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Survey casts shadow on solar power critics

Owners of solar heating systems appear quite happy with them. This is the finding of the largest mail survey of solar homeowners ever conducted. the Solar Energy Research Institute recently released the results of a nationwide survey taken last year.

Eighty-nine percent of the homeowners who responded said they were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with their solar hardware.

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Although caution must be taken in generalizing from these results to the experiences of all US solar power equipment owners, the survey tends to weaken arguments of critics of solar energy devices. The various problems that critics emphasize -- poor design and construction, improper installation, and lack of warranty coverage -- occur infrequently, according to the survey.

Of the 3,800 surveyed, the vast majority (81 percent) utilized solar collectors to heat water and 26 percent opted for passive solar designs that employ windows facing the sun, attached greenhouses, and other methods of solar heating that do not have moving parts.

One-third of the owners of active solar systems, such as water heaters, report they have never had any problems with their systems. Forty-five percent said they had had minor difficulties that had been solved. By contrast, only 3 percent reported chronic problems.

Passive solar systems also fares well. Forty-three percent describe their systems as "excellent" (no problems) and 32 percent "very good" (minor problems that were solved). Only 1 percent reported chronic problems.

Solar homeowners report reductions in their monthly utility bills as a result of their investment. Ten percent report savings of 40 to 50 percent. Fifteen percent say they save 30 to 40 percent. Nineteen percent report 20 to 30 percent savings. and 17 percent peg their monthly savings at 10 to 20 percent. these figures correspond closely to the amount of savings the respondents said they anticipated before installing solar equipment.

Solar equipment purchasers listed economic reasons as primary in their decision to buy. A desire for increased self-reliance and concern for the environment were also cited.

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