Image credit: afloresm at flickr under a creative commons license.

Remember those pie-in-the-sky solar energy optimists from, say, five years ago?  They’re starting to feel pretty smug.

The last 12 months saw activity in the solar industry that’s affecting public perception in a big way.  What used to be key points of debate are solidifying into immutable facts, with the former naysayers on the losing side.

Here are a few of the things we just don’t say among respectable company anymore:

1. Solar is on its way out.

A 60% increase in residential installations and a 29% increase in total electricity generation capacity beg to differ.  Only your friendly neighborhood natural gas industry can claim better numbers than that.  These days, you have to dig pretty deep to find data that supports the claim that solar has already seen its day in the sun.

2. Solar’s up-front cost make it un-economical for the individual homeowner.

Those numbers didn’t convince you?  Here are some enormous rebates that help to drop the national average up-front cost to $17,000.  “Thirty grand just scares me off,”…these are the words of someone who hasn’t checked in for a couple years.

3. Growth in the solar industry will be restricted to “Sunny and Warm” places.

Germany, despite its unlikely climate, continues to shatter solar energy production records.  It’s also a great worst-case-scenario prototype for what happens when the subsidies run out.  The conclusion?  A reversion to “normal” global growth of 13-19% in the next three years.

4. It’s not the right time to buy yet.

We’re a lot more interested in consumer education than corporate promotion, but it’s hard to argue that the timing is going to get much better for a solar purchase.  Why?  We’re at a convergence of low price and high rebates that won’t last forever.  Here’s how:

a) Prices on home solar panels have fallen 60% since Q1 2011.  Those are fire-sale numbers, folks.

c) The massive Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit runs out in 2 short years.  Whatever your stance on tax policy, this has made the difference for a huge number of people between “Well, I’d like to” and “I’m in.”