“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.”- Bruce Lee
If you're reading this, you’re probably interested in either solar panels or a new roof. Heck, perhaps you care about both, and if you do, you are not alone.
The Myths of Clean Renewable Energy
Over the past decade, more and more people have been curious about making a switch to solar energy and how that might affect the structure and health of their roofs. Good news! If that’s your only question, you can stop right now because it won’t affect it at all. Well, at least if you have a professional team, install your solar panels, and they guide you on whether your roof needs any updates.
My name is Jon Nelsen, and I am a Solar Consultant at jonnelsen.com. I love solar energy and helping people transition to a cleaner form of energy because it’s the most responsible thing any homeowner could do for their family and future. And I’m not just talking about the difference it makes to our planet; I am talking about the difference it makes to your life. Before we dive into the reasons solar might be a great option for your family, let’s review some of the most common myths related to solar:
1. Solar is too expensive
2. We don’t get enough sun where I live
3. The technology is improving too fast, I’ll just wait
4. Should I lease or own?
5. I’m going to move in the next X # years
6. I don’t know who to trust
7. Solar panels are too fragile
8. Solar panels are ugly
Technology and design have come a long way in the last few decades since consumer rooftop solar systems became widely available. Let’s discuss these myths one by one and learn why they no longer apply to the current solar panels of today.
Myth #1 - Solar is too expensive
This often gets thrown around with the price of solar (which has fallen to its lowest levels). While solar looks to be a major expense at first glance, it’s too expensive to continue renting energy from utility monopolies. With the financing available today, the cost of a solar panel system that you own is often actually lower than the monthly price of the energy bill that you currently pay. Most times, that entire system can be paid for in under 10 years at a fixed monthly rate that is already lower than what you currently pay. In addition, since that financing price is fixed, you no longer need to worry about the annual energy cost increases that traditional monopolies charge. In a good year, that might be as low as 4%, and in a terrible year, it could be much, much greater. Let’s break it down even further.
So, on an average Solar Proposal, you might save anywhere from $10 to $50 monthly. And while it might be difficult to get too excited about only saving $10 a month, that’s still $120 a year in your pocket that wasn’t there before. But that’s not the end. Let’s dive further into the genuine opportunity in transitioning to clean, renewable energy. Let’s look at this differently. Say your current electric bill is around $200 a month. So, if you take $200 x 12 months x 10 years, you will spend $24,000 to power your home and receive nothing for that. In addition, that’s in the magical world where your price doesn’t raise a penny, and we all know that is never the case.
Right now (2022), if you were to apply the current federal tax credit, it makes a solar system even cheaper. I would challenge you to name one other investment where you can receive a 100% guaranteed return on investment in 10 years. Solar is the only investment of its kind. At the end of your financing term, you own the panels outright, your home is worth significantly more value, and you no longer have to worry about automatic rate increases out of your control.
You can gamble with real estate, crypto, or the stock market, but as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, you are getting a 100% return on your initial investment and infinite return on your investment after that!
So, there are really only two options
A: You can throw that $24,000 in the trash and continue to make a utility monopoly rich– a monopoly that continues to raise the rates on you every single year.
B: You can spend that same $24,000 and invest it in your family, home, and future.
In 10 years, you will spend that same money NO MATTER WHAT, the only choice is whether to throw that money in the trash or on the roof!
Myth #2 - We don’t get enough sun where I live
Another statement I hear frequently is the misconception that you might not receive enough sun. Now, if you live in a sunny area, you might think that’s silly, but it might be a more valid concern to people that live in the northeastern USA, where I do. When I design a solar savings report for my customers, and many solar reps do the same, my team looks back through 35 years of historical data. This historical weather data is based on your specific latitude and longitude and factors in everything we could expect to happen over most of the life of the system (I say most because it’s not uncommon for a system to last 40 years or more without needing to be replaced). That way, when you see the estimates of how your system is designed to perform, you know it’s accurate. These projections are not just a guess; they are scientific and accurate.
Myth #3 - The technology is improving too fast, I’ll just wait
If you have studied the solar industry as I have over the past many years, you might have seen the dramatic increases in technology. The current technology has now improved to the point of diminishing returns, meaning that the amount of technological improvement is tiny relative to the cost of research in development. It might be decades before any additional significant breakthroughs happen in the industry as we know it. While early adopters 10 - 15 years ago might have a different perspective, today, you’re blessed with the best technology and pricing this industry has ever seen. And just think, if you wait around another 20 years, how much more are you going to spend renting energy from a utility monopoly when you could have paid off your entire system and be benefiting for virtually the rest of your life?
Myth #4 - Should I lease or own?
Now this one is not so much of a myth as a general question, one that is very important to ask before moving forward with a system of your own. So, what do I mean by a lease? Well, in solar, a lease can be referred to as a PPA or Solar Power Purchase Agreement. This is a financial agreement where a developer or company arranges everything for you (design, permissions, finance, installation and maintenance). This agreement is typically for 10-20 years and is a set price. The set price you receive from a lease is preferable to the unknown increases you will receive from your local utility company, but I prefer ownership of the asset if financially viable for the homeowner.
Myth #5 - I’m going to move in the next X # years
That move will negatively affect your family because you generate solar power is a commonly held belief that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, solar power is one of the few home improvements you can make to your house that will actually SAVE you money. Let’s unpack that statement and really think about it.
Let’s say you plan to sell your home in the next three years but have decided that a new kitchen update will dramatically improve the value of your home. You are probably right, as most people shopping for a new home love to see a bright, sparkling kitchen with beautiful chrome appliances. So, if that kitchen upgrade costs you, say, $30,000, most conservative estimates believe you will receive an ROI from increased housing value to the tune of around 50-60% of what you invested. Not bad, and the investment of a new kitchen is more than just the cost of it and the value it adds to your home. I believe it also has an emotional benefit and perhaps even a physical benefit if you find yourself more likely to cook healthy meals for your family in it.
Now, when you consider an investment in a residential solar system, you’re automatically saving money on your electric bill every month. So, if you are paying, say, $200 a month towards electricity and now pay that same $200 a month towards an asset that you own, that equals $2,400 per year that you are throwing on your roof rather than your trash. That’s $2,400 invested in an asset rather than simply spent on a bill. Three years from now, you would have spent $7,200 towards solar panels that add value to your home and saved $7,200 otherwise spent on an unnecessary bill. In reality, that is a $14,400 difference in your net worth in just three small years. Plus, it’s actually significantly more if you factor in utilities that raise the rates anywhere between 4-9% each year.
Another factor to consider is that the new homeowner will now own their own power plant on their roof! Pretty cool, right? Now, not all solar companies are the same, but the customers I work with have two great options when they sell. They can simply transfer the existing solar loan to the new residents and advertise the home as having a fixed utility cost that won’t go up (win), or they can pay for the cost of the loan out of escrow when they sell (another win). Even better, many companies like mine will transfer the warranty to the new homeowner automatically, so if anything happens to the roof or the solar panels, the home’s covered. The warranty is very important and worth asking your solar rep in exhaustive detail about.
If you have questions, I’ll be happy to go over what a proper solar warranty should look like.
Now here is the best part about selling a home with existing solar panels. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a home with solar panels will sell twice as fast as a home without solar panels. So, if you are in a competitive market, advertising solar energy might make all the difference in selling or sitting on your home once it’s on the market. Now there’s been several studies by Fannie Mae, Berkeley Lab (U.S. Department of Energy), and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, who found that existing solar panels increase the value of a home. In fact, many studies have found that solar panels increase a home’s value by as much as 4-6% of the sale price. So, as you can see, the worry of selling a home with solar panels couldn’t be farther from real life.
Myth #6 - I don’t know who to trust?
Now, this is not so much a myth as a concern, and a very valid one at that. The first step is ensuring that the company the solar consultant (notice I said consultant and not salesperson) represents is listed on the BBB and upholds the standards they set. It is also important to deal with a company with a track record and not some fly-by-night corporation that might not be around when it’s time to contact them about upholding their warranty. This leads me to my next and most important item, the company must offer a warranty. Some companies offer warranties as an add-on item, and some include it in the price. Either way, you are paying for it, so, just because you’re quoted a higher price by one company that offer a comprehensive warranty and another company that might have it as an add-on, make sure you compare the warrantied prices side by side.
Let me show you the warranty I offer my customers so you can make an apple to apple comparison when deciding on the best solar provider for your home.
Furthermore, it’s important that your solar consultant cares just as much about educating you on your solar investment as they do about selling it to you. Solar reps typically work on a 100% commission structure, meaning if they don’t make sales, they don’t eat. However, just because they have a vested interest in getting you to sign on the dotted line doesn’t mean they can’t take the time to educate you. In my business, I have found that the more I can educate my customers on the benefits of their new investment, the more often they become referral and lead sources of their own. That’s because solar is exciting, and there are few things in life that have financial, community, and environmental benefits all in one. So, the more information I can provide and the more questions I can answer, the more confident my client is with their purchase and the more likely they are to share/brag about their new home upgrade.
Myth #7 - Solar panels are too fragile
Who hasn’t suffered from the devastating loss of a cell phone because of a clumsy drop? What is usually the first thing to break, the glass, right?! Well, as a society, we live in a world of glass, and it’s easy to think that all glass is the same and is just waiting to crack or break and ruin something we love. Luckily for everyone, glass comes in all types, and the breakable glass we’re accustomed to is not what they use to house solar cells on our roof. In fact, the glass on your solar panels probably has more in common with bulletproof glass than the glass in your kitchen.
The glass used in solar panels is called tempered glass, sometimes referred to as toughened glass. The specific properties of the manufacturing process of tempered glass make it much stronger than other glass types. Often lost in the discussion of wattage and efficiency is a subject that is just as important, the thickness of the glass encapsulating the solar cells themselves. Typically, you look for glass that is 3 to 4 millimeters thick; however, some cheaper solar panels will use thinner glass, which might not hold up as well in the elements.
The thickness of the glass is important; however, no matter what you choose, you can expect a relatively long life for even the cheapest panels. As you can see in the image above, several layers besides the glass surround the solar cells and keep them protected from the elements. But hey, if something ever goes wrong, and you did your warranty homework right, your solar rep will ensure that a replacement will be shipped and installed immediately.
Myth #8 - Solar panels are ugly
This is one myth rooted in fact because as little as a few years ago, the solar panels were a bit of an eyesore. Ask many early adopters of solar power, and they will tell you about ugly blue panels mounted about 4 feet off the roofline. Luckily, today’s solar panels are black on black and mount flush with the roofing, giving you a sleeker attractive appearance. In most cases, it blends in nicely and gives the roof a more modern look. Your solar rep will have images of houses that have the panels they are selling, and you can judge if that is a look that vibes with the style of your home.
The great thing about solar is that it turns that unused real estate above your head into your own personal power plant that will provide electricity for everything you need. Because there is nothing more satisfying than never having to listen to your wife tell you it’s too hot in the house because you didn’t want to crank on the air conditioning in July.
I hope this chapter helped illuminate some of the preconceived notions you may have had about solar and gives you a better idea of what to expect for your new system. Solar isn’t for everyone, but most times, it can become one of the safest and best investments you have ever made for you and your family for years and years to come. In the next chapter, we will discuss how our energy grid works and how you can protect yourself from the downfalls of the aging utility infrastructure here in the US.
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Jon Nelsen | Solar Consultant