Solar Power Beauty: In the Eye of the Beholder


Solar panels elicit varied reactions, whether they’re on the roof of a home or in a large solar farm. As solar becomes more common, complaints about solar installations being eyesores are bound to decrease.


They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When I see solar panels, wherever they might be, I can’t help seeing a thing of beauty. It makes me happy to see clean, affordable power being generated from the sun. Others who work in solar likely feel as I do.

But not everyone shares that view. And for many, the view they are seeing is not one they’re happy with.


This hasn’t been an issue till recently. Until the last few years, solar panels remained a rare sight. But now that they’re popping up in all kinds of places, they’re getting more attention. And their appearance can be a contentious subject.


Solar as an eyesore


The older, more rural, or more well-off an area, the likelier we are to hear stories of complaints about solar. Reactions range from the rather dramatic — “gasps” about “hideous” panels that “take on a life of their own” — to the more reasoned, such as a request “to site solar projects in locations that do not disturb the aesthetics of the local landscape.” Concerns vary from the aesthetic to the economic; any homeowner is naturally going to be concerned about their property value.


It’s not surprising that residents of historic districts would be concerned about preserving the nature of their surroundings. In those cases, people wanting to install solar can often find a way to mitigate potential objections. For example, they may be able to install the panels on a part of their roof that can’t be viewed from the street, or on another part of their property.


In other areas, some homeowners are covering their roof with solar shingles, which blend in more than panels. They’re still not that widely available, and they’re not the cheapest form of solar. While that will change with time, and other types of solar may eventually come on the market, for now most people are sticking to traditional solar panels.


With more people subject to the rules of homeowners associations (HOAs), those traditional solar panels can be a problem. Some battles have taken place over the issue, prompting some states to pass laws protecting homeowners from HOA restrictions on solar.


Even if a law allows it, though, as a homeowner installing solar, you may not escape the wrath of your neighbors. Municipalities and businesses can run into the same issue.


Mitigating the complaints


So, what to do about the “eyesore” issue?


A common refrain from panel-opposers is, “We’re not against solar power, but …” And there’s a clue. A recent national poll showed that a large majority of American homeowners support solar. Polls in various states have come up with the same results.


If that’s true, the question remains whether people support solar as long as they can’t see it — at which point it becomes a NIMBY issue. But sometimes, people just want to have a say. One of the biggest complaints heard about solar popping up unexpectedly is that people had no control over what was happening around them.


Some other complaints result from a lack of knowledge. Concerns about property values going down may simply not be accurate, given how solar can increase a home’s value. An increase to the value of one home can only benefit the rest of the neighborhood.


As with most issues, the best thing to do is to communicate. If you’re installing panels in a public place, at least notify the residents in advance. Go so far as to get their input if that’s feasible. If you can, educate your neighbors about both the environmental and the economic benefits of solar.


The case may be easier to make for panels on a home’s roof than for large solar farms. In those situations, siting is important. More developers are turning to landfills and other already compromised land for solar installations.


Solar as a status symbol


Whether it’s residential rooftop solar or a solar farm, solar is still relatively new to most people. There’s always resistance to change. Solar has experienced tremendous growth in the U.S., and this is just the beginning of things to come. As people get more accustomed to seeing solar panels around them, we hope they will shift from thinking of it as an eyesore to seeing it as a status symbol. Who knows — maybe someday, instead of fighting solar installations, people will be competing to see who can install the most.