KNOWLEDGE CENTER ARTICLE

Navigating Residential Solar Financing: Leases, PPA’s/ESA’s, and Solar Loans

Choosing your Solar Financing Options

As the demand for sustainable energy solutions continues to rise, residential solar power and battery systems have become an increasingly popular choice for homeowners looking to reduce their carbon footprint and energy costs. Financing options play a crucial role in making these systems accessible to a wider audience. In this comprehensive guide, we will compare and contrast four common residential solar financing options: leases, power purchase agreements (PPA), energy service agreements (ESA), and solar loans. Additionally, we will delve into how the 30% Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is treated in each of these arrangements.

Residential solar leases (typically 20 or 25-year terms) allow homeowners to use solar panels and home batteries without owning them. In this arrangement, a third party owns and maintains the solar panels and batteries, while the homeowner pays a fixed monthly lease fee. This option is ideal for homeowners who want to enjoy the benefits of solar power without the upfront costs or the responsibility of maintenance.

Pros

No upfront costs for installation.

Maintenance is typically the responsibility of the leasing company.

Predictable monthly payments (although monthly payment may increase annually by 2-4%)

Cons

Homeowners do not directly qualify for the Federal ITC.

Long-term commitment may limit flexibility.

Best suited for:

Homeowners who prioritize low upfront costs and want hassle-free maintenance.

Power Purchase Agreements (typically 20- or 25-year terms) are similar to a lease, but the homeowner pays for the actual energy generated from the solar and a predetermined fixed per kilowatt hour ($kwH).   While the $kwH rate is predetermined, the energy generated by the system will vary each month, resulting in differing monthly payments.  In months with more solar production, the payment is higher, but in lower production months, the payment will be lower. A third party owns and maintains the solar panels and batteries, and the homeowner enjoys the benefits of solar power without worrying about performance variations.

Pros

No upfront costs for installation.

Fixed monthly payments (although $kwH rate may increase annually by 2-4%)

Maintenance is typically the responsibility of the PPA provider.

Cons

Homeowners do not directly qualify for the Federal ITC.

Long-term commitment may limit flexibility.

Best suited for:

Homeowners who prefer a fixed monthly payment and want to avoid potential fluctuations in energy production.

Energy Service Agreements (typically 20 to 25-year terms) combine elements of both leases and traditional PPA’s. Homeowners pay a fixed monthly fee, similar to a lease, but the payment is determined by the anticipated amount of energy generated by the system like a PPA over the life of the system. A third-party owns and maintains the solar panels and batteries, and the homeowner enjoys the benefits of solar power without worrying about performance variations.

Pros

No upfront costs for installation.

Predictable monthly payments (although monthly payment may increase annually by 2-4%)

Maintenance is typically the responsibility of the PPA/ESA provider.

Cons

Homeowners do not directly qualify for the Federal ITC.

Long-term commitment may limit flexibility.

Best suited for:

Homeowners who prefer a fixed monthly payment and want to avoid potential fluctuations in energy production.

Solar loans allow homeowners to finance the purchase of solar panels. The homeowner owns the system and is responsible for maintenance. Solar loans can be secured or unsecured, providing flexibility in terms of interest rates and collateral.  Typical solar loans can be a short as 18 months or as long as 25 years)

Pros

Homeowners directly qualify for the 30% Federal ITC.

Ownership of the solar panels.

Potential for long-term cost savings.

Cons

Upfront costs may be higher than leasing or PPAs/ESAs.

Maintenance is the responsibility of the homeowner.

Best suited for:

Homeowners who want to own their solar panels, qualify for the Federal ITC and are willing to invest in a long-term cost-saving solution.

Residential Solar Leases, PPA’s and ESA’s: In these financing options, the third-party owner of the solar panels qualifies for the Federal ITC, not the homeowner. This is because the homeowner does not own the solar system.  However, the benefits of the ITC are indirectly factored in through lower monthly payments to the homeowner.

Solar Loans: Homeowners who finance their solar panels through loans are eligible for the 30% Federal ITC, as they own the solar system. This tax credit can significantly reduce the overall cost of the solar installation.

It’s essential for homeowners considering leases, PPA’s and ESA’s to be aware that these financing options may include annual monthly payment escalators of 2-4%. These escalators can lead to gradual increases in monthly payments throughout the agreement, impacting the overall cost.

While residential solar leases, PPA’s and ESA’s offer the advantage of minimal upfront costs and maintenance responsibilities, homeowners must carefully consider the long-term commitments associated with these financing options. Typically spanning 15-25 years, these agreements may present challenges if homeowners decide to exit before the term concludes, such as selling their home.

**Leases and PPA’s/ESA’s:**

Residential solar financing options such as leases, PPA’s, ESA’s, and solar loans provide accessible pathways for homeowners to embrace solar power without the burden of high upfront costs. Understanding the indirect benefits of the Federal ITC, including reduced monthly payments (excluding escalators for leases, PPA’s and ESA’s), is crucial for making informed decisions. Additionally, recognizing the long-term commitment and potential exit costs is essential for homeowners navigating these agreements. As the solar energy landscape evolves, informed choices empower homeowners to contribute to a sustainable future while enjoying the economic advantages of solar power. For more information visit the California Solar Consumer Protection Guide.

Baker Home Energy is a trusted solar energy partner in South California, providing clean energy solutions for over 15 years. To find the best option for financing your home solar panel purchase, contact us.

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