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Are Solar Panels too Ugly for Our Neighbourhoods?

The popularity of solar panels has increased year after year, with more people than ever choosing to power their homes with these devices. They provide an excellent way to reduce our reliance on unsustainably sourced electricity, as they use only the sun to generate power.

Solar panels sound great then, right? Well, despite their benefits, some people aren’t fans! It’s often not what they do that’s the problem though – it’s what they look like.

At The Eco Experts, we’re obsessed with all things solar, so we want to get to the bottom of the aesthetics debate surrounding solar panels. Are they too ugly for our neighbourhoods? Do their benefits outweigh their supposed eyesore status? Find out here.

View of a rural area with solar panels installed on the ground,

Why are solar panels so divisive?

The way many neighbourhoods look has changed over the decades, and some councils have recognised this. Many have made efforts to stop these changes, including stopping people adding solar panels to their homes.

As such, there is an increasing importance placed on how a neighbourhood presents itself. Maintaining the ‘character’ of a neighbourhood has become a bit of a noble cause for certain people and groups.

Sometimes this means no zany paint jobs – it might be frowned upon to paint your house lime green when every other house is cream. Or, adding an extension that isn’t in keeping with the surrounding houses. Solar panels are viewed by some councils in much the same way.

Let’s say your neighbourhood has strict rules regarding how a home should look. Every house might have traditional slate tiles on the roof, or they might be period properties (Edwardian, for example). Putting solar panels on a roof in a neighbourhood like this might (in the eyes of some) ruin cohesion between properties.

It’s not always clear though, with strange exceptions to the rules and outright unfairness sometimes springing up in solar panel disputes. Regardless of the benefits of solar panels, some people just can’t square with the impact they have on a property's aesthetics.

Who dislikes solar panels the most?

We did a study on this quite recently, asking a group of 112 people what they thought about the look of solar panels on a property. Although the results were obviously not conclusive, it was interesting to see such a clear divide between age brackets, with the majority of older people (ages 57-72) saying they thought solar panels were unattractive.

Younger people, who are generally more ‘eco conscious’, overwhelmingly voted either ‘attractive’ (50% of voters) or ‘acceptable’ (37.5%), with only 12.5% choosing ‘not attractive’ in the survey.

Regardless of the differences of opinion between different age groups, we have to give a special shout out to the ‘not-in-my-backyard’ types. You know the ones, the people who on paper might support something like solar panels, just as long as it’s not in their neighbourhood.

These subscribers to ‘nimbyism’ (from the acronym NIMBY, or, not in my backyard) prefer to reject anything that might impact the sanctity of their neighbourhood and unfortunately, solar panels are no different. For the so-called ‘nimbys’, solar panels are eyesores. Many people still believe that ‘ugly’ solar panels reduce the value of a home (and by extension, the neighbourhood).

We actually investigated this last year, and it seems that solar panels don’t reduce the value of a property. In fact, as you’ll see, solar panels often add value to a home!

However, as part of our annual National Home Energy Survey, we asked over 1,000 respondents whether they would buy a house with solar panels already installed, and found that 65% said yes. Overall, millennials seemed less sceptical of solar panels, with almost 20% claiming that they have plans to buy some in the next year.

Solar panel disputes from around the world

There’s no two ways about it, solar panel disputes are an ongoing issue around the world. It’s definitely more of a thing in the West though, as is clear from the stream of news articles on the subject.

Everywhere you look you’ll find solar panel disputes, like this example from Lincolnshire. After a single complaint from a neighbour, a household was told they had to remove the solar panels they’d only installed recently.

It’s articles like this that make it clear councils need to get a grip on where they stand in the solar panel debate. If they’re committed to reducing carbon emissions and getting the UK to net zero emissions, then minor complaints like the above shouldn’t cause a knee-jerk reaction.

Elsewhere in America, there are examples of homeowner’s associations (HOAs) trying to prevent homeowners from installing solar panels, even when there are no official rules against them. Sometimes, solar panel disputes become vicious spats between neighbours, which is perhaps a metaphor for how we as a species are currently dealing with the climate crisis.

There’s plenty being said about the aesthetic impact of solar panels on rural landscapes, too. Whilst not directly connected to neighbourhoods, some people might take offence at the sight of a once-clear field or meadow being converted into a solar farm.

Objection to solar farms isn’t as high as you might think though! A recent study shows that only a quarter of those living closest to solar farms actually object to them.

Tesla solar panels

Is beautiful design the solution?

Beautiful design for solar panels is important to many homeowners who are looking to adopt solar technology but can’t, either because of regulations or just the social pressure from reluctant neighbours.

With beautiful design, solar panels can become much less conspicuous, and some varieties are able to blend into a property’s aesthetic seamlessly. Perhaps the best example of this is photovoltaic (PV) slates. They’re designed to look as close to authentic slate tiles as possible, and are almost indistinguishable from the real thing (especially at the distance your neighbours are likely to be looking from).

PV slates can either entirely replace a normal mounted solar panel system, or be placed on the side of the roof (perhaps where they’ll be subjected to the most scrutiny). Generally though, people prefer to replace the entire roof with PV slate, for maximum visual consistency.

With a PV slate roof, you’ll typically be blending the PV slates with so-called dummy tiles, which don’t generate any electricity. Although, if this combination doesn’t provide enough power, you can use PV slates for all of the tiles.

The main downside to PV slates though, is they’re often four to five times more expensive than ordinary mounted solar panels. This is down to increased installation costs (as the entire roof will need to be replaced) and the fact that PV slates aren’t very common right now.

Thankfully though, they can be installed by anyone with experience installing normal slate roofs (they’re also lighter than normal tiles, so you don’t need to worry about roof strengthening).

Big-hitting companies like Tesla have actually entered the PV slate game, using the term ‘solar roofs’. Hopefully, with a name like Tesla behind this initiative, more people will consider these discrete solar installations.

 

Black monocrystalline panels

Another option for discreet solar panels are black monocrystalline panels, which are definitely less obvious than the blue solar panels most people are familiar with. This is because they use monocrystalline, which means the panels are made from singular silicon crystals.

The blue colour in older solar panels comes from the polycrystalline silicon used to make them. Polycrystalline silicon is created by melting multiple silicon crystals together, with the finished effect giving the solar panels a blue colour.

It’s this blue colour that has traditionally put many people off solar panels, as the distinctive blue often stands out against most roofs. Black solar panels, on the other hand, are much more likely to blend in with the rest of the roof. They also often do away with the distinctive silver frames in favour of black frames, which makes them appear even less distinctive.

There are some disadvantages to black solar panels though, such as the fact that they absorb more heat. Because solar panels actually operate more efficiently at lower temperatures, this is a potential problem. Thankfully though, the single silicon crystals used in black solar panels are more efficient than polycrystalline panels.

The other downside is that black solar panels are currently more expensive than ordinary panels. But if you want the most efficient solar panels on the market, there simply isn’t a better option.

Summary

With constant innovations in the way solar panels look, it’s only a matter of time before any lingering doubts about their appearance disappear. Even so, the benefits solar panels bring to becoming more sustainable outweigh aesthetic concerns. At least in our opinion, anyway!

Tom Gill Writer

Tom is a big fan of all things eco and has a passionate interest in how technology and localised projects can work together to make the world greener.

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