It never ceases to amaze me that even well-educated, well-informed people who care about clean energy have no idea how affordable solar has become. Or that different financing options are available. Maybe this has all happened too fast for the word to get out to the general public.

But Americans love solar.

Both these truths have been the consistent findings of a number of recent polls. And both were borne out in a recent survey conducted by Mosaic, the first company to offer investments online in solar projects. Mosaic recently began offering a residential solar loan, and they set about finding out how homeowners feel about that and other financing options, and about solar overall.

They reached out to 1000 California homeowners who volunteered to participate in the survey, so it’s a self-selected bunch. But the results are telling.

Homeowners still love solar

One of the most interesting questions posed in the survey was the first, worded simply, “Solar: What first comes to mind?” Almost equal numbers said it’s expensive (17%) and that it saves money (16%), with an equal-sized group remaining skeptical (16%). The most educated respondents were the most skeptical, the least educated the most enthusiastic.

When asked what was most appealing and least appealing about solar, most cited cost -- yes, for both questions.

 

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What is most appealing to you about solar?

 

And while homeowners were unsure if solar would increase their property value, they did think solar would make it easier to sell their home.

The upshot? Homeowners think solar is a great idea, yet they’re mixed when it comes to cost awareness. And while people care about the environment, cost always tops the list of deciding factors.

So far, these are pretty standard results. But with solar loans being relatively new, we haven’t seen a lot of stats on how people feel about them. The rest of the survey dug into that.

Homeowners would rather own than lease -- for the most part.

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The findings were clear: All else being equal, homeowners prefer owning their solar system to leasing. The margin for this was significant, at over 2 to 1: 62% said they’d rather own and 26% lease, with the rest being neutral on the matter.

Reasons varied widely for this preference, but they can be summed up like this: 

  • People want to own their system, just like they own their home -- this was skewed 65% toward women respondents.

  • People think owning their system rather than leasing will make it easier to sell their house. Whether this is true may not be clear yet even to those in the industry, and is something we need to get more data on.

  • People feel that owning brings more freedom and greater financial benefits.

Those who preferred the leasing option gave these main reasons: 

  • They didn’t want to deal with maintenance or outdated technology.

  • They planned to move soon and thought they wouldn’t get the financial benefits if they bought.

When asked to compare a few loan and leasing options in more detail, 40% of respondents indicated they would not go solar today. To get into why, we need to go back to what homeowners said was least appealing about solar: the perceived upfront cost, the perceived ugliness of panels on their roof, and the perceived hassle, sometimes coupled with lack of trust for solar companies.

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Among the other 60% of respondents, those who would go solar, there was a preference for the loan option with a shorter term and greater 25-year total savings, though it came with lower first-month savings.

Educating homeowners about solar

What does all this tell us?

First, that residential solar is complicated, and each person’s situation is different. Factors like age, education, and whether someone plans to move soon are bound to affect which solar financing option they pick. Leases are not going away anytime soon, but as we've been saying, solar loans could also get big.

Second, I think we can say that when people are informed, they will pick an option that makes the most financial sense in the long run. That was the case when people were given details about loan terms. A significant portion still said they’d lease -- and that was also based on the information they had, or that they thought they had.

Which brings us to the third, and most important point. When it comes to residential solar, people are still relying heavily on their perceptions. And we’ve seen how off those can be, especially given how much the solar landscape has been changing.

That’s something we need to change. A key imperative for the solar industry has to be educating the public. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has made a good start at this with their America Supports Solar campaign. Now we need to keep the momentum going and ensure Americans know that they can save money with solar. After all, that’s what people ultimately care about.

Originally published on PV Solar Report