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Published on January 24th, 2012 | by Joshua S Hill

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Leasing Solar Panels Appeals to Less-Affluent



A new study has found that being able to purchase a rooftop solar panel system is often a privilege of the affluent, but that leasing rooftop solar panel systems is an increasingly popular option for those who simply don’t have the money to pay up front.

Asked time and time again what one can do for the environment, our answers are often dependent upon our income. In most cases, one of the biggest items — like installing solar panels — is for those who earn a lot (and can make a large up-front investment in a system that will earn them money several years down the road).

However, if you have the money to lease a rooftop solar panel system, you’re not only helping the environment, but, within just a year after you start, you can start saving money. On the other hand, for those who have the money to make the initial investment of $10,000 or $20,000, it may take a decade or more to break even. But that’s not even the best part….

The real benefit for those leasing a system is seen over the next few decades of their contract, where third-party companies are touting household savings of up to $10,000 to $15,000 over two decades.

How?

Because as you pay a constant $40 or $50 per month lease on the solar panels, the cost of electricity is going up, saving you money.

The study was conducted by analysts from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), who found that leasing solar panels is surging in southern California and is especially being adopted by those in ‘less-affluent’ neighborhoods where households are earning between $100,000 and $150,000 a year (okay, not exactly poverty-level, but those making complete, up-front purchases are more likely to be households earning over $150,000).

Published in the journal Energy Policy, the study hopes that if what proves true in southern California proves true for the rest of the US, leasing rooftop solar power could prove a tempting offer for an additional 13 million Americans living in the bracket of a household earning between $100,000 and $150,000 per year.

“What is so interesting about the southern California data is that the strong decrease in PV prices – from lower retail costs and stronger federal incentives – didn’t pick up a new demographic. But the new business model – leasing – did pick up a new customer demographic,” NREL’s Easan Drury, the lead author of the report, said.

Repackaging the value of photovoltaics as a simple savings on the monthly bill is an attractive alternative to the pitch that it will pay for itself in a decade, he said. “If someone comes up to you and says you can make money next month and forever, that totally changes how people see the value of solar.”

Among Drury’s other findings:

  • Third-party leasing usually eliminates the need for home-equity-style financing and, thus, the need for significant equity in the home. Without the hurdle of financing, more people can adopt solar, Drury said.
  • Along with the lower income threshold, Drury found a surge in solar leasing in neighborhoods with younger families.
  • In the Los Angeles and Orange county markets, customer-owned PV was five times more prevalent than third-party owned in 2009. In 2010, the ratio had dropped to 2 to 1. And for the first quarter of 2011, the ratio was almost even.

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Image Source: Allan Henderson

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About the Author

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I work as Associate Editor for the Important Media Network and write for CleanTechnica and Planetsave. I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), Amazing Stories, the Stabley Times and Medium.   I love words with a passion, both creating them and reading them.



  • Ray Boggs

    There is nothing free about 3rd party financing and there is absolutely no such thing as a “no money out of pocket” solar lease or PPA.

    Your next three months worth of paychecks are not considered “money in your pocket” until payday arrives. Would you be willing to hand over your next three months’ worth of paychecks as a down payment and then make an additional 20 years’ worth of lease payments on a system that you’re basically renting? In essence that’s exactly what most consumers across America are doing when they forfeit their 30% Federal tax credit and cash rebates to the leasing and PPA companies.

    Add the 30% federal tax credit and any applicable cash rebate that you’re giving away and the 20 years’ worth of lease payments and any payment escalator (if you were foolish enough to agree to an escalator), and that’s the true cost of renting that solar system.

    The 30% federal tax credit alone, on a typical 6 kW solar system at the lease and PPA company’s much higher pricing is about $10,000 which is about 3 months’ worth of take home pay for the typical consumer who would qualify for a lease or PPA.

    Wake up people, don’t let the leasing and PPA companies pull the wool over your eyes. Add up all of the numbers and you’ll find that solar leasing and PPAs make absolutely no sense when compared to buying in today’s market.

    Oh and that $10,000 to $15,000 is peanuts compared to what you’ll save by buying instead of leasing. Here’s a funny video http://vimeo.com/70888784 that illustrates some of the pitfalls of leasing a solar system.

    • Bob_Wallace

      “There is nothing free about 3rd party financing and there is absolutely
      no such thing as a “no money out of pocket” solar lease or PPA.”

      If someone signs a “no money out of pocket” solar lease and panels are installed on their roof without them forking out any money has not a “no money out of pocket” lease happened?

      • Ray Boggs

        Mr. Wallace, would a meal at McDonalds be free of out of pocket costs if you ate the meal without having to “fork out any money” but you had to agree to sign and hand over your next paycheck when you recieved it?

        If you purchase a solar system, the 30% federal tax credit and any applicable cash rebate (your paycheck) would go into your pocket.
        When you lease a solar system, the 30% federal tax credit and any applicable cash rebate goes into the the leasing companies pocket. Thus, “no money out of pocket” has not happened.
        It’s that simple.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Handing over your next paycheck would be money out of your pocket.

          What money in your pocket is being handed over to the leasing company when you sign up for a “no money out of pocket” lease?

          • Ray Boggs

            No, your NEXT paycheck wouldn’t be in “your pocket” until payday arrived. Just like handing over your 30% federal tax credit and any applicable cash rebate would not technically be in your pocket until you recieved the tax credit and rebate check.
            Whether you hand the incentives over at the lease signing or you hand the incentives over at a later date, you’re still paying out money that would have gone into your pocket if you purchased your system instead of leasing it.
            The leasing and PPA company salespeople will argue that they are applying the 30% tax credit and other applicable incentives to the leased system’s price, but the leasing and PPA companies price their system so much higher than what you can buy a system for (Less than $3.00 a watt, installed before incentives) that after applying the incentives, the leasing company’s pricing is still higher than the purchased system’s price before incentives.
            Bob, answer this one question, do you know of any leasing company that can match an installed system price of less than $3.00 a watt before they take what would have been the consumer’s incentives and use the after incentive price to determine the customer’s lease payments? I don’t think so.
            We offer complete systems that are installed for less than $3.00 a watt with 3rd party warranty insurance on the solar modules, before incentives, all day long.
            If you want to talk semantics then technically yes, you don’t have to reach into your pocket at the time of the lease signing and hand over money, but you will hand over a large amount of money (in addition to the 20 years worth of lease payments) later in the form of the tax credit and applicable cash rebates that you’re forfeiting to the lease company when you lease instead of buy.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Boy, Ray, you sure can write a lot of words in order to avoid answering a simple question.

            If you don’t purchase a solar system the government will put no dollars in your pocket. Nothing can come out of your pocket if it’s not there.

            If you lease a ‘no money out of your pocket’ solar system then the leasing company is doing the purchasing and they get the federal government tax break.

            Because they get a tax break they can lease you a system for less than they otherwise could have. That means more of the dollars you actually have stay in your pocket.

            Now, is owning a better deal for the homeowner than leasing? It probably is. Owning is often a better deal than leasing simply because there is an additional party in the transaction.

            Does that mean that leasing is evil? No. Some people prefer to lease, even if they don’t do quite as well as if they purchased. That’s their decision.

            If they end up with more money in their pockets by leasing than doing nothing then they might not be getting the best possible deal, but they certainly aren’t being screwed, taken advantage of, however you want to put it.

          • Ray Boggs

            Ok, here’s my simple answer: The money that you’re handing over to the leasing company, is the incentive money that would have gone into your pocket if you purchased your system instead.

          • Bob_Wallace

            That’s close to right.

            First, you’re handing zero money over to the leasing company. That’s what a “no money out of pocket” lease means.

            Second, were you to purchase a system then the government would collect less money from you at tax time in order to make up for part of the money you took out of your pocket when you bought the system. You get no money, you just pay less taxes.

            If you want to make the argument that purchasing is a better financial option than leasing, I’d agree. But it seems to me that you’re making a dishonest argument. You can’t take the federal subsidy money out of your pocket, it was never there.

          • Ray Boggs

            Bob, I appreciate your opinion on this subject and I appreciate the fact that Clean Technica has allowed both of us to freely voice our opinions on their website. My hat’s off to Clean Technica for the great service that they are providing to the public. Now, it will simply be a matter for the consumers who reads our posts to decide for themselves whose opinion they wish to side with.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I don’t think we differ in opinion overall. I haven’t run the numbers myself, but I suspect owning is a better deal than leasing for the home owner.

            Perhaps you should generate some comparison numbers for leasing and owning and give people a way to easily understand the difference. Your major driver seems to be helping homeowners make/save the maximum possible.

            My position is that both leasing and owning are better than not having solar at all. The issue, for me, is that we need to get as much renewable generation on line as possible and as quickly as possible. If leasing helps us get there quicker than having no leasing option then I am all for it.

            It seems to simply comes down to one party making (or saving) more money than another. I’ve got no dog in the fight as to whom comes out best financially. I just want us using less fossil fuels.

          • Ray Boggs

            I agree with you Bob, Thank you.

  • ronwint

    And the less affluent are the ones that can least afford a solar lease’s payments. With a 20 year solar lease you’ll pay up to triple what you would have paid if you owned the system instead. And with system ownership you’ll get to keep the 30% federal tax credit worth thousands of dollars as well as any other financial incentives instead of giving them away to some leasing company. And just wait until these less affluent people try to sell their homes with a lease attached to it. Good luck with that one.

  • Chrissy

    Young man, have you ever seen a Si02 purification furnace in China? Youn man, did you ever hear of silicon tetrachloride. If you only knew the damage that the manufacturing of PhotoVoltaics do to our environment. But you, like many other mush brains right out of grad school think they are saving the world.

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