What Are the Real Reasons Behind Low Adoption of Commercial Solar?

Solar Parking Structure, Fremont, CA

Solar Parking Structure, Fremont, CA

When I talk to sustainability managers at medium-sized businesses about whether they plan to install solar photovoltaics for their building, many say they don’t own the building so they can’t. This raises an interesting question for those of us who want to see widespread adoption of net zero energy buildings with solar photovoltaics. After all, we will not reach California’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050 without solar panels on every possible rooftop or parking canopy.

From a Community-Based Social Marketing perspective, identifying the root cause barriers to commercial solar adoption allows development of effective solutions. We need to dig deeper into the reasons why so few medium-sized businesses have solar panels when the prices have fallen precipitously and financing options are plentiful.

Concerns Voiced

When trying to figure out the root cause barriers to commercial solar adoption, look beyond the many medium-sized businesses that rent their office, warehouse or factory space. Management of the building is often in other hands: the commercial property owner and property manager.

The non-profit Clean Coalition has done a great job laying out the perceived barriers and solutions to commercial solar in their Solar Solutions Guide. The most common concerns commercial property owners and property managers have about solar include:

1.      Initial cost (if purchased up front)

2.      Lien on property (if financed through property taxes)

3.      Rooftop integrity (risk of rainwater leakage)

4.      Return on investment relative to normal business operations

5.      Outside core business area (described as a "complicated distraction")

6.      Reliability of system (workmanship, project management)

7.      Wanting to wait because solar technology efficiency and cost are constantly improving

8.      Effort to gain permits and approvals


According to some commercial property owners I’ve talked to, if their tenants asked for solar, they would do it. From the tenant’s perspective, if they are interested in seeing their building have solar, they should express interest with their landlord. In terms of the property owner’s perspective, their concerns have been addressed by others in these ways.

·        Financing - Choose the financing method that best meets your needs (solar leasing, finance through property taxes, or bank financing if buying the system)

·        Solar installer – Choose a solar developer and installer with a long track record of successful project development

·        Turnkey solutions – A solar developer can act as sole liable party for insurance, repair and replacement of roof, and can take care of permitting, paperwork, rebates and fees