Solar Consumer Protection Reflections and Resource Selections
September 02, 2016 by Nate Hausman
The U.S. distributed solar market has grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade.  Over seventy- times the residential solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity was installed in the U.S. in 2015 (2,099 MW) as was installed in 2005 (27 MW).  While the significant opportunities for gainful enterprise in the residential PV economy signal solar market health, they have also brought consumer-focused issues to the fore. Policymakers, regulators, advocacy groups, and the solar industry are giving increasing attention to ensuring that consumers receive accurate information and ultimately have good experiences with solar energy installation. A number of new resources are intended to help further residential solar understanding.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has put forth a Solar Consumer Protection Resource webpage with various resources focused on improving consumer transparency, reducing transaction costs, and increasing the potential for asset securitization for solar customers. SEIA’s Solar Consumer Protection Resource webpage includes:
- A Consumer Guide to Solar Power, a short SEIA guide designed to inform potential solar customers about solar financing options and contracting terms.
- SEIA’s Solar Business Code, rules of conduct for all SEIA-member companies on advertising, marketing and consumer interactions, and contracts.
- An Information Alert on Telemarketing Rules, an overview of rules governing telemarketing and lead-generation activities for solar companies.
- A Solar Leasing Disclosure Statement and a Solar Power Purchase Agreement Disclosure Statement, voluntary forms produced by SEIA for solar third-party ownership providers to make it easier for customers to understand the terms of an agreement.
- Several resources developed by the Solar Access to Public Capital (SAPC) working group led by NREL that are geared toward solar third-party ownership providers, including Best Practices in PV Systems Installation, Best Practices in PV Systems Operations and Maintenance, and Sample Leases and Power Purchase Agreements.
In addition to SEIA’s consumer protection webpage, Consumer Reports has published several articles on residential solar PV:
- “Shedding Light on Solar Power” provides background information and advice to consumers on the residential solar industry.
- “The Real Cost of Leasing vs. Buying Solar Panels” describes some of the advantages to buying solar panels.
- “How to Install a Solar System and Not Get Burned” gives advice on what consumers should think about when buying solar panels, including home energy efficiency, Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), and knowing applicable utility policies around pricing solar power.
The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) has developed and published several clean energy protection tools designed to promote safeguards and protect the solar market. IREC’s consumer protection resources include:
- A Be Solar Smart Checklist, a list of questions and considerations to help consumers get the information they need to make informed decisions about installing solar.
- A Clean Energy Consumer Bill of Rights, a tool that outlines consumer issues and expectations for solar and other clean energy technologies.
- A list of solar consumer protection resources produced by various organizations.
In July 2016, the Federal Trade Commission conducted a full-day workshop on competition and consumer protection issues in solar energy. Video and PowerPoint slides from the workshop, titled “Something New Under the Sun,” are posted here.
Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) has produced a Homeowner's Guide to Solar Financing: Leases, Loans and PPAs to help consumers make sounds solar decisions and select the best financing option for their needs. In addition, CESA recently launched the Sustainable Solar Education Project, which provides information and educational resources to state and municipal officials on strategies to ensure that distributed solar electricity remains consumer friendly and benefits low- and moderate-income households. Through the project, CESA is publishing a free monthly e-newsletter with news and information related to solar consumer friendliness and equitability. Sign up to receive the Sustainable Solar Education Project newsletter here!
Ensuring that distributed solar PV remains consumer friendly is important to sustain the solar market’s upward trend. Increasingly, as highlighted in this blog, resources related to this topic are being published to better educate solar consumers.
*Nate Hausman is a Project Director for the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) where he primarily works on solar policy. Nate is an attorney licensed to practice law in California and Vermont. CESA is a national, nonprofit coalition of public agencies and organizations working together to advance clean energy. CESA is supporting the STAT Network’s efforts through outreach and promotion of the program’s technical assistance opportunities and collaboration with technical assistance delivery and program outputs.
 U.S. Solar Market Insight, Executive Summary, Q2 2016, GTM Research and Solar Energy Industries Association, http://www.seia.org/sites/default/files/k7bZk7JSHC2016Q2SMI.pdf.
 Annual Solar PV Capacity Installations in the U.S. Residential Sector from 2005 to 2015 (in Megawatts), Statista, http://www.statista.com/statistics/185694/us-residential-annual-pv-installed-capacity-since-2005/.