The Gray in Rooftop Solar

August 9, 2022


Sheila Oliva

As a former corporate communications professional in the energy industry, Sheila helped educate external audiences on the potential and value of current and future technologies for powering our planet. Today, she is a freelance writer and student still exploring how people can live in harmony with the planet we inhabit

Climate change and all the problems humans are and will be dealing with often feel like a future concern. Is that future getting closer? Yes. But these topics are typically framed as an issue our children will have to contend with, and, as this commercial illustrates, older generations don’t really care much about them. But for members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at NC State, who are adults aged 50+, solar energy and its impact on both their own quality of life and those that will be here after they are gone are most certainly of interest.

“It’s morally the right thing to do,” explained Ann Storm about her choice to install rooftop solar panels on her home in 2018. This feeling is echoed by most rooftop solar owners. According to Pew Research Center, “Homeowners point to a variety of reasons for considering solar panels. A large majority of homeowners who have already installed or have given serious thought to installing solar panels say they want to help the environment (87%).”

And despite the fact that older Americans are aware that they will no longer inhabit this big blue planet when the worst of climate change begins to impact humans, rooftop solar owners like Ann still feel it’s the right thing to do.

Of course, people’s homes are typically their largest wealth asset, and they do whatever they can to protect that investment and grow its value. So where does the economic side of solar panels come into play? 

For older solar panel owners, the calculations can be slightly different. For example, Steve Sakofsky, who built his house in 2016, has a son who encouraged him to add them to his home. Together they did the calculations and determined that Steve “could afford it.” They went shopping for a company through which to purchase and install panels. In that process, they learned that, at that time, there was a federal tax credit available as well as a credit from Duke Energy, making the panels more affordable.

While Steve says he’s only made about a third of his initial investment back, he is quick to point out that his electricity costs were fairly low before he had the solar panels installed. Overall, he estimates he saves about $500-600 a year. Expanding on that, Ann contends that some older Americans who install solar on their houses have the very real possibility of not recouping their initial investment. However, as a consolation, rooftop solar can help increase the overall value of a house when it is sold.

Importantly, neither Steve nor Ann noted any costs associated with maintaining their solar panels. “When it rains, the panels get washed,” said Steve. Ann mentioned that she should “probably have someone go up and inspect them every couple years,” although she has yet to do that. But neither has run into any issues with keeping their panels in good working condition, and Steve has an app on his phone that allows him to monitor solar energy production every minute of the day. 

“To me, the process is straightforward. [But] the advice I would give would be to talk to a lot of different [solar installation] contractors. Be careful about who you use. Whoever you select, talk to the customers of that company,” Steve said. The companyhe chose to work with contacts him occasionally to check in on him, which is reassuring in case there ever is an issue.

Of course, your home may not be standing alone without neighbors. If you live in an area with a homeowners association (HOA), though, it recently became easier to install panels on your roof. Ann did not face any concerns in the 55+ community where she lives, and Steve said that his neighborhood, which has 67 homes, has seen an increase in the number of solar panels being installed. While he was the first in his neighborhood to go solar, there are now 13 houses on board. 

In the end, like rooftop solar owners of other generations, older Americans typically emphasize the climate benefits of generating electricity using the power of the sun. As Ann puts it, “If you believe that climate change is real, you have to do as much as you can afford to help solve the problem.”