Seven out of 10 Massachusetts solar-owners believe solar energy is a better investment than a major property renovation or buying a car, according to a recent survey by New England Clean Energy. When asked which of the three was the best investment, 70 percent said solar, 29 percent said a property renovation, and 1 percent said buying a car.
In write-in comments, survey-takers expounded on their choices:
+ “Solar yields immediate, no-maintenance dividends, and boosts the home’s value. Renovations can be hit-or-miss.” (Eric Fix, Marlborough)
+ “It is a great investment that reduces your monthly expenses. The other two only raise your monthly expenses.” (Tom Aciukewicz, Harvard)
+ “It’s like putting money away for retirement” (Paul and Patricia Peavey, Pepperell)
The survey found that the 30 percent federal tax credit for solar electric systems is a strong motivator for going solar, seven years after its introduction, with 70 percent of respondents selecting it as one of their reasons for installing solar. And 95 percent of solar-owners are happy they installed solar, with a full 54 percent saying they “couldn’t be happier” with their solar energy systems.
“Not many products or services boast a 95 percent approval rate, especially a relatively new product like solar. I attribute this high favorability to the fact that solar electric systems are reliable and virtually maintenance-free. As one customer told us, she forgets her system is even there until she opens her monthly electric bill,” said Mark Durrenberger, president of New England Clean Energy.
“Plus, solar pays you back. How many purchases do that?”
Shoddy Work – The survey revealed a potential concern about the state of the solar industry, as nearly one in five respondents replied they had heard of or seen shoddy or unethical work by a solar installer.
“This was bound to happen as installers flooded solar-friendly Massachusetts. Our challenge as an industry is to preserve the integrity and professionalism of the solar installation business by raising awareness and educating consumers about what to expect from a solar installer,” said Durrenberger, who was recently appointed to the board of the Solar Energy Business Association of New England (SEBANE) on a platform that included addressing this issue.
Trends – When questioned on industry trends, 96 percent of respondents agreed the solar industry should be subsidized by the government, with 61 percent saying the subsidy should be indefinite since fossil fuels are subsidized, and 35 percent saying until the solar industry is really established.
An even 70 percent said they were aware Massachusetts is one of the most solar-friendly states in the country, and 94 percent said using a local company versus an out-of-state company is important, because buying local supports neighborhood businesses, helps the local economy and creates local jobs.
Savings – Savings on electric bills due to solar were across the board, roughly divided between 10-25 percent, 25-50 percent, 50-75 percent, and 75-100 percent savings.
Lease vs. Buy – When asked about purchasing versus leasing a solar electric system, only 9 percent said they would be interested in a lease-type agreement with no money down if going solar today, although 29 percent were undecided (and 62 percent said they would not be interested). More than half – 51 percent – felt purchasing solar was the better arrangement for the consumer. (New England Clean Energy offers both models for customers, but all survey respondents purchased their solar systems.)
“I want control over my home improvements, and long-term it is a better investment if you can afford the start-up cost,” wrote Joel Barshak of Bolton in support of purchasing.
However, survey-takers including Jim Hogan of Northborough were supportive of leasing’s benefits: “It is usually better to own a product unless it has high maintenance issues. Solar does not. However, if I could not have afforded to purchase, I would have leased. The important thing is to go solar.”
Behaviors and Attitudes – Survey questions about solar-related behaviors and attitudes revealed the following:
+ 20 percent of respondents check their solar production online daily; 27 percent do so weekly, and 23 percent monthly
+ 78 percent know how much energy their system has generated since it was installed (which, in some cases, was years ago)
+ Most people – 63 percent – used money from a savings or other bank account to make their solar investment, followed by 28 percent borrowing money via a bank loan or mortgage re-financing
+ Saving money is the main reason people install solar energy systems on their homes, and helping the planet and increasing the country’s energy independence are the next two most common reasons.
The survey was conducted in January and February 2013 among New England Clean Energy’s solar electric and hot water customers. Exactly 100 people – approximately one-third of the company’s Massachusetts customers – completed the “2013 Customer Insights Survey,” providing a snapshot of current opinions and attitudes toward solar.
“I’ve always known our customers love to talk solar as much as we do. Still, I was surprised and pleased with the high response to the survey. It will be fascinating to track consumer attitudes and behaviors as the industry continues moving from the early-adopter phase to mature commodity,” Durrenberger said.
Selected results of the survey can be found here.