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Published on November 20th, 2008 | by Stephanie Evans


The Next-Best Thing: Leasing Solar Panels

There is no question that purchasing a solar system to power your home
is an effective way to immediately cut your impact on the planet and
gradually cut your energy-related spending.  And although it’s usually an economically-sound decision in the long run, buying a solar panel system has a large up front cost, even with government-funded rebates.

Knowing that the average homeowner may not have the funds needed to install solar panels, several entrepreneurial companies have formed with the goal of offering solar panel rental to interested homeowners.

Solar Panel for Rent

Rental Companies

Most of the recent rental hype has swirled around Citizenr?, a corporation whose REnU program seems to have a number of advantages over traditional solar panel purchase.  Other up-and-comers include:

  • freEner-g, a Minnesota-based program initially developed to serve the Minneapolis/St. Paul Area
  • SolarCity, serving areas of Arizona, California, and Oregon

How It Works

Although there are some differences between the companies in terms of what is offered, the basic idea behind solar panel rental is consistent in each package.  After an initial deposit of around $500-$1,000, which is refunded at the end of your lease, solar panels are installed in an amount roughly corresponding to your household’s energy needs.  Each month, you pay rent to the company that leased the panels.

All the power produced by the solar panels powers your house and the excess flows back into the grid, causing your meter to run backwards.  Currently, solar panel leasing is available only in those places with net metering, meaning that the difference between what is produced and what is used can be tracked.

The Economics

Renting solar equipment and buying solar equipment follow two very different strategies.  The cost of buying photovoltaic (PV) panels to power a home is usually around $50,000.  However, the installation of solar panels for the purpose of heating water is only around $6,000 and can be lowered further after rebates and tax credits are factored in.  Solar panels also add value to your home, and some areas allow you to sell power back to the grid.

If you are curious about what the cost would be for you, Find Solar offers a solar power calculator that estimates costs of buying solar panels according to location and a few other factors.  Depending on the power used in your home, the amount of energy produced, and electricity costs in coming years, the time necessary for you to begin saving money varies greatly, but it is likely to take well over a decade for PV panels.

Rentals have a much smaller startup cost and it is possible to lock in a rate that will stay constant for the next 25 years, depending on the rental period.  Initially, the costs per month will exceed that of obtaining energy through the grid.  However, savings are likely based on the assumption that energy costs will continue to rise, but have no guarantee of paying off in the long run.

Rentals are riskier than buying panels that will certainly save you big money after a couple of decades.  However, a small variation in cost aside, solar panel rental will allow hundreds of thousands, if not millions of homeowners to reduce their carbon footprint and decrease dependence on non-renewable resources.  It is difficult to predict whether the costs for solar rental will be slightly higher, the same as, or lower than traditional power from the grid, but it is certain that, should this enterprise succeed, the environmental benefits will be marked.

More: Solar Economics

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