We're seeing that 2013 was one of the best years for solar installations ever, with prices dropping for the third year in a row. Even the White House installed solar panels on its roof.

Milestones for Residential Solar Power in 2013

Brian F. Keane | SmartPower

The environmental benefits of solar energy are well established and attractive to many would-be consumers. However, an increasing number of “solar adopters” are making the decision strictly for financial reasons.  Why do you believe these customers will be the “future” of solar energy in the United States?

For the past 30 years solar power has been sold to the consumer because “it’s good for the environment”.  And it is.  But that “value” alone hasn’t been enough to grow and expand the market.  (After all, none of us buy anything simply because “it’s good for the environment.”   So what we’ve been doing is try to expand solar’s value proposition to the consumer.  Sure it’s good for the environment.  But it’s also a cool gadget and a way to save money, as well as a way to “beat” the utility company and to keep up with your neighbors. So we are expanding the reasons why people would want to buy solar.

And once they want to buy it, then it needs to work within their budgets.  And here’s where it’s getting very exciting—we know the hard costs (hardware, etc) for solar are coming down significantly, but with our Solarize program we are now also directly reducing the “soft costs” (marketing, installation, etc.) of solar.  The two together are now making solar more affordable than ever before.  So with a good price and the proper messages, people are buying it like never before!

Is the outlook the same in all states or is Connecticut unique?

What’s being done in Connecticut is most certainly a model for the rest of the nation!  Connecticut is just ahead of the curve.  Part of the genius of Solarize is in working within communities and community groups to get groups of people to buy together. This gives comfort to the consumers, but also helps lower the price. 

If solar energy makes financial sense for a homeowner, what impact will it have on the actual resale value of a home? Will “solarized” communities be highly sought after in the future?

Ultimately we want Solar to become the equivalent of “granite countertops”.  All homes today are considered up-to-date when they have granite countertops — and the sale and resale on granite is commented on all the time.  Solar can have the same effect.  Right now, were seeing anecdotal evidence that solar does help a home’s resale.  But we’re looking forward to more research that conclusively shows this now that the housing market is making a comeback.

Once a solar system is installed on a home, what ongoing maintenance is required and how much does that cost on average?

Maintenance on solar systems is relatively inexpensive and rare.  It’s similar to the amount of maintenance you’d need to do on your furnace, for instance.   Some regions have to deal with dust on the panels (Southwestern US) — but that just means they need to be dusted off occasionally.  And in New England you have snow in the winter too.  But these aren’t major impediments.

In the good old days of computer upgrades every year, people often waited for prices to come down or technology to improve before purchasing. Does this approach make sense for solar system installations?

Put another way — this is how Apple makes money.  No sooner does the iPhone 1 come out…then they’ve got the iPhone 2, 3 and 4!  All to prove that there is a hunger for improved technology. 

With solar, we’re increasingly seeing that people understand that while upgrades may come along in a number of years, what we have now is pretty amazing.  And with the costs so low, it’s making the “technology wait” less and less of a valid excuse.

What are some of the key milestones the solar industry achieved this past year and what does it mean looking forward to 2014 and beyond?

We’re seeing that 2013 was one of the best years for solar installations ever, with prices dropping for the third year in a row.  Even the White House installed solar panels on its roof. And with hard costs coming down — combined with our proven ability to reduce soft costs — we see 2014 to be an even better year for solar.

The US is also in the midst of a major conversation about natural gas.  And we believe this conversation helps solar too. People are looking for clean, abundant energy — and any discussion about energy help lift all boats.


Brian F. Keane is President of SmartPower and author of Green Is Good: Save Money, Make Money, and Help Your Community Profit From Clean Energy (Lyons Press, 2012). He is a leading voice on clean energy, energy efficiency and the environment. As President of SmartPower, a Washington, DC-based marketing agency dedicated to promoting clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency, Keane has helped shape the energy debate in the United States and brought clean energy and energy efficiency to the American consumer. SmartPower’s award-winning marketing campaigns have engaged hundreds of thousands of people across the country, helping to inspire a renewed interested in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

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