How at-home solar is evolving: From ‘green’ to protecting from disaster

More customers shared they’re adding solar to their homes to help with catastrophic or weather-related issues.
Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 9:10 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 20, 2023 at 11:03 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Solar is making headlines across the Southeast. In mid-January, a $2.5 billion investment for solar energy was announced in Georgia, and following December’s TVA power blackouts, solar energy is turning heads – and changing a few minds.

“There will be some nights that I go past midnight without even touching the grid,” Rose Hale said

The Tennessee Valley has been slow to adopt residential solar, experts shared with WVLT News, compared to regions with more dependable sunshine.

“You have electricity on day by day, it’s going to save you a little bit of money,” Hale said

Hale is able to power her renovated hay barn with mostly solar. Her system from Solar Alliance runs fully on solar in warmer weeks. She only sends the power company a few bucks most months.

“Well, we all want to save money, but I wanted to be able to take care of myself if there was a catastrophic outage,” Hale said.

Hale lives in rural Knox County, but in the case of bad weather or something more cataclysmic, she likes having that peace of mind that solar brings her.

Dr. Charles Sims from the University of Tennessee said that might be one of the reasons people in rural areas adopt solar.

“We saw lots of interesting high willingness to pay in rural areas that I wasn’t expecting either,” Dr. Sims said.

Sims studied 3,000 people around the Tennessee Valley to learn what makes them tick – when their meter is ticking up.

What we found is that the biggest driver really is that upfront cost. So if that cost goes down ... that’s going to have a big impact on people’s adoption.

Dr. Sims found that, on average, folks around the valley were only willing to pay $500 for at-home solar, but after recent power outages, businesses won’t tolerate “blackout dates.”

“The thought that you may be without power for a day or two days, disrupting production, is a pretty big incentive,” Dr. Sims said.

That’s an incentive Hale was ready to pay for.

“It was peace of mind,” Hale said. “It was good to know that if something went down, I knew that the refrigerator would keep running.”

Solar for personal or residential usage means a big investment. Hale has 30 panels and a battery setup, which costs thousands. With that much money, you’ve got to do your research.

Do you rent? Experts from Solar Alliance said that renters don’t have rights to install solar panels. Some communities are coming on board with “community solar,” which somewhat lets you buy into solar panels, though not at your location.

Anne Brock from Solar Alliance said to make sure you know who you are hiring. “Save yourself headaches up front by being sure you can count on a reputable, licensed company that has good working relationships with your city, county and utility company. One great way of a understanding the level of your installer is to ask if they have any North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners® (NABCEP) employees. NABCEP is a solar certification that requires continuing education. To learn more, visit this link. You might ask your local utility if they have any knowledge of outstanding problems with companies you are interviewing.”