dreamstime_1000The outlook is sunny. The facts are clear. But still, consumers can be left in the dark.

Earlier this year, the U.S. hit a significant solar milestone: one million individual solar installations on homes and businesses. Last year, the solar industry created jobs at a rate 12-times higher than the overall economy.

While impressive, energy consumers in many regions of the country don’t need to read these statistics to be convinced of a solar boom. They see the signs (figuratively and literally) first hand – from solar lawn signs and “sign up for free solar” pamphlets, to solar sales kiosks in retail stores and “solarize” booths at the farmers market. And those dinnertime marketing calls, or worse, robo calls.

Clearly, the staggering growth in residential solar and the robust marketplace that now surrounds it are reasons to celebrate.

In the evolution of any rapidly growing industry, however, there is a point at which it is necessary to step back and take a rearview mirror approach to examine what is missing. To its credit, the solar industry, through the Solar Energy Industry Association, has begun to do that. They have launched a Solar Business Code for their members, and have set up a Complaint Resolution Process, and other resources.

The question remains: what’s missing? We believe it’s time to help consumers through the maze of complex information and marketplace choices. Call it consumer awareness or consumer protection. It does not necessarily imply wrongdoing. It is simply time.

The need now is to clear up the confusion for consumers – to put plain language explanations from an independent source directly in their hands to help make a complicated process simpler, fair and transparent.

Consumers need to have a clear understanding of all of the facts before investing in solar or other technologies; they must have realistic expectations; and the results of their investment must match their vision.

For consumers who are sold on solar, we need to make them Solar Smart. We need to encourage them to know the questions to ask and where to get clear answers – so they can sign for solar with confidence.

Three new resources are available to begin to move consumer protection efforts in this direction, available at the IREC website.

A “Be Solar Smart Checklist” offers questions, considerations and protective measures to help consumers get the answers they need to make informed decisions, before entering into a contract to install a solar system.

IREC’s Clean Energy Consumer Bill of Rights addresses important consumer issues, including safety, contractual transparency, warranties, advertising, privacy and other protective measures. It enables a positive consumer experience, covering relationships with utilities, third-party providers and sellers, access to the utility grid, and access to electricity consumption data. A resource page links to other useful information available from other organizations.

Realtors, lenders, contractors and others can now have this information at their fingertips to help consumers understand the questions and answers that surround solar installations.

Let’s put the right tools into the hands of realtors and other professionals who can help consumers see beyond the impressive technology, to ensure quality workmanship, fair, transparent agreements and protection of their investment.

Let’s clear the confusion. Let’s empower renewable energy customers for a positive experience that leads to greater consumer confidence. #BeSolarSmart!