Small Businesses Gingerly Approach Community Solar
Business people think that community solar is a great thing. That is, once they know it exists and what it is.
The Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA), in conjunction with the Shelton Group, recently conducted two research studies on the topic. One is focused on the attitudes of consumers (2001 participants) and the other on small businesses (252 participants).
The rationale for community solar appears to be strong. It enables a business or a home to integrate solar into their power profile without the need to actually deal with the technology. Along with the savings, the user gets a certain level of protection against a grid failure. A business also garners public relations benefits.
The research showed a receptive market at the small business level. When quizzed about leasing panels in a community solar project, 8.3 percent said they are very likely to do so and 37.5 percent said they are likely to. On the subscription front, 7.8 said they are very likely to participate and 27.5 percent said they are likely to do so.
The research, according to Shelton Group CEO Suzanne Shelton, suggests that small businesses become attracted to the idea once they are educated. “We found that most folks don’t know that there is a thing called community solar,” she said. “That is true of residential and commercial respondents.”
The good news – at least to community solar proponents – is that attitudes change quickly once the respondent is familiarized with the concept. Shelton said that 18 percent of respondents initially express interest in the concept. That portion jumps to 52 percent once information about the concept is provided.
Shelton said that commercial respondents liked the lease option. Executives under 44 years of age running companies with less than $10 million in revenue favored the idea of the utility being involved. That probably has something to do with the certainty and sense of security that such an arrangement brings.
However, executives who are 45 years or older and run companies with less than $5 billion in revenue opted for independence from the utility. Shelton suggested that these respondents may simply like the idea of not being tied to the utility. Both groups, she said, like the ideas of not having to maintain solar infrastructure, the potential for lower cost and the green nature of solar, which often is seen by customers and clients as a positive.
The survey old an interesting story about community solar. The bottom line seems to be that respondents were driven by a mix of image and functionality in their responses. About half of respondents said that zero-down payment options made it more likely that they would participate.
Half – actually, 51 percent – said that a higher visibility for the community solar project makes it more likely that they would opt in. Thirty-eight percent said that higher visibility would make it less likely. The survey also revealed that 47 percent of respondents would pay more to have higher visibility, while an almost equal portion – 44 percent – would trade visibility for reduced cost.
The survey found that organizations want recognition (81 percent; 47 percent with a window decal). Forty-five percent want a business arrangement featuring a reputable solar company backed by a utility; 34 percent want the utility itself to offer the services. Only 3 percent want the government to sponsor the program.
Community solar offer what may be considered a great way to garner the benefits of solar without the need to build the infrastructure, which for many small business is unattractive or impossible. There is another dimension to the issue. Solar is a high profile energy strategy. Depending on the type of business, ownership may seek to feature or de-emphasize its use. Shelton was optimistic –and realistic. “There are two keys: there is definitely a market for community solar,” she said. “It is not huge but it exists.”
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