Do we still need rooftop solar?

by Jul 14, 2021

Shelton Stat of the Week

In 2019, 26% of people living in America said they were likely or very likely to buy a photovoltaic solar system. — Energy Pulse®, 2019

I’m sure some of you are armed for a fight, just by reading my headline! Let me cut to the punchline: yes. But not for the reasons you may think.

Let’s take a walk down memory lane. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2010, electric utilities in America generated 10% of their electricity from renewables. Ten years later, that percentage doubled to 20%. Now, we all know it’s easier to double a percentage when you’re going from 10 to 20 vs. 20 to 40, so I don’t know if we’ll be at 40% renewable energy come 2030. A recent report from Wood Mackenzie actually lays out a pathway to getting to 50% by 2030, so it’s within the realm of possibility.

But what does utility generation have to do with individual generation? Well, according to national market research we conducted three years ago on behalf of several electric utilities, most small and medium businesses don’t see a reason to invest in their own rooftop solar if their utility is generating 50% or more of its electricity from renewables. The thinking is, “Why would I invest all the time and money into my own rooftop solar system if my utility is already halfway there?”

Of course, more and more utilities ARE heading in that direction. PG&E announced in March that it has already achieved 35% renewable energy (and is 88% greenhouse gas-free). Xcel Energy is on track to be 80% renewable by 2030, and in June of last year, Consumers Energy (a Shelton Group client, full disclosure) filed a proposal to end coal use by 2025 and to be 60% renewable by 2040. And most of the country’s largest utilities have declared or have been mandated into some form of a carbon-neutral-by-2050 goal.

So if the electric grid is becoming greener, why should individuals and companies pony up for their own rooftop solar systems? Because it sends a strong signal, in two important ways:

  1. It says, “We don’t want to wait until 2030 or 2040.”
    We are indeed social creatures, and we’re influenced by what’s happening around us. You’ll see this in neighborhoods — when one solar system goes up in a neighborhood, others often follow, because the signal says, “This is how we do things around here.” Others can feel comfortable jumping in the water because somebody sent the signal that it feels just fine.

    That signaling also works with utilities, utility commissioners and elected officials. When those entities see more and more of us going solar, they get the message that this is what their constituents want. And that gives them the intestinal fortitude to make bold moves with setting renewable targets.

  2. Most importantly, having a rooftop solar system signals something about ME.
    Even in the midst of the pandemic, in January of this year 42% of Americans wanted to be seen as someone who buys eco-friendly products. That’s exactly where we were pre-pandemic. So the chaos we’ve all been living through hasn’t dampened the desire to be seen and judged in the court of public opinion as someone who cares.

    Green signaling is a real thing, and it’s happening more every year. From designer reusable grocery bags to metal straws we carry around with us to, yes, solar panels on our rooftops, 42% of us LIKE being seen as someone who cares about the planet. And what major purchase, besides the car we drive, says something about who we are and what we value? Our homes. And though many of us may not admit it, we like for people to come visit us and see a clear virtue signal on top of our homes. We like how it looks on us and what it says about us.

So, yes, we still need rooftop solar systems here in America and will need them for quite a while. The electric utility industry will continue its charge toward renewables and carbon reduction (the way Wall Street ESG investing is progressing, the industry has no choice). But for the moment, solar systems contribute to the carbon reduction we all need to support, and they make us look good while doing it.

News of the Week

More Power Lines or Rooftop Solar Panels: The Fight Over Energy’s Future
The New York Times

In this New York Times article, they ask the question about the best path forward for a clean energy future in the United States. Whether that is large-scale renewable energy operations that transmit across the country or locally generated power, the path that is chosen now is the one that will determine our energy future.
Read more…

Should I Go Solar Now? Here’s What Homeowners Should Consider
The Wall Street Journal

There are lots of questions when considering rooftop solar and, unfortunately, there is no one-size-size-fits-all solution. This Wall Street Journal article asks two solar experts about some of the biggest mistakes people make when considering solar as well as their opinions on the current state of the solar industry as a whole.
Read more…

Good Company

Americans are putting their wallets where their values are. They buy brands (or those brands’ competitors) based not just on corporate behavior, but on how that behavior is perceived.

So how do you protect your bottom line and safeguard your reputation, all while making the world a better place? Well, good works. That’s the simple truth, and as you’ll learn in this report, Shelton Group has the research to back it up.

You’ll also learn how your brand can apply our insights to share your good stories in ways that captivate the public’s passion – so you can gain a market advantage.

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About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

1 Comment

  1. Brad Rouse

    I suggest another reason: Utilities need the help. The transition that we need to a clean energy future means that we need to install massive amounts of solar and wind. The more we put on our rooftops, the less that utilities will need to add in massive solar or wind farms. Since rooftop solar is, by definition, local, it also provides local jobs and reduces the need for utilities to invest in transmission and distribution infrastructure.

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