The new solar buyer may surprise you

The new solar buyer may surprise you

As I noted last year, solar pricing has dropped dramatically. According to Triple Pundit, PV panel costs declined 20% in both 2011 and 2012, and dropped again in 2013.

We’re living in a no-money-down, easy-access-to-solar world. SolarCity promises, “For most customers, the savings start on day one.” Here’s how they promote their $0-down solar leasing option: “Your payment is usually less than what you’d owe your utility company for the equivalent amount of energy your system will produce.”

For those who prefer to purchase their panels, they note: Customers typically see a positive return on investment within 7–10 years a 3 kW system starts at $25–$100 per month.”

Panel manufacturers like SunPower also offer $0-down financing deals with the pitch, “For many customers, the combination of the loan payment and the remaining power bill is less than their previous electric bill.”

What’s not to love?

Lower pricing and access to affordable financing and leasing options have opened the door to a whole new solar buyer. The table below shows the dramatic shift we’ve tracked over the last seven years between solar owners then and now:

Then (2008): And Now:
Household Income: $150–$250K Household Income: $100K+
Age: 55+ Age: 45 and under
Education: Bachelor’s degree+ Education: Some college+
Cautious Conservatives True Believers

In 2008, solar owners were rich conservatives (mostly in California) who were tired of blackouts and the soaring prices triggered by deregulation. They had the financial wherewithal to “opt out” and take control. Now, many more Americans do. And credit score is perhaps a more useful variable for identifying solar prospects than household income or net assets. Solar is now perceived as “practical,” and the pragmatic people most likely to install panels are also the ones most likely to make energy-efficient home improvements.

While discussing this issue recently, a client recommended that we review the installation photos included with current renewable energy certification applications on the Ohio Public Utility Commission’s website. Perusing the site was an eye-opening experience. The “typical” solar system isn’t going on a retail distribution warehouse or a “McMansion.” It’s being installed on a traditional brick rancher or a three-bedroom, vinyl starter home.

Yet while the target population for solar has shifted and greatly expanded, the underlying purchase drivers (control and independence) remain the same and connect with two closely related, cultural macro-trends: the on-demand economy and self-reliance.

A recent article in The Economist notes that new technologies/apps have created the “on-demand” economy. We can find answers to almost any question, purchase obscure products from anywhere in the world and connect with a plethora of potential employers or customers who can hire us instantly. Platforms like Handy and Uber allow a growing percentage of Americans to be entrepreneurs, working on their own terms. Bottom line: “the world is our oyster,” and we’re more independent and self-reliant than ever before.

  • Find a seamstress in Meridian who can make custom drapes that perfectly match your duvet? Check!
  • Press a button to order Huggies the moment you realize you’re using your last one and have them delivered the same day? Done!
  • Brew your own beer? That generates over six million results – it can’t be that hard!

Generate your own power? Why not? As we heard in a recent focus group, “We live in Phoenix; it just doesn’t make sense not to.”


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Posted on

July 1, 2015

About the Author

Lee Ann Head

Lee Ann Head

Lee Ann is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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Suzanne Shelton

President and CEO

Suzanne is the voice and the vision of Shelton Group. Drawing on her extensive experience in energy and the environment – and 25+ years in the marketing and advertising industry – Suzanne provides high-level strategic insights for our clients and guidance for our research and creative departments. She regularly speaks at conferences around the country, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and the International Builders’ Show, and serves as a guest columnist for publications like Fast Company, Green Builder and

Susannah Enkema

VP Research & Insights

Susannah directs our research team and plays a key role in extracting the nuggets of information that pave the way for recommended marketing strategies and creative approaches. Susannah has nearly two decades of market research and strategy experience, including her role as president of SE Consulting, where she led the services for the likes of DIY Network and the makers of GORE-TEX®.

Matt Brass

VP Creative

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing campaigns. He ensures sound strategy and deep insights inform everything his team develops, and works closely with the accounts department to ensure copy and designs will meet our clients’ goals. As a designer and filmmaker himself, he’s also a principal contributor to all of Shelton’s in-house photography and videography work.

Courtnay Hamachek

VP Operations

Courtnay oversees our day-to-day operations to keep us running smoothly and support our growth. She establishes project management systems and processes to help our teams anticipate bottlenecks, prevent process issues, and keep projects on time and on target. Courtnay has built extensive experience over 25 years in all aspects of marketing, from account services and project management to design and production.

Aaron Crecy

Digital Marketing Director

Aaron is responsible for planning, executing and measuring digital marketing strategies for Shelton Group and our clients, with an emphasis on inbound, content, SEO, social media, email and paid initiatives. He constantly researches and explores new tactics and strategies to improve digital campaign performance and results.

Aaron brings to the table more than 20 years of marketing leadership experience with premium consumer-facing brands. He came to Shelton Group by way of Malibu Boats, where, as Director of Global Marketing, he oversaw strategic marketing planning and execution for multiple product lines, with specific emphasis on social media and digital. Prior to that, he served as CMO for a leading daily fantasy sports operator, guiding it from startup to the industry’s third-ranked site.

Scot Case

Senior Consultant

A sustainability strategy consultant since 1993, Scot has served as non-profit leader, as a partner in an environmental marketing firm that he grew and sold, and as an executive in a multi-billion-dollar, international company. He has published dozens of articles and case studies, was co-author of the original “Sins of Greenwashing” study, testified before Congress, and been quoted on NPR, Good Morning America, CNN, The New York Times, Business Week, and the Wall Street Journal. Scot was also highlighted in an Emmy award-winning documentary on sustainable purchasing.

Casey Ward

VP Account Services

Casey manages our relationships, growth and development with a specific group of clients that includes Environmental Defense Fund, Cotton LEADS and CertainTeed Insulation. She provides leadership and support for the account team members who manage the day-to-day processes for these clients. She contributes to strategic direction for each client and guides our creative efforts to ensure everything we do builds toward meeting – or exceeding – the client’s goals. Her ability to simultaneously see the big picture and pay close attention to the details helps her champion her clients’ needs and identify new growth opportunities for them.