Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


Energy Efficiency

When You Shouldn't Buy Solar in California

Here in California, now that it is possible to pay-as-you-go for solar and switch to solar power with a lease or a PPA, which is the best way to get solar? (In many other states, pay-as-you-go plans are not an option because utilities in those states won’t allow the competition, but in California, three companies offer residential PPAs or solar leases – Solar City, SunRun and Sungevity).


For us in California, there are good reasons for or against both ways to go solar: both buying and pay-as-you-go. It all depends on your circumstances.

For most people, there is no choice (because buying is just ruled out, for financial reasons) but here is what to consider if you can buy, and thus in California, have a choice.

Advantages of buying solar versus pay-as-you-go plans.

Hands down, buying saves the most money over time, easily twice as much. Someone with a high bill, say $500 (about 1,000 kwh a month) will have spent over $400,000 over 25 years in PG&E territories, (enough to buy another McMansion and swimming pool that typically is the cause of such a high bill.) Compared with the relatively minor expense of about $35,000 to supply that approximately 12,500 kilowatt hours annually, it is a no-brainer.

If you need to borrow, the interest typically doubles the loan amount. But even including the interest cost – bringing it to say $70,000, (compared with over $400,000 to do nothing) unless you can’t (or won’t) borrow from a bank, buying outright saves the most money.

You save the most – about $365,000, in this example – if you have the cash on hand, or $330,000 if you go to a bank.

But there is a catch with buying.

The greatest hurdle for buyers is psychological: inertia. The most ridiculous procrastination devices pop up. So, you go back to your life, having shelved this big buying decision…. indefinitely.

1. You (or your spouse) are stuck with the responsibility of assessing the quality of the solar company you pick. For many people, this can lead to get stuck in a deadly form of procrastination where the horror of making a decision permanently cripples action. (Don’t! Just pick any one of the top five or ten installers in your region. It’s not rocket science.)

2. Other needs for that money seem more immediately important. You have a kid to put through college, your spouse prefers to renovate the bathroom, etc. The humongous savings of solar get shelved. (Do you really think family needs like these will cease coming up over the next 25 years? Cutting your bill now will free up savings for all those other projects in the future)

3. The process of investigating solar further cripples you from taking action because some super nano cell being researched at MIT that your friend read about on Yahoo News promises some x percent efficiency increase – you should wait till that happens. (This is the “so where’s my jet-pack?” argument. But on an increasingly finite planet, there are material limits: progress could go the other way way, too.The longer you wait for some perfect energy source, the more competition there is from other nations. China and Europe are investing big-time, while we wallow in oil spill. By the time “efficiency” is at some theoretical acceptability level, solar materials might be in short supply – for you.)

4. “Prices will drop in a few years.” (When 25 years worth of solar power costs less than 25 years worth of utility power: that’s cheap enough! You don’t put off switching to a cheaper cable service because if you wait a few years, you might get a better deal somewhere else…)

If you or your spouse are susceptible to any of these four kinds of deadly solar purchase procrastination, then buying is not for you, even if you can afford to. Because by procrastinating, you actually are making a choice: for no solar at all.

That’s when you shouldn’t attempt to buy, even though you’d save twice as much, but  join the crowd that is already “renting” with a lease or a PPA. With no investment required, there’s no big investment decision to make.

Image: Trendir

Appreciate CleanTechnica’s originality? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica Member, Supporter, Technician, or Ambassador — or a patron on Patreon.
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.
Written By

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.


#1 most loved electric vehicle, solar energy, and battery news & analysis site in the world.


Support our work today!


Power CleanTechnica: $3/Month

Tesla News Solar News EV News Data Reports


EV Sales Charts, Graphs, & Stats


Our Electric Car Driver Report

30 Electric Car Benefits

Tesla Model 3 Video

Renewable Energy 101 In Depth

solar power facts

Tesla News

EV Reviews

Home Efficiency

You May Also Like


Sunrun, meet Sunshine State


Efficiency combined with solar changes the equation dramatically. The difference for me was roughly 2/3 the cost of a new Tesla Model 3.


There are many things in the cleantech world that are inspiring and fun, but there's perhaps nothing that quickly inspires more joy than seeing...

Clean Power

Oil and gas stabbed in back by new US Energy Dept. plan for getting more affordable solar power to more people, more quickly.

Copyright © 2021 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.