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Solar Energy and Consumer Affairs
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Via ConsumerAffairs on Solar Energy
In some cases, people can simply buy their solar power systems with cash – but with a price tag comparable to a new car, most people will need to use a financing option. Many companies don’t make it clear there are various ways to finance your solar system, but the difference in savings can be huge.
Solar leases & PPAs: Solar leases and Power Purchasing Agreements (PPAs) are financial agreements where a third-party developer owns, operates and maintains the solar system, and a customer agrees to affix the system on his roof (or elsewhere on his property) and purchases the system’s electric output from the solar services provider for a predetermined period.
Loans: Solar loans are available at a number of banks and organizations across the country, with some available only in specific states or to bank customers only, while others are available nationwide but may have certain stipulations.
PACE financing: Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing helps homeowners and commercial building owners cover the full cost of installing a solar system with a flexible repayment plan extending up to 20 years. Using PACE financing, the solar power system is paid off gradually via higher property taxes.
Do you want to own your solar power system? Just as with a car, you have options to personally own your solar power system by purchasing it from the solar company after a certain period of time, or you may choose to lease it indefinitely.
Moving soon?: If you intend to move after a few years and you have a solar lease, you will have to convince the new buyers to take over the lease – which isn’t always easy. If the solar system is already purchased, you can simply roll the cost of the system into the price of the home.
Leasing can lead to ownership: Even if you choose the leasing or PPA route, some companies allow you to buy the system for a fair market value once the leasing period has ended.
Solar panel longevity: Many people don’t consider the benefits of an investment beyond 15-20 years, but it is worth noting that solar panels are very durable and can produce electricity close to the initial factory specs for many decades. Your long-term savings could be three or four times higher if you buy solar panels rather than lease them for a 20-year period.
Costs & savings
Just about every solar installation company has a “solar calculator” on their website to quickly estimate how much a solar system will cost and how much it will save you. Each solar calculator will yield very different estimates, so compare as many as possible and feel free to ask each company what assumptions they’ve used to come up with their estimates.
Electricity costs: Calculators may estimate electricity costs in different ways. Numbers can be based on the national average, regional averages, or based on information you provide – and each input can result in very different overall cost and savings estimates.
Incentives: Calculators may or may not include federal, state and local incentives which, if you’re eligible, can mean big savings.
Generation potential: Some calculators take a satellite photo of your roof and offer a close estimate of how much electricity you can generate. Some calculators use your regional solar irradiation to create the estimate, and other calculators simply use the size of your roof or your typical electricity consumption with no other factors included.
Financing assumptions: Again, a key factor is determining which assumptions are used regarding financing (a flat-rate cash purchase, a lease, a loan or PACE financing).
Which manufacturer’s solar panels will the company install? There are many different solar panels on the market – each with their own benefits and disadvantages. Solar panels used for the rooftop solar market are less varied, but there are still considerable differences between each brand.
Price vs. efficiency: The biggest price differences generally stem from variations in efficiency, but efficiency doesn’t usually matter unless you have very limited space on your roof.
Warranties & reliability: How reliable are the chosen company’s panels known to be – and is the company likely to be around in 10 years?
Options: Does the installer give you a choice between different types of panels, or at least disclose where the panels are manufactured?
Does the company offer service beyond installation? Some only install solar panels, while other companies manage every aspect of the process.
Maintenance & warranties: Some solar companies will install the solar panels, provide maintenance, and offer warranties on both the panels and the work.
Financing: Some companies will even assist you during the financing process, whether that be a lease, loan, or PACE financing.
Incentives: Some companies help you find and take advantage of incentives you may be eligible for on the of federal, state, and local levels.
Manufacturing: A number of solar installers also manufacture the solar panels and solar cells they use.
Who wants to go through an automated 1-800 number for everything (or anything)? Some companies get this, some don’t.
Dedicated salesperson: Your solar company may provide a dedicated salesperson from day one or after a certain stage in the process – or maybe not at all.
Post-sale: Ideally, your initial point-of-contact will be available if you need something after sales, but you may be assigned to a different representative at a later time.
Service fees: There’s a good chance the premium service will also come with an additional cost.