Fall is here and as the leaves start to change and drop across the northern hemisphere, one of the most important solar events is also occurring—the National Solar Tour. The tour, now in its 18th year, isn’t a stuffy conference in some far-flung place or city. Rather, it allows people to go into their neighbors’ homes and neighborhood businesses—the ones who take advantage of solar power.
For nearly two decades, the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) has worked with local chapters across the country to coordinate local solar tours, most of which occur in early October. This year 27 states are participating in the National Solar Tour, with most tours occurring this weekend on Oct. 5.
“The ASES National Solar Tour is the largest grassroots solar event in the nation, involving about 150,000 participants and 5,000 solar-energy sites nationwide,” ASES says. “It offers the opportunity to informally tour innovative green homes and buildings, and see how solar energy can be used efficiently. The tour hopes to inspire people across the nation to make sustainable energy choices that reduce costs, support energy independence, protect against power outages, and reduce carbon emissions.”
The solar tour allows people to talk with home and business owners about how and why they went solar. Oftentimes, solar installers will also be onsite to tell interested citizens about going solar in the area, including what rebates or incentives are available in the area as well as what the permitting process entails. The tone of the conversation has changed dramatically over the past few years as well. Whereas most people who went solar just four or five years ago were likely to be well-heeled eco-warriors or passionate environmentalists who wanted to go solar purely for environmental benefits rather than economic benefits, today’s solar homeowner could be anybody—regardless of income or environmental ideology.
There are a number of reasons for this shift. First and foremost the solar industry has changed. Solar is a lot cheaper than it used to be. That’s because there are more installers than ever before, competing to put solar on homes and businesses. It’s also because the cost of solar and photovoltaics in particular has dropped significantly as more companies have begun producing modules and as they have increased production of such modules.
Then there’s the financial side. Just four years ago, power-purchase agreements (PPA) and third-party ownership models were limited to businesses and larger PV arrays. Today, a growing number of installers in an increasing number of states now offer homeowners a chance to go solar without dropping an initial $20,000 on their array. In fact, in most cases, customers can get a solar array on their home for little-to-no upfront costs. Then they pay either a fixed monthly fee (solar lease) or for the electricity produced (PPA). The rates are generally designed to be lower than the amount the homeowners pay for grid-supplied electricity. This way they pay for the modules installed on the home over a period of time, usually set for 20 to 25 years.
“This is a chance to see affordable and practical technologies, in your neighborhood, that benefit the environment and are part of the solution to our nation's energy problems. If you are considering solar energy, please consider visiting a business or resident participating in the National Solar Tour to learn more,” ASES says. To learn about a local tour near you in October, check out: http://www.ases.org/solar-tour/find-a-tour.