Why does the average person go solar?

The conventional wisdom is that it’s all about cost. Consumers, most solar salespeople would tell you, are simply interested in saving money on their power bills.

But increasingly, cost is not the only factor as consumers in the U.S. and elsewhere choose solar power for environmental reasons.

It’s no coincidence that more people now believe in human-caused climate change. After a brief dip, a 2013 study found that Americans were back at their highest level of belief in climate change and humans’ contribution to it since 2007.

Some even think this will lead to a new social movement. In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Robert Jay Lifton posits that Americans are embarking on a “climate swerve,” a “major historical change in consciousness” on the issue.

What form that will take remains to be seen, Lifton says. But he attributes this growing consciousness to the many climate-related disasters happening around the world, which leave us all feeling vulnerable and unable to ignore reality.

Add to that the economic concerns about both climate change and utilities’ “stranded assets,” and you have a compelling case for taking action.

Still, it’s important not to overwhelm people with the “scary monster” of climate change. The problem can seem too big and abstract to tackle, when we all have pressing daily concerns.

Pete Bowyer of PR firm Havas, which is promoting UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s climate summit, also notes that we can’t tackle climate change by limiting people and taking away the things they want.

So how can the average person help fight climate change? How can they do that in a way that doesn’t compromise their lifestyle? With solar on their roof, naturally. With clean, free power that doesn’t require giving up any modern conveniences. Solar power provides a tangible, pain-free way to take action.

Americans are in fact adopting solar in droves. It’s expected that a solar system will be installed in the U.S. every 2.4 minutes this year, up from 4 minutes last year.

It doesn’t hurt that the cost of solar has plummeted. Advances in technology and financing, coupled with coming savings on soft costs, will bring prices down even more in coming years.

There was a time when no matter how concerned a homeowner was about the environment, most couldn’t afford to go solar. Now that this is changing, people’s motivations could shift too.

Consumers considering a big-ticket item like solar will always think about the cost. But with solar becoming almost a no-brainer economically, people are freed up to think about other factors.

Surveys and polls show that consumers are already motivated by concern for the environment when going solar. The recent Identity3 survey of a major solar market segment, women, revealed that women put the environment at a close second to monetary savings when considering solar.

Others are also pointing out a growing awareness of solar’s non-financial benefits. Simon McKenzie, CEO of New Zealand’s energy network operator Vector, claims that consumers are going solar to achieve energy independence and protect the environment. He told RenewEconomy, “Solar panels and associate technology are maturing to the point of mass market appeal.”

This only confirms what’s being found in poll after poll in the U.S.: Americans love solar and want more of it. And with more solar coming online, more Americans are becoming aware of it.
What happens when you put together an increased awareness of climate change with an increased awareness of solar? Mass adoption, that’s what. We look forward to seeing these two forces come together. Big things are going to happen — and soon.