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 started Shelton Group's research department in 2000 and paved the way for us to become the insights-grounded creative agency we are today. After 17 years leading our research team, she recently moved to New Orleans, handing down the title of Vice President of Research & Insights, but remains an integral part of that team as she continues to oversee client projects and proprietary studies.

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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®.

Laila Waggoner

VP Client Engagement

Laila leads our client engagement process, overseeing activities from both a strategic and a tactical level to ensure our work generates desired results – and clients’ satisfaction. She brings 25+ years of marketing leadership experience to her client relationships, with particular expertise in the homebuilding and remodeling industries as well as member-driven organizations, such as the Vinyl Siding Institute and Plastics Pipe Institute. Before joining Shelton Group, she led strategic marketing teams for Owens Corning’s insulation business.

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.

Mike Beamer

VP Business Development

Mike joined our team to help provide strategic vision and foster our agency’s growth by overseeing new business leads and managing agency marketing and website content. He arrived in Knoxville steeped in energy efficiency and renewables – he previously led client service for an agency division in Boston dedicated to marketing communications strategy and branding for B2B and B2C clients in that space.