Best Solar Lease and PPA – SolarCity, SunRun, Sungevity, SunPower or Real Goods Solar?

Third-party-owned solar has taken the residential market in the U.S. by storm. SunRun recently announced a growth of 80% in California in only one year.[1] Another study revealed that more than 70% of Californians who go solar prefer third-party ownership.[2] Similar numbers can be found in several other states as well.

Many companies have started offering “zero-down” payment schemes since SolarCity first introduced the ingenious financing model back in 2006. Homeowners no longer have to pay heavy upfront costs to reap the benefits of solar photovoltaic panels.

We`ll take a closer look at the five largest leasing companies in the solar industry (SolarCity, SunRun, Sungevity, SunPower and Real Goods Solar). What are their differences? The goal of this article is to help you figure out which solar provider is the best choice in your situation.

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Let`s start with a quick overview over a few common terms:

Solar Lease

Leasing a solar system is pretty much the same as leasing a car or a TV. You pay your solar provider a monthly fee (fixed, escalating or de-escalating) to lease their solar panels.

Many companies will allow homeowners to prepay the entire lease, or part of it (down payment).

 

Power Purchase Agreement (PPA)

Power purchase agreements are almost identical to solar leases – the only difference is that you pay for the amount of power the solar panels produce, as opposed to just leasing the equipment.

What is common for both solar leases and PPAs is that most companies will take care of everything from installation to monitoring and maintenance. The duration of a solar lease/PPA is typically 10-20 years.

You might want to check out the following article for more information on the subject: Benefits of Owning (vs. Leasing) Solar Panels.

 

Benefits

Protection from rising electricity prices. Leases and PPAs provide protection against volatile electricity prices. Top tier electricity prices have increased about 5% on average every year for the last 30 years.

Sit back and relax. The five solar companies that we discuss in this article take care of everything from start-to-finish – including installation, monitoring, maintenance and repairs. You will be provided with a performance guarantee, insurance and warranty.

Save from day 1. Solar leases and PPAs are comparable to, or in most cases, cheaper than their original utility bill. Solar has really become a no-brainer for many homeowners.

 

The five solar providers offer different services:

SolarCity SunRun Sungevity SunPower RGS
Contract structure Purchase
Lease
PPA
Lease
PPA
Lease
PPA
Purchase
Lease
PPA
Purchase
PPA
Duration of lease 20 years 20 years 10-20 years 10-20 years 20 years
Brand of solar panels Sanyo
Kyocera
Suntech
Depends on installer Depends on installer SunPower SunPower
SolarWorld
Kyocera
Canadian Solar

 

None of the companies are operating in all states. SolarCity offers their services in 12 different states. SunRun has recently expanded to Australia and the Netherlands.

SolarCity SunRun Sungevity SunPower RGS
Arizona
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Hawaii
Maryland
Massachusetts
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New York
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
Texas
Vermont
Washington

 

Whether or not you can finance your solar system through a lease or PPA is a function of applicable state laws and your solar provider. In New Jersey for example, SunRun only offers PPAs while SolarCity offers lease as well.

 

What are the differences between SolarCity, SunRun, Sungevity, SunPower and RGS?

SunRun and Sungevity are “financing only” companies. They have partnerships with local solar installers in the states where they operate in.

SunPower manufactures their own solar panels and also handel financing. Only authorized dealers can install SunPower solar panels.

SolarCity is the only company that takes care of both financing and installation. The company placed #10 on the World`s 50 Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company in 2012[3]:

“The key: Rather than just make panels, it is a full-service operation–designing, installing, financing, and maintaining every system. That’s how to ease new customers into an unfamiliar technology.”

 

What’s the Catch?

Solar leases and PPAs almost seem too good to be true. The solar provider is the owner of the solar system if you choose a lease or PPA, and have the right to all incentives, rebates, refunds and cash credits (including SRECs).

The bottom line is this: It is true that a cash purchase would be cheaper in the long run, but most homeowners simply can`t afford the heavy upfront costs. SolarCity, SunRun, Sungevity, SunPower and Real Goods Solar are making solar possible for more homeowners, which not only is great for the environment, but can also help you bring in a lot of savings.

One Block Off the Grid has helped thousands of homeowners spend less by going solar. Become a member to find out which leasing company is best for you. It’s 100% free:


 

References: [1] PVSolarReport, [2] PVSolarReport, [3] Fast Company.

Comments

  1. Donald belflower says

    We entered into an agreement with Sunrun,everything went fine until repairs were needed, then Sunrun started backtracking on doing the necessary repairs. We are currently experiencing problems with the monitoring system which again Sunrun refuses to repair. They claim to monitor your system but the fact is it only works part of the time.

    • Gart says

      The monitoring is a part of the system which you do not own, Sunrun does. They monitor it to insure it produces power so they can stay profitable. Your PV system can stop working tomorrow and it will not your monthly bill on a ppa or lease. Monitoring is for the leasing company not for the home/ businesses owner.

  2. Lauren says

    One thing this doesn’t mention is that the financing arrangements also make sense because they let the finance providers take advantage of tax savings that homeowners couldn’t capture themselves

  3. Peter says

    I went with SolarCity – living in MASS (which needs to be updated above) – 7 weeks into it – and very positive so far – I did a PPA – $0 is attractive – but went for the bigger bang for the buck. Wished I had looked at this sooner. I’d recommend SolarCity as they did take care of everything (design, permits, install, monitoring) – very happy so far.

  4. Ray Boggs says

    Why doesn’t this article mention $0 down FHA Title 1 solar loans. A $0 down solar loan is easier to qualify for than a lease, you don’t need any equity in your home and best of all you get to keep the 30% federal tax credit and any other applicable financial incentives, the interest on the payments is tax deductable (there’s no tax deduction with lease payments) and you’ll own your solar system for a much better return on your investment.

  5. Felipe says

    And if my solar system eventually generates more than my actual consumption?

    In a PPA, I should pay for all production?
    Could I sell the excess to the grid and get money/credits from that?
    or this power is owned by those companies? Asking also for lease

    • MIKE PURCELL says

      I live in Oregon, and we are set up to receive a credit for the extra power we create. I am working with Solar City in designing the system and my concern is that the system may generate more than we can use up. PGE has a use it or lose it arrangement each year, If you don’t use up the credit by March they donate it. I am just not sure how much power we are going to generate in the summer months and Solar City will charge me for all of it according to the PPA.

      • Lou says

        ask your consultant to pull up an existing monitoring production report from a solar system of comparable size,nearby your area.

      • Chris says

        SolarCity works with the home owner and PG&E to find out how many kilowatt hours the home owner used the previous 12 months and they design the system to produce up to 85% of the previous years usage. So the only way you would be generating energy that you wouldn’t use is if your habits change dramatically from the year before. If you think this is a likely scenario, such as you have teenagers moving who will be moving out etc, just ask them to design the system to a lower offset, like 65%. This will ensure that you won’t produce more than you use and still save great money off your bills.

  6. Butch says

    The company Verengo Solar is operating in California. They have their own installers and have a zero down PPA.

    How would you compare them to your list?

  7. Nicole says

    I received a quote from Sungevity recently and they offer only 20 year leases (with a 5 year extension, maximum). They also showed both lease and purchasing options. Their quote is very detailed: product brand, picture of prospective system, lease & purchase options, financing details, and environmental impact. All objective, although the advisor told me only the benefits of the lease, the quote showed me ALL my options with no pressure to even say yes right away.

  8. Steven Eisinger says

    I recently recieved a quote from sungevity and was told I would need to put 5,000.00 down on a 20yr. lease to lower my current monthly payment to the utilities. I could put 0 down but my monthly cost would be higher than what I am now paying. Where is the savings? They did say that I could claim the cost om my taxes, How does that work? Can it be claimed every year or just the initial cost? I don’t itemize my taxes because I do not have any med expenses at the time can it still be a tax write off filing the standard deductions?

  9. Christian says

    Check SolarCity, I just got a PPA, and I love it. They are super transparent, and customer focused. I think there is good reason for them doing so well

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