cars (9%) and Energy Star–rated hot water heaters (9%). 7% of homeowners also said they would consider purchasing an electric vehicle. (Editor’s Note: it’s worth pointing out that only about 22% of the population seems to be familiar with the Tesla Model S and only about 31% with the Nissan Leaf, the top-selling electric cars in the US.)

Source: DOE with Clean Edge Analysis

According to data from the US Department of Energy, LED sales have dramatically increased during the past four years. Close to 20 million LED lamps were sold in 2012.

Hybrid vehicle sales have grown to the the point that they are now more than 3% of the US market. Sales have increased from almost 50,000 to 400,000 per year during the ten years from 2003 to 2012, during which time the number of available models has grown from 2 to more than 50. The most popular is still the Toyota Prius, which sold 3 million worldwide, but price goes from the 2014 210-hp Jetta hybrid ($15,500) to the the 2014 hybrid Porsche 918 ($845,000). (Editor’s Note: while plug-in, electrified vehicles have just hit the market — much more recently than hybrids — there are already 20 or more EV models in the US.)

Source: Electric Drive Transportation Association with Clean Edge analysis

Source: Electric Drive Transportation Association with Clean Edge analysis

Electric car sales are expected to follow a similar pattern. They have grown 435% in the three years studied (but are still only about 1% of the market). The most popular models are the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S. Cost of ownership is a determining factor, but this keeps coming down and the cost of gasoline is rising.

Lyndon Rive pointed out that, “People do not buy EV’s just because they are clean, but because they are a better product.”

Source: Energy Star with Clean Edge Analysis

During a time when the building industry is still performing at less than half of its 2003 level, both LEED-certified and Energy Star–rated projects have experienced double digit annual growth. Close to a quarter of the houses built in 2013 were “green” and McGraw-Hill predicts that number will be 33% by 2016.

Source: USGBC data with Clean Edge analysis

While there has been a 20% annual growth of utility-scale renewable energy projects during the decade studied, that number pales when compared to the growth of distributed, grid-connected solar PV. There were almost no installations in 2004, as compared to 3.5 GW in 2012, and the number for 2013 is expected to be around 4.2 GW, with residential customers playing a major role.

This is the equivalent of 3 or 4 nuclear plants, whose average size is 1–1.5 GW.

“A 2011 Clean Power Research study estimated that the average household would save at least $10,000 over 20 years by going solar vs. traditional utility-supplied power. In five states, the savings would reach more than $40,000 over 20 years. 

Percentage of respondents who have  solar panels – National Poll

“What will the future look like? Increasingly, the U.S. electricity market is being built off of renewables, efficiency, and natural gas. Renewables, for example, accounted for more than a third (37%) of new electricity generating capacity added in the U.S. in 2013—three times as much as by coal and nuclear combined, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”

Source: IREC with Clean Edge Analysis

The vast majority of poll respondents (71%) cited economic reasons when asked what would convince them to purchase solar energy systems. Only 7% were motivated by environmental concerns.

“Clean energy is becoming mainstream,” Pernick said, “but price barriers persist.”

Rive said that SolarCity had noticed this when it came to selling installations. People were much more motivated to buy when solar was priced 10% below what they were paying for utilities.

Many people still entertain the belief that solar energy is a major investment, but in reality 65–70% of the people with solar pay nothing down and are leasing their system.

“I tell them we aren’t selling equipment, we are selling energy,” Rive explained

Rive also noted that the adoption of renewable energy was slower in areas where existing rates were low. Yet he expected to see Nevada opening up during the next year and Texas in two or three years.

New National Poll – U.S. Homeowners Weigh In on Clean Energy

Similarly, three-quarters of respondents cited cost and reliability as their principal considerations when it came to choosing a backup system.

While most viewed their utilities favorably, around 40% reported that they had experienced power blackouts and 3/4 believed that utilities should not be able to stop homeowners from installing distributed solar power, energy storage, and other onsite systems. Such sentiments were strongest among Republicans (80%), conservatives (83%), the middle-aged (89%), and elderly (94%). Close to 3/4 would welcome alternative to their utilities and 62% would like solar panels on their home.

Most utilities have not been supportive of the adoption of renewable energy.

“The part they do not like is losing their customers and giving customers choice,” Rive said. There have been strong battles in California, Arizona and Colorado, but “it looks like consumers want choice and they will get it.”

1,418 homeowners were contacted between January 7 and January 13, 2014. The margin of error for this survey is +/- 2.7 percentage points.

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About the Author

is the editor of the ECOreport (www.theecoreport.com), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of North America and writes for both Clean Techncia and PlanetSave. He is a research junkie who has written hundreds of articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.



  • Ray Boggs

    On the surface, getting a solar system on your roof from a solar leasing company for no money out of pocket might seem like a great deal, but here are the facts behind this type of rental financing. When you sign that solar lease contract you’ll be forfeiting the 30% federal tax credit which can typically be worth about $3,500 to $10,000. You’ll also be forfeiting any applicable cash rebate or other financial incentives. After collecting both the 30% federal tax credit and any cash rebate, the leasing company will also apply accelerated depreciation. Despite applying all of the financial incentives, on a $0 down 20 year solar lease, the leasing company will then charge you 20 years worth of leasing payments that many times will include up to a 2.9% annual payment escalator that will raise your monthly payment, every year for twenty years.

    The leasing companies will try to convince you that a solar system requires a lot of maintenance and expensive insurance and costly monitoring when nothing could be further from the truth. Modern grid tie solar system require little to no maintenance and the bulk of any repairs are covered by the manufacturer’s and installer’s warranties. Solar panels and many inverters come standard with a 25 year warranty. Insurance can be added through your homeowner’s insurance policy with little to no increase in your premium and many solar systems come standard with built in, web based monitoring.

    The bottom line with insurance, repairs and monitoring is that a leased solar system will typically cost you up to three times more than a purchased solar system, so it is actually you who will be paying for these services, not the leasing company. The leasing companies will try to convince you that these services are free but with a system cost that’s triple that of a purchase, these services are absolutely not free.

    The leasing companies will try to convince you that a purchased system requires a lot of upfront costs and that their rental financing is the only $0 down option in town, which again is not true. There are plenty of $0 down loans available that even offer tax deductible interest and require no upfront costs. Solar leases and PPAs do not offer tax deductible interest.

    What’s worse is that after paying 20 years worth of leasing payments that amount to triple the amount that you could have paid if you purchased your system instead, you won’t even own the solar system. It will still be the leasing company’s property. If you want to own it after paying your lease off, you will still need to buy it from the leasing company at fair market value. All this for only a 10 to 15% reduction in your electric bill. This is just the tip of the solar lease and PPA iceberg. For more information simply search the term solar lease disadvantages in any major search engine. There’s a lot you should consider before signing that airtight 20 year lease contract.

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