Here’s a question about solar energy. “Think about the last time you bought a vacuum cleaner. Did a well-dressed man show up to your door mid-day and drag a heavy bag of equipment to display in your living room?” (Source)

That is how an op-ed started in Solar Power World Online. The op-ed was written by a solar industry person who argues that the solar sales model needs updating. The op-ed looks at home solar installations and utility-scale or community solar.

I found it interesting because the concept about change parallels some recent discussion in the South Carolina’s Public Service Commission. The hearing in South Carolina showed varied viewpoints of solar firms, utilities, and some solar customers. (The hearing video recording is labeled 3/25/2021 – Docket No. 2020-229-E at the SCETV website for anyone to see.) 

Back to the op-ed: “Until recently, the majority of [solar] sales involved a salesperson walking prospective customers through a full sales pitch, thus creating an entire subindustry and slowing the development of community solar. If community solar is really going to scale, we need to educate and empower consumers to break through the noise themselves and retire the door-to-door sales approach for good.”

In South Carolina hearings several older citizens testified about transactions they made for home solar power. One person said he and his wife, in their 80s, are one-and-a-half years into a 25-year solar panel lease. Another noted a 2017 solar panel installation and have not seen savings but are out good money after they pay utility costs and the solar lease.

South Carolina’s Office of Regulatory Staff has noted for some years about the care needed if considering a home solar contract. Check our blog from 2019. (Image, left)

The entire debate is useful to see in the light of various energy and economic woes in South Carolina. On one hand there is a desire to be open-market oriented. On the other is the need to ensure that citizens have transparency and financial safety in their energy decisions.

This shows the important role of the Public Service Commission and well-constructed Integrated Resource Plans (IRP) from all utilities. Electric service is part of a system, not millions of independent islands of energy. Products and services like distributed energy, home, and community solar are part of this.

Oversight is essential of energy providers and a good understanding of how utilities – all South Carolina utilities – integrate renewables in overall energy planning.

Much of the debate is to ensure that consumers, in the age of quickly changing energy technology, get reliability and affordability for their energy decisions.

The old term about consumerism is caveat emptor, buyer beware – the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of a purchase.

How hard core should that be? Would an on-your-own attitude exist if one of the folks who testified at the public service commission was one of your parents, or the parent of a regulator or policymaker? Kind of puts a different perspective on the issue.  Pay attention to this debate.