Commercial solar energy systems aren’t for everyone. So in this episode of the SunPower Business Broadcast, Andrew Head provides us with the top reasons organizations decide to go solar—as well as some of the reasons they don’t.
Listen and learn about the advantages and disadvantages of solar energy so you can determine if commercial solar power is right for your business.
Jeff Allen: Hello, and welcome to the SunPower Business Broadcast. I’m Jeff Allen. The decision on whether or not to invest in commercial solar certainly doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it can take many organizations several months or even years to get to that point. So we thought it would be helpful for you, our listeners, if we distilled down a few of the primary advantages and disadvantages of solar so those starting out along this journey can get a general idea of where commercial solar does and does not make sense. And to do that, we’re going to speak with Andrew Head. Andrew has had several roles at SunPower and, over the years, has acquired a wealth of solar knowledge, a portion of which he’s graciously agreed to share with us on this edition of the SunPower Business Broadcast. Andrew Head, welcome back to the program. It’s nice to have you.
Andrew Head: Thanks for having me, Jeff.
Jeff Allen: Let’s go ahead and let’s start to break it down here. We’re going to talk about advantages and disadvantages and we’re going to limit you, I think, Andrew, to three of each. You could give us hundreds of reasons for solar or reasons that we may consider against solar but we’re going to just talk about three advantages and three disadvantages. So let’s start with the good news, the good stuff here, as it were. There are some obvious advantages that really make solar energy very attractive and the one that jumps to my mind is the positive impact it has on the environment. This may be the one that most people may read about, for example. It’s a clean renewable energy source that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels and all those things that come along with those. Not to make light of that very important benefit but our listening audience is comprised of professionals in public and private organizations and they’re going to need reasons beyond that—that the fact is that solar really is in fact good for our planet. So with all of that as a backdrop, what can you share with us based on your experience? What are the top three advantages of commercial solar?
Andrew Head: The top advantage for going solar is that solar can save you money. It can drastically reduce your electric bills; even in some cases, eliminate them altogether. And depending on where you’re located, you may receive credits for the power that you produce, which goes back to your utility, and you can use those credits to offset your bill from other times when your system is not providing power.
Jeff Allen: So right off the bat there, you’re talking about money. Now that’s everybody’s, I think, top reason for really making any decisions, when you get right down to it. They’re looking for value. They’re looking for value for the dollar. What about another advantage—advantage number two, if we could rank them? What would the second one be?
Andrew Head: Everybody loves a sustainability leader. We talked about the financial decision but it’s also an environmental decision and a grand decision. At the end of the day, businesses need to make decisions that are good for themselves, good for their employees, and good for their customers. Customers and employees really like to hear about the efforts of companies to go green.
Jeff Allen: Really, too, when you think about it, it’s a positive stroke in terms of PR, isn’t it? Or it could be, in terms of positive public relations for a company.
Andrew Head: Absolutely. That’s a leading reason for many companies to choose to go solar. Beyond the economics of it, it really does help to build brand recognition when people hear that a company is interested in sustainability.
Jeff Allen: What could you tell us would be a third very important advantage for considering when it comes to changing to solar?
Andrew Head: Solar is reliable and easy to maintain. Solar panels are an extremely reliable source of energy that can power your business for 25 years or more. It’s really important to keep in mind that not all solar panels are created equal in terms of their reliability and efficiency. When you do get a quote from a solar partner, you’ll want to evaluate all of your options and make sure that you get the maximum dependability for your system.
Jeff Allen: What you’re saying, I think, Andrew, from what I can hear, is that a solar system is not one that relies on frequent maintenance from an electrician, someone on a technical staff, to come on by and ensure that it’s being properly maintained; but it’s one, in fact, that is much easier to maintain in terms of its operation than what we may be currently used to or using at the present time.
Andrew Head: Solar systems require very little maintenance. Beyond perhaps a yearly cleaning, there is very little maintenance and they are comparatively very easy to maintain.
Jeff Allen: Now, we can’t really talk about the advantages without also discussing some possible disadvantages and maybe some that people may have already kind of learned on their own, or questions that have already come up in the minds of our listeners in the past. Let’s talk about the top three disadvantages, Andrew, that you’re aware of that you know that business customers and purchasers of solar—or those certainly who have considered it—have probably thought of in the past.
Andrew Head: Absolutely. The top disadvantage would be the cost of going solar can be quite high. If you purchase a system, the initial capital investment can be more than people would like to spend. Now, today there are other financing options including leases and power purchasing agreements which can make the investment have immediate returns and, even so, you want to make sure that this is a long term investment.
Jeff Allen: I think whenever you’re talking about spending a lot of money and particularly in upfront costs, you are taking in making that payment with the thought that this is going to be for the long term. As you just kind of pointed out there, solar power is a long term investment and really those upfront costs end up paying for themselves in the relatively short future. Now, that does, in fact, beg the second question. We want to know about another disadvantage. We just talked about long term kind of commitment or investment. Could that in itself—that long term commitment—in fact, be its own disadvantage?
Andrew Head: It could indeed be. I talk to customers every day who have shorter leases and who are not quite sure where they’ll be in the long term. We are here to make a long term decision which often has no upfront costs but it is still a long term investment in your business so we want to make sure that people have all the information they need to make the best decision.
Jeff Allen: We’ve come to that third disadvantage here and I think everybody’s kind of looking forward to hearing about that. We’ve talked about upfront costs being high; long term commitments. What is another consideration that a lot of people have probably given some thought to and maybe some in our listening audience have even thought about too that it seems to be very popular from what you’ve heard?
Andrew Head: The third disadvantage would be that your location may limit your benefits for adding solar. So someone in one location may save more than a person in another location simply because it depends on the amount of exposure the panels get to the sun in addition to the actual building or area’s footprint. Certain locations also have incentives and local regulations which allow for solar to be a better long term investment.
Jeff Allen: It seems that this is one of those types of subjects where you can say, “Okay, here are the advantages and here are some disadvantages” but when you take a look at those both, side by side, it does appear that if you do have that long term commitment and you’re willing to make that sometimes high upfront cost, really depending on where you are and what your needs are, that the advantages can, over time, start to outweigh and even outnumber the disadvantages, over time, provided you make that commitment and understand that a purchase of a solar system is really an investment toward long term sustainability and more affordable power.
Andrew Head: Absolutely. An investment in solar is really about taking control of your energy costs and it really allows you to plan for the future and make business decisions which are thoughtful and considerate because solar is going to produce the amount of energy that we say it will. That’s why you want to work with a reputable solar partner to make sure that they are providing those advantages to you and making sure that they give you all the information that you need.
Jeff Allen: Andrew, I thank you so much for your time. I know that this has been very helpful for our listeners. Although I’m sure you’d love it if every business installed SunPower Solar, we appreciate your willingness to talk about some of the reasons why solar might not be a good match for some organizations, at least not at this point in time.
Andrew Head: Thank you, Jeff.
Jeff Allen: Andrew, again, thank you so much. That’s Andrew Head. For more information on sustainability and renewable energy and the solar industry, visit the SunPower business feed at BusinessFeed.SunPower.com. I’m Jeff Allen. Until next time, we invite you to join us in helping to change the way our world is powered. So long for now.