Waiting for a solar (lease) revolution


At this point, after having read our short intro on solar leasing, you’re probably thinking: So what’s the catch?

As far as we can tell, there is no catch. At least not for homeowners who live in the right place, who have good to excellent credit, and who have the right roof and sun locations for a solar system.

With a solar lease, you will be able to go solar with no big upfront costs whatsoever, save immediately on your electric bill, and reduce, or even completely eliminate your dependence on coal-produced electricity.

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Of course, as the story is typically told by solar gurus, it’s still better to buy a solar system outright than to lease one – though this is wisdom we’re going to be taking a hard look at, and ultimately challenging, in a future Solar Leasing in the Spotlight installment.

For now, we’re going to concentrate on the following question: If solar leasing is in fact for real – and it certainly appears it is, why aren’t green homeowners in solar lease states going solar, say, yesterday?

We informally surveyed more than half a dozen friends and family – all of them verifiable “greenies” – to get a better handle on why solar leasing isn’t the rage , at least not yet, among green homeowners.

Had no idea this was possible for residential homeowners. Some friends of ours just went solar and laid out a ton o’ cash to do it, and I was wishing there weren’t such a big cost up front. This sounds like it would make solar feasible for us. I’m excited to learn more!
–Colorado homeowner & environmental journalist Wendy R.

We also posted a poll question about solar leasing to SolarChargedDriving.Com. Seven of 11 respondents — or two thirds of those who voted — indicated they would “definitely” do a solar lease if solar leasing were available to them, two indicated that they might do a solar lease with two indicating they would not do a solar lease.

Based on our admittedly unscientific and un-generalizeable but nonetheless we think revealing survey, here are several possible reasons why more greenies haven’t done a solar lease yesterday.

  1. They don’t know about solar leasing. For example, one Colorado friend who’s actually an environmental journalist, wrote the following in response to a Facebook post I put up in which I briefly explained what solar leasing is and then asked friends whether they’d consider doing a solar lease:

“Until I read this I did not know about this opportunity. In this case, it seems that nothing should be stopping us from pursuing it! So, I guess the only hurdle in our case would be, initially, ignorance, but then simply needing to learn more about it and how to sign up. As soon as I have a little breathing space (after the holidays!), I’ll look closely at this and share the info with my husband… Had no idea this was possible for residential homeowners. Some friends of ours just went solar and laid out a ton o’ cash to do it, and I was wishing there weren’t such a big cost up front. This sounds like it would make solar feasible for us. I’m excited to learn more!

[Note to solar companies like SolarCity and SunRun – Seems like you might need to work (even) harder to get the word out about solar leasing: When “greenies” actually hear about solar leasing, here’s betting a lot of them will want to do a solar lease.]

  1. They don’t live in a state or area where solar leasing is available. I had several friends and family who responded to my query about whether they would do a solar lease who live in states, and places, where solar leasing is not yet available. Some of them indicated they would be extremely interested in solar leasing.

One acquaintance from college, wrote, “I am interested in solar. I looked into it when we lived in Rochester (NY) but it was more than I could afford. I bought the max green power I could from RG&E at the time, which was somewhat higher than traditional. $0 down would make it more doable. I’m not sure what the options are here in Florida.”

[Note to solar companies like SolarCity and SunRun: Expand as quickly as you can. Greenies around America are more than ready for zero down and for solar leasing.]

  1. There’s a long-running and deeply entrenched fear of going solar no matter how easy, affordable, and green it is. Going solar has a reputation for being “complicated”, for being “impractical” and for being “too expensive.” The solar industry has been trying to battle this image for years, with only partial success. Solar leasing clearly – and immediately – addresses the “it’s too expensive” charge. It also begins to address the it’s “too complicated” hurdle by eliminating the fear some consumers have of not being able to maintain the system, fix it, etc. The solar lease company takes care of all of the maintenance. However, one of my co-workers, who is definitely a solar supporter, had this response when asked if he would do a solar lease – “What happens if the company tanks before my lease ends?”

solar-lease-green-panelHis is an indirect re-iteration of the going solar is “complicated” answer. His thinking: It’s easier, safer, and less “complicated” to stay with the status quo – electricity generated by a giant utility, most of it coal-fired – than to take a risk and delve into the complexity of the unknown.

[Note to solar companies like SolarCity and SunRun: Do some (more) market research and establish the Top 10 Reasons People Say They Won’t Go Solar. Dissect these, and look at the ways in which solar leasing can address these reasons in new and interesting ways. And don’t just play up the no upfront cost angle of solar leasing. There’s a good chance many potential go-solar folks will lean on another going solar anxieties once you’ve taken cost out of the mix. Be prepared with inspiring answers for reasons No. 2-10.]

  1. They live in a townhome, condo and/or in an HOA and are afraid a solar installation – lease-based or not — will be nixed. For example, one relative asked, “Could one do it on an attached condo…or would the whole building have to do it?” Excellent question. While some states (California and Colorado are a couple) have laws on the books that prevent HOAs from kiboshing single-family homeowner desires to go solar, I’m not sure what happens in the case of townhomes and condos with shared roof space. I’m guessing solar probably could only be installed on townhome and condo rooftops on a collective basis, after collective approval by a Townhome HOA. If this is the case, what’s the lesson for solar companies offering solar leasing. Here’s one: How about setting up some sweet, can’t-refuse-it leasing offers for townhomes in key locations and among key demographics and using these success stories to sell solar leasing to the townhome HOA crowd around the country?

There you have it, a few reasons solar-leasing hasn’t taken off (yet) among the majority of America’s millions of greenies. With the lack of knowledge about solar leasing – people just have not heard about it – comprising the No. 1 stumbling block to a potential solar-leasing – and residential solar – revolution.

Next up in our Solar Leasing in the Spotlight series: A comparative analysis of solar buying vs. leasing written by Colorado solar consultant and expert Brian Sharpe of REC Solar.

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