Last week the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) and the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School released a new report which found that the majority of more than 1,300 solar rooftop and 1,000 geothermal system were highly satisfied with their renewable energy systems. But the report also pointed out some key factors limiting the solar rooftop market in the state. Chief among them lack of financing options in the state.
“The report clearly validates the benefits of clean energy systems,” remarked NCSEA Executive Director Ivan Urlaub. “But beyond pointing out the high satisfaction and cost savings enjoyed by renewable energy system owners, it also suggests through its findings that policy can play an important role in further allowing the market to make these systems more financially accessible to middle and lower income consumers.”
“[The report] highlights our state's success with the rapid growth of solar PV and geothermal energy systems and also points out areas for improvement to ensure that more homeowners and small business owners can save money with these technologies,” said Carol Hee, Director of the Center for Sustainable Enterprise.
Overall the report found that 62.5 percent of respondents were very satisfied with the performance of their solar power system and 30.8 were somewhat satisfied with the performance of the system. The report also found very high levels of satisfaction with both the solar installers themselves (78.4 percent) and the availability of federal tax credits to help reduce the cost of the solar array (74.9 percent).
The report also looked at the motivating factors behind people going solar in the state. Finding: The most important consumer motivations for installing solar PV and geothermal system were, in order of importance, federal and state tax credits, concern about the cost of electricity, concern about environmental impacts, and a desire to do the right thing,” the report stated.
The report also asked homeowners what the easiest part of going solar was. It found that 54.3 percent of respondents agreed that the easiest part was the installation process. The second easiest part of going solar was finding a solar installer, according to 49.8 percent of respondents. The third easiest part was getting the permits 48.6 percent of respondents agreed.
While the availability of solar incentives was one of the key reasons people in North Carolina went solar. Another of the key reasons those who went renewable in North Carolina was because they could. “Ninety-four (94.0 percent) of solar PV respondents and 93.2 percent of geothermal respondents indicated that the availability of cash on hand was either ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ important,” the report found. It added that the cash-on-hand factor underscored the importance of programs that offset: “the upfront cost of installing a renewable energy system for people who do not have large reserves of cash savings.”
The report also found that “alternative business financing programs” could eliminate the upfront costs of solar and increase solar PV adoption in less affluent neighborhoods. Such products could include power-purchase agreements and solar leases. The report observed that 16 industries in the state, including the automotive industry sell products with prices similar to solar arrays and allow financing options that overcome the upfront capital cost barrier of these investments in the state.
“North Carolina’s state energy policy does not allow solar PV system retailers to own and operate a solar PV system on a residential customer’s property and enter a contract with that customer to sell only the solar power to the customer, but this kind of a program would attract a new demographic of customers because of the low upfront capital costs and immediate savings,” the report stated. “We would intuitively surmise that this legal limitation of retail financing options precludes the average median North Carolina household from being able to access the solar PV market.”
Indeed in states where such financing options are allowed, like California, the type of homeowner that goes solar has changed dramatically, from the more affluent to the middle-to-low-income home. For instance a report by SunRun and PV Solar Report in early 2013 found that 74 percent of homeowners are going solar through PPAs and solar leases. And of those going solar, nearly two-thirds were in neighborhoods with middle- to low-income ranges, according ZIP Code data.Tweet