On solar

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It's 8:35 in the morning. The first session of the second day has begun, and the fellow from SEBANE, the Solar Energy Business Association of New England, is telling the gathering crowd some not-so-interesting market and industry perspectives. I'm sure it will get better, or I will have some time to write.

To start, he asked the crowd to show hands on questions about why they are here, and a large number appeared to be homeowners (as opposed to installers) committed to, but early in the process of, installing photovoltaics and/or solar hot water systems.

Another show of hands tried to determine what motivates these people to buy, and none of the choices seemed overwhelmingly more popular than the others: Statement of principle, a desire for energy independence, to save money (eventually), and the one I missed. (Oops. You try writing and listening at the same time.)

Based on observations from yesterday, I'm surprised that this gathering is so heavily weighted toward homeowners. One exhibitor on the show floor told me that they're not interested in selling to the residential market because there's so much more money to be made, per unit of time spent, in commercial and industrial.

Another one said they "cut their teeth" on residential, but have moved away from it, for two reasons: Far greater subsidies are available for commercial buyers than for homes, and businesses can depreciate their investments over five years, while homeowners have no equivalent option.

For a story not yet published in the Globe, I learned that a similar situation applies in wind. The homeowner I wrote about got a grant from the Mass. Technology Collaborative (the prime sponsor of this show, btw), but the nursery owner across the street who is endeavoring to install his third turbine is eligible for a USDA grant in addition.

I don't know if this is a general condition, or just the result of bad, simplistic anecdotal generalizing, but perhaps there is a disconnect in the market: home buyers and commercial sellers.


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