Credible Education Is Key to Adoption of Community Solar

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Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash

Most people believe that you must have solar panels on your roof to harness renewable solar energy. This isn’t the case.

A community-centered approach to solar is making renewable energy both accessible and more affordable. Project leaders position solar panels—so called (solar) farms—in optimal sun-soaked locations. 

The energy collected by those panels is directed to the utility that is servicing households or businesses participating in the community solar program. Consumers receive solar credits on their energy bill which corresponds to their portion of the energy output from their assigned solar farm.

The key to the community solar model is distribution of costs as well as benefits. The U.S. Department of Energy (p.6) lists several community solar project models, including:

  • The special purpose entity (SPE) model, which is driven by individual investors
  • The utility-sponsored model, in which utility companies fund the infrastructure and offer consumers participation in the program

We generally see the utility-sponsored model as the most consumer-ready. Utility companies have vast infrastructure and bear the brunt of the startup costs, which is appealing to the typical consumer.

Consumers must understand the specifics of your community solar model to be an informed participant. The model could impact your costs and benefits.

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With these models readily available and delivering real benefits to energy consumers (more on those benefits in a bit), what is holding community solar back?

Consumers Are Largely Unaware of Community Solar

According to our research, consumers are largely unaware that Community Solar is an option. This means that they are also unaware of the benefits that they may receive from a Community Solar program.

Our latest survey, Consumer Perceptions of the Solar Industry (2020), found that nearly 60% of consumers would never get solar panels installed on their residence (for various reasons). Only 20.9% of consumers believe that they could access solar energy without installing panels on their own residence.

In other words, consumers largely believe that:

  • They can only access solar energy through residential solar panels
  • For some reason, it is not worth installing residential solar panels

Here’s why they’re wrong:

With community solar, consumers can unlock the benefits of solar energy without installing in-home solar panels. In fact, this option can be both more affordable and more effective than residential solar panels.

It’s clear that lack of education about community solar is a sizable barrier to solar adoption.

Increasing Community Solar Enrollment Requires Credible Education

As an individual or a company with a stake in Community Solar, you face a couple educational hurdles:

  1. Convincing consumers that Community Solar is readily accessible
  2. Convincing consumers that Community Solar will provide worthwhile benefits

We’ve already established that most consumers do not know about Community Solar as an alternative to in-home solar panels. We also discovered divided opinions about solar’s efficacy and affordability.

35.1% of consumers said that they don’t have the upfront budget to install solar panels. Another 12.1% said that they don’t trust that solar will deliver the cost savings they hope for. 16.5% said that they’ve yet to find a company that can help them secure the solar energy that they seek.

These are leading reasons why consumers have yet to take the leap into solar. These are largely issues of under-education regarding community solar.

The encouraging finding: consumers trust solar panel experts to give them accurate information about the specifics of solar power. So give it to them.

You can establish the credibility of your solar projects by:

  • Directing consumers to authoritative sources that tout the benefits of community solar, such as this page from the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
  • Referencing reviews and testimonials from current customers
  • Providing as much detail as possible about your specific services and offerings and how those will benefit consumers
  • Being prepared to answer all consumer questions and concerns
  • Informing consumers of any potential drawbacks to instill trust and avoid the perception that your promises are “too good to be true”

Don’t be shy about presenting the benefits of community solar in a credible, honest way.

Solar Infrastructure Is Expanding—Tell Your Friends and Customers

As of 2020, there is enough solar infrastructure in place to power 17.7 million American homes. Consumers don’t necessarily have to power their entire home to experience the benefits of solar, either.

We’re living in a time when cost savings are at a premium. If households can save a few bucks by enrolling in a community solar program, bet that they will sign up. Toss in the added environmental benefits of solar energy and you have a compelling pitch.

As of 2019 there were just shy of 250,000 workers in the U.S. solar energy sector. All indications point to more abundant, accessible solar power. But do your target customers know this?

As you engage in consumer education and pitch enrollment in community solar, consider what might stop the consumer from joining your program. You might:

  • Simplify the application process
  • Provide hands-on enrollment assistance
  • Present hard data about the benefits of your program (documented energy credits, energy amounts generated, etc.)
  • Explain how community solar avoids certain issues common to in-home panel installation (cost of panels, installation time and cost, etc.)

By understanding that a major hurdle to community solar adoption is lack of understanding, you’re in a position to educate and enroll en masse.

Author:

Aviv Shalgi, CEO of Solar Simplified.

Aviv Shalgi is a serial entrepreneur, and is the CEO of an energy tech startup, Solar Simplified. His military background, engineering career, and consulting experience have allowed Aviv to become a well-rounded business leader. As an innovator, Aviv has always been focused on positive disruption in industries where there are opportunities to solve fundamental problems. This is what drew him to Solar Simplified, where he strives to make affordable renewable energy accessible to everyone, while providing consumers with guaranteed savings and making the process simple and transparent for consumers, solar developers and regulators.

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