Mei Chin got curious about solar power when she moved from New York City to Denver. The former chef, now caring for her kids, thought rooftop panels could be perfect for her sunny new climate. As she explored the idea online, Instagram flooded her feed with ads promising “free” solar deals, including Tesla Powerwalls, through supposed government programs. Skeptical, she checked with Solar United Neighbors, finding a realistic cost of around $14,000.
The simple truth: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, according to Mike Kruger, the head of the Colorado Solar and Storage Association. Phony social media promotions, created mainly by lead generation companies, promise zero-cost solar while aiming to harvest user data. Kruger, critical of these practices, notes that home solar usually costs between $15,000 and $20,000 in Colorado.
The misleading ads often lead users to surveys seeking contact information. These lists are then sold to contractors, not for solar sales, but for potential customer targeting. Although Kruger condemns the practice, attempts to stop it have been futile.
Kruger urges people to scroll past deceptive ads and opt for more reliable methods. He advises talking to neighbors and getting at least three quotes from local installers.
While some ads exaggerate real trends like increased support for residential solar, government incentives have limits. The federal solar tax credit, for instance, only covers 30 percent of the system cost, with conditions. Net metering, another benefit, provides credits for excess electricity but doesn’t erase energy costs.
The U.S. Department of Energy and the Federal Trade Commission have warned against misleading solar ads. Some states, like Nevada, have taken legislative action requiring marketers to hold a contractor’s license.