6 most common solar myths and misconceptions

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Does it seem like everyone in your neighborhood is suddenly popping solar panels on their roof? You may not be wrong. In the last decade, solar has been one of the most popular renewable energy sources, experiencing an average annual growth rate of 22%, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Meanwhile, solar installation costs have dropped by over 40% over the same period.

Despite the growing number of U.S. households going solar, some still have reservations about using it as an energy source. ConsumerAffairs surveyed 1,000 Americans about their use of residential solar power and their beliefs about the costs and benefits associated with solar panels.

Key insights

Many people want solar panels, but not everyone believes they can afford them. About 56% of people surveyed said they want solar panels, but more than half cited affordability as the main reason they haven’t invested in them.

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Solar panels are powerful, but they have some limitations. About 80% of people falsely believe solar panels alone can provide electricity during a power outage, while 71% think solar enables users to go off-grid no matter where they live.

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Most people don’t understand how the federal solar tax credit works. Nearly 3 in 4 Americans expressed confusion about subsidies for solar, saying they believe the government offers a 30% rebate on solar panels.

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The most common myths Americans believe about solar panels

Some false ideas live on despite our best efforts to debunk them. While myths about solar energy may not take on the legendary proportions of Bigfoot, many misconceptions about solar panels persist nationwide.

We surveyed 1,000 Americans to determine what the public already knows about solar panels and which facts about solar could benefit from further illumination. Even among the nearly half of respondents with solar panels who rated their knowledge of solar as “excellent,” we discovered wide gaps in understanding and many commonly held misconceptions about solar energy.

Most of the solar panel myths that cropped up in our survey fell into three categories. First and foremost, survey respondents seemed confused about the costs and tax credits associated with solar panels. Second, respondents had significant misunderstandings about how solar panels can be used for profit and as a means of living off the grid. Last, most respondents held beliefs about the benefits of solar panels that may not be based in reality.

Below we'll dive into each of the most common misconceptions, alongside information to set the record straight about the benefits and costs of residential solar.

Many Americans surveyed are confused about solar tax credits and subsidies

Americans seem to be getting mixed messages when it comes to how the government subsidizes solar energy purchases. Here’s what our survey respondents believed about government programs designed to support the adoption of residential solar versus how those federal and state subsidies actually work.

Myth #1: The federal government has a program offering free solar panels

More than two-thirds of survey respondents (67%) said they believe there is a program that provides free solar panels. However, this is simply not true. While homeowners can enter programs to reduce the cost of getting solar panels, government officials say any claims about getting these products for free are false.

“The Department of Energy is aware of claims of offers for free solar panels or that solar companies must provide solar panels for free if requested. However, the federal government does not offer any programs for free home solar panel installations nor does the government require companies to grant solar panels for free to customers,” the Department of Energy says.

This myth can be especially dangerous because it may put consumers at risk of being exploited by scammers. The Department of Energy clarifies that consumers should be wary of solar panel scams that ask, for instance, for your personal information in order to check your eligibility for free panels. You can learn more about solar panel leases and other cost-saving tips here.

Myth #2: The government offers a 30% rebate to offset the cost of solar panels

Is the federal government going to foot almost a third of the cost of outfitting your home with solar panels? Not quite, and this is where it pays to read the fine print.

Over three-quarters of our survey respondents (76%) said they believe the government offers a 30% rebate on solar panels. In truth, the Department of Energy provides a nonrefundable tax credit that could cover up to 30% of your purchase and installation costs. This means the federal solar tax credit could reduce your tax liability by up to 30% of your solar costs  — but it is not a rebate, and the credit can’t exceed what you owe in taxes.

Solar may not completely power homes or eliminate electricity bills

State-level programs and subsidies for solar panels vary, so consult the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) or visit your state’s website for clarification on local tax credits and available rebates.

Our survey findings show that many Americans have moved on from myths about whether solar is effective on cloudy days or is more eco-friendly than clean coal. However, responses indicate that consumers may need clarity about how solar panels work with other types of technology and energy sources to reduce their energy bills.

Myth #3: Solar panels alone can provide electricity during a power outage

More than 80% of respondents to our survey believed that when the lights go down during an outage, you can just bring solar panels online to power your home. Like most things, the reality is a little more complicated.

To enable solar panels to be your home’s electrical port in any storm, you’ll need to set up a complete residential solar system, including an inverter and a generator or backup battery. Once off-grid, you can use the solar inverter to convert the energy gathered from solar panels into an electrical output that can power your large battery or generator.

Having solar panels harnesses solar energy, but you’ll need a backup system to support switching to generator or battery power during a blackout and to keep electrical essentials running until the outage is resolved.

Myth #4: Solar panels eliminate electricity bills

Most of the people we surveyed (58%) thought that installing solar panels would eliminate their energy bills. In truth, putting up solar panels doesn’t mean that all your energy costs will be negated.

Installing solar panels can reduce your energy bills, but the cost savings depend on your energy consumption, the size of your solar panel system, the number of hours of direct sunlight you receive, local electricity rates, whether you participate in net metering and several other factors.

Getting solar panels may not make you money or give you independence

Solar panels are a hot commodity with significant benefits, but they have some limitations. In our survey, respondents tended to overestimate whether solar panels could generate additional revenue or power an off-grid lifestyle regardless of location.

Myth #5: Power companies will purchase the extra energy you produce, regardless of where you live

Two-thirds of survey respondents said they believe that they would be paid by their power company for any extra energy they produced beyond what they personally used. However, this isn’t always the case.

This practice of being compensated for generating energy for the grid is called net metering, but it’s not a benefit available to homeowners in every state. According to DSIRE, only 34 states (plus Washington, D.C.) have mandatory net metering rules that let homeowners sell energy to their power companies.

Myth #6: You can go off-grid with solar panels no matter where you live

About 73% of the people we surveyed thought solar energy enabled off-grid living regardless of location. While solar panels can power your dream of becoming more self-reliant and independent, some states prohibit disconnecting your home from the grid or make the process extremely difficult.

Off-grid living isn’t technically illegal, but unfriendly laws could make it challenging in states like Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Utah.

Bottom line

It’s clear that despite any doom-and-gloom forecasts, solar panels are here to stay. The U.S. hit a new record for solar installation capacity in 2023, according to the SEIA, far exceeding additions for wind, natural gas and coal.

Although a majority of Americans who participated in our survey say they’re eager to harness the potential of solar panels, 56% said the current cost is prohibitive. Others mentioned practical issues standing in the way, such as not owning a home or searching for the right company.

Several respondents also pointed out cosmetic barriers to installation, such as homeowners association rules or concerns about “ugly” solar panels. (Research suggests solar panels can increase a home’s value.)

Some respondents said they were still doing research; one woman in her late 30s in Texas said she was still weighing the pros and cons. Others said they weren’t sure where to start; a man in his early 40s in Ohio said he didn’t know how the process works.

As more homeowners consider solar panels to offset rising energy costs and contribute to environmental conservation efforts, our survey suggests it’s critical to address both the actual costs and the benefits of residential solar power while combating consumer misinformation and scams.

COMPARE: Best Solar Companies of 2024


We surveyed 1,000 Americans via Pollfish, asking 15 questions to assess their knowledge of or experience with solar panels. Most of the questions regarding common myths or misconceptions about solar panels or solar power were structured as true/false statements. Respondents were distributed across a range of ages, income and education levels. The survey has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

For questions about the data or if you'd like to set up an interview, please contact acurls@consumeraffairs.com.


  1. Solar Energy Industries Association, “Solar Market Insight Report 2023 Year in Review.” Accessed March 19, 2024.Link Here
  2. U.S. Department of Energy, “Free Solar Panels? Don’t Get Burned.” Accessed March 7, 2024.Link Here
  3. U.S. Department of Energy, “Homeowner’s Guide to the Federal Tax Credit for Solar Photovoltaics.” Accessed March 7, 2024.Link Here
  4. Solar Energy Industries Association, “What happens to solar panels when it’s cloudy or raining?” Accessed March 7, 2024.Link Here
  5. U.S. Department of Energy, “Solar Integration: Inverters and Grid Services Basics.” Accessed March 7, 2024.Link Here
  6. U.S. Department of Energy, “Benefits of Residential Solar Electricity.” Accessed March 7, 2024.Link Here
  7. DSIRE, “Net Metering.” Accessed March 7, 2024.Link Here
  8. IRS, “Residential Clean Energy Credit.” Accessed March 19, 2024.Link Here


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