Bet On Solar, Beat The Market

Solar panels can be a safer investment than Wall Street, according to a cool new North Carolina State University study. And the companies that make solar panels aren’t too shabby either.

“In 46 of America’s 50 largest cities, a fully-financed, typically-sized solar PV system is a better investment than the stock market,” begins NC Clean Energy Technology Center’s report Going Solar in America (PDF), backed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative. “In 42 of these cities, the same system already costs less than energy from a residential customer’s local utility.”

Nine million single-family homeowners already live in a U.S. city where they can immediately buy a home solar system outright to start beating down utility rates. That impressive number swells to 20 million if low-cost financing is within reach, which it is more than ever. SolarCity’s MyPower program, a PPA analogue where residents own their panels, just landed $200 million from Credit Suisse, which sits nicely atop the $170 million in solar projects they financed in 2013.

Meanwhile, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and other institutional investors have also recently upgraded American PV powerhouses like First Solar and SunPower, despite both losing over 20-40 percent of their value since oil started to decouple from the American economy. That’s because “there is no real relationship between oil and solar,” Citi analyst Shar Pourreza recently told MSNBC.

The recent decline in solar share prices are propelled by investment sentiment, meaning like everyone else the sunshine industry has to take its lumps as cratering oil stocks bring haircuts to all. But like solar adoption itself, solar stocks are light years above where they were years ago; homeowners back then who bought SunPower panels for their roofs and $8 shares for their portfolios are looking like geniuses. But it’s all prologue, because solar adoption and investment sentiment, despite market haircuts, show no real signs of slowing down.

Enter, NC State’s bell-ringing study. “There is a clear information gap, and with this report, we intend to open the eyes of average homeowners,” it promised.

It doesn’t take more than 25 pages to do so. Using a 30-point scale to rank major American cities ability to provide immediate savings, “levelized cost” compared to the local utility, and investment value relative to the S&P 500, NCCETC quickly found that New York, Boston, Albuquerque, San Jose and Las Vegas were the top five cities to beat Wall Street by going solar. Increase that list to 10 and you get four more California cities — Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland and San Francisco — which more or less tells you the best U.S. state to live in as well. Handy infographics and explainers on PV incentives by city, first-year monthly savings and soft costs round out NCCETC’s study, with advice for both local governments and utilities on what to do about it all.

It’s no surprise that NCCETC suggests everyone does much more of what has been working just fine so far — policy support like Investment Tax Credits, private sector innovations like net metering, solarizing every school and business in sight. But its short study is greatest when its scope is widest: Solar panels are not just cleantech must-haves for global warming’s catastrophic blowback, they are robust investments, on homeowners’ roofs and in their portfolios, that can pretty much beat anything Wall Street is cooking up.

And until Wall Street fully unplugs from fossil fuels, that includes the Earth itself.

This article appeared at Solar Energy