Summer, Solar, and an Iceberg of Excuses: Why I Don’t Have Rooftop Solar (and Why I'm Wrong)

June 22, 2015 | 8:00 am
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

I’ve got a confession to make: For all the talking I do about solar and the solar revolution underway, I haven’t thrown my hat in the solar ring. An iceberg-sized collection of excuses stands between me and Solardom, and my homeowner-ship is hesitant to steam past them. But here’s why my excuses might just be hogwash, and how that iceberg might just melt away under the summer sun.

Why no solar

My roof is woefully devoid of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. Hard to believe, I know, but basically all my roof does is keep rain and snow out of our attic and bedrooms—not an electron to be had.

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory Workers install PV modules on an Englewood, CO, home. Jobs are just one of the economic benefits that come from the increased investment in renewable energy spurred by state renewable electricity standards.

My excuses for not having solar might just not stand up to the light of day. Photo: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

And why is that? Try these excuses:

  • Sun and shade. My roof gets some great sun, but there are also a lot of tall trees around. Because of the way PV panels are put together, shade on a single cell can reduce the output of the whole panel. And when solar panels are connected in strings (in series), a single shade-hampered panel can bring down the performance of the whole string.
  • Orientation. Even when we were house-hunting, I was thinking about someday-solar, and carried a compass with me. (That’s what you get when you cross a Boy Scout with an engineer.) The house we fell for had so much going for it—just not quite its orientation. The best roof from a shade perspective faces west-southwest.
  • Money. This is a big one. Solar costs more than a few lattes.

And those are just the tip of my excuses iceberg. For a while, roof ownership was another excuse, when we were renting and living in a multi-family building.

But inertia is maybe the most powerful excuse. Stuff that’s not moving tends to stay put, and we humans tend to keep doing things the way we’ve always done them (like not having solar).

Why solar is in my future (saying no to status quo)

Iceberg near Greenland. Photo Credit Robert Kopp

Some icebergs are worth keeping; icebergs of excuses, not so much. Photo: Robert Kopp

But maybe, just maybe, now that summer is here, that iceberg of excuses would fall away under the light/heat of a sun-drenched day. Let’s see:

  • Shade troubles. Really? Experts with the right equipment can easily tell us how much sun we’d get throughout the year, but we’ve never actually gotten that fully checked out. And new technologies have radically changed rooftop solar’s relationship with shade, with microinverters and maximum power point trackers (MPPTs) allowing each solar panel to do what it can when it can, without worrying about the others.
  • South vs. west. West is the new south, sort of. It turns out that there are actually advantages to facing solar panels to the west. While a west-facing solar array produces less electricity overall, it gets more sun after noon, when the local electric system might need the extra help. California even provides extra incentives for west-facing systems. Those advantages are for the electricity grid as a whole, not for me as a home/system owner. But I’m a team player, a big-picture kind of guy… and someday electricity rates may just take into account that extra oomph my solar panels would be providing at a critical time.
  • Financials. The money piece isn’t insignificant, certainly, but it’s a whole lot less of a barrier than it was just a few short years ago. Solar prices have dropped an amazing amount in recent years, and have since dropped even more. And the other big piece of the affordability puzzle has been the rise of third-party financing options—leases, “power purchase agreements,” or system loans that can mean little or no money down. Plus even my little municipal utility offers homeowners financial help.

As for inertia… Maybe it’s useful for me to think of this as just another step in the trajectory we’ve been following to cut our carbon emissions. We’re not totally unsolared: we did put solar water heaters (which are more shade-tolerant) on the roof a few years back. And when you’re on the right path, inertia is actually your friend.

Getting panels on my roof

Workers installing solar panels on a Milwaukee residence

Revolution in progress. Photo: Midwest Renewable Energy Association

And now my wife is encouraging me to get quotes. I know a few companies I can try, based on friends’ recommendations, and various websites that can help me explore options (such as here or here).

It’s possible that one or more of the above excuses will keep solar off my roof, and then I’ll go with Plan B (stay tuned). But how will I know unless I try?

If you’ve already gone solar, feel free to tell us how you conquered your own personal excuses iceberg, and give us all a little inspirational nudge.

And check back with me in a little bit. Maybe, just maybe, that iceberg will have melted away.

There’s a revolution overhead, and I want in. ¡Viva!


Posted in: Energy

Tags: solar power

About the author

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John Rogers is energy campaign analytic lead at the Union of Concerned Scientists with expertise in clean energy technologies and policies and a focus on solar, wind, and natural gas. He co-managed the UCS-led Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a multi-year program aimed at raising awareness of the energy-water connection, particularly in the context of climate change, and motivating and informing effective low-carbon and low-water energy solutions.