Solar Mythbusting

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The author's solar panels proudly displayed.

A year or so after my wife and I had a solar electric system installed on the front (south-facing for maximum sun exposure) roof of our cape-style house on Long Island, a friend posed a question that kinda caught me off guard: Any complaints from your neighbors?  (Answer: None!)

It is a question that embodies one of seven myths about solar panels that the conservation organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is seeking to bust. From WWF’s article:

Myth #6 : Solar panels are ugly and bulky.
Fact: Gone are the cumbersome, obtrusive-looking solar panels of the 1970s. Modern solar panels give homes a sleek and sophisticated look by closely contouring to your roof. And people seem to like them since homes with solar panels sell faster and for more money than those without.

Solar panels have become a point of pride for many homeowners, though maybe too much pride for some. In a February interview with Mo Rocca on CBS Sunday Morning, Portlandia’s Carrie Brownstein spoke about the extreme things people do to show their neighbors how green they are. I cracked up when she got to solar panels. She said that in real-life Portland, even though installers recommend using the sunnier, in many cases, rear-facing side of the roof, some proud homeowners insist on putting panels on the front of their roofs, defying common sense and logic. Classic! 

Ugly? Bulky? Hardly! How about boast-worthy?!

Another myth debunked by WWF? Solar panels are too pricey.

Myth #1 : Solar panels are too expensive.
Fact: 97 percent of Americans overestimate the cost of solar panels. The reality is that the cost of solar panels has dropped 80 percent since 2008. In fact, most homeowners choosing solar are middle-income families looking for ways to help keep household costs down. Lease options now let homeowners go solar with zero up-front costs and savings on their energy bill every month thereafter. If you choose to buy solar panels, they are more affordable than ever – saving homeowners even more money in the long run.

A recent SolarCity-Clean Edge poll shows that the “too expensive” myth persists, finding that “less than half of all homeowners nationally understand that solar power is more affordable today than it was three years ago, despite the reality that prices for solar panels have dropped by more than half over this time period, and solar electricity prices can beat utility rates in a growing number of locations.” As word gets around about lower prices and the solar lease option – check out what SolarCity and Best Buy offer – more and more Americans will learn the truth and go solar.

WWF, which has 1.2 million members in the United States, is working hard to increase awareness about the affordability of this renewable energy source at conferences like the one I just attended earlier this month that was focused on the interconnections between our food, water energy and climate, and on their website. According to Lynn Englum, Program Officer, Renewable Energy Campaign at World Wildlife Fund, "For most individuals, installing solar panels on your home is the single biggest step you can take to reduce your impact on the environment. Powering your home with solar significantly reduces your carbon footprint and avoids the consequences of coal or oil extraction. In addition to picking an energy source that is better for communities and wildlife, putting solar on your roof, helps spread solar. Your neighbor is two hundred percent more likely to go solar if you do."

Reducing our carbon footprint and water footprint, given how much water conventional fossil fuel fired power plants use, were the main reasons my family went solar. An added benefit for us is that it cut our annual electric bill in half. Our system is approaching its eighth birthday – it just broke the 24,000 kWh mark. I’m happy to have it and I can say I’m quite proud that it’s on the front of my house – facing both the sun and my neighbors.

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AUTHOR’S NOTE:

Want the best deal on solar? To obtain and compare free quotes from multiple installers, check out EnergySage Marketplace.

Other groups doing amazing work to promote solar power and other forms of renewable energy are Vote Solar and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council.

Also check out GRACE’s renewable energy and energy efficiency page.

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