The general idea we all have about installing solar panels is that they are very expensive and due to that, unaffordable although they do offer long term benefits, but putting in $20,000 to $30,000 in cash upfront to install a solar system on the roof of your home is not an easy thing to do.
However, the good news is that many Bay Area solar companies that include Akeena Solar, SolarCity, Sungevity and SunRun, are in the process of starting new business models through creative financing mechanisms to make rooftop solar more affordable.
Most of the local and state governments, including Washington, are willing to help. The White House is already busy promoting a new form of financing generically known as PACE, or Property Assessed Clean Energy, which allows private property owners to pay for renewable projects like solar and energy efficiency upgrades through an addition to their property tax bill.
SolarCity, a company based in Foster City, offers solar power system design, financing and installation. The company has become famous by being the first one to offer a “SolarLease” , i.e. solar for no money down.
This way, , consumers lease the solar system for 15 years, instead of buying it and pay SolarCity a monthly bill. In many parts of California, they save 10 to 15 percent a month on their combined electric and lease-payment bills. When the 15-year lease expires, homeowners are given the choice to upgrade the system, extend the lease or have the panels removed for free.
Currently, SolarCity has about 5,000 customers, out of which almost half chose to buy their system, but the rest have leased it.
SolarCity operates in Arizona, California, Colorado and Oregon.
Some of the other companies helping people to incorporate solar energy into their homes include:
1. Sungevity, based in Berkeley, offers solar services completely online. You can go to the company’s Web site, type in your address, and immediately see a satellite image of your roof.
Sungevity then measures the size and pitch of your roof, together with the direction and possible shade obstacles, giving the potential customers an idea about the expected price within 24 hours. This way, the company says it saves consumers time and money by bringing the sales process online. It is possible to get systems for as low as $7,000 after a federal tax credit and state rebate.
2. SunRun, a San Francisco based company, helps consumers to use solar energy for as low as a $1,000 installation fee. Bay Area consumers then do a solar power purchase agreement, or solar PPA, paying SunRun a fixed rate for the solar electricity, which is much less than their previous electric bill.
3. Lowe’s, the home improvement store, has also joined the movement to make solar more affordable. It has begun stocking solar panels from Los Gatos-based Akeena Solar, hoping that ambitious do-it-yourself users will make going solar a weekend project.
Sixteen states, including California, Colorado, Texas and New York, have passed legislation enabling these types of program, promoting the use of personal solar energy.
PACE programs are already up and running in certain cities including Berkeley, Palm Desert, Sonoma County and Boulder County in Colorado.
Several Bay Area counties, including Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, and Alameda, also have plans to issue PACE bonds and plan to launch programs next summer.