Solar Panel Installation For Free

It sounds too good to be true: you can go solar without paying a cent. I first mentioned this proposition, known formally as a power-purchase agreement, two years ago: a company such as SunRun or SolarCity installs panels on your roof at its expense and, in exchange, collects the government subsidies. But I never really grasped how it would work in detail, so I arranged for SunRun to send someone to my brother and sister-in-law's house this past weekend as a kind of test run. The sales pitch was so persuasive that my brother and his wife, who are probably the less impulsive consumers I know (they never buy so much as a computer cable without doing months of research), are seriously thinking of going for it.

The first thing a smart shopper wants to know is: what's the catch? In this case, it's simple. Installing panels is so financially advantageous that SunRun can split the benefits with you and still turn a tidy profit. That profit would be all yours if you paid for the array yourself, as I did. The SunRun representative, Kelcy Pegler, Jr., of Roof Diagnostics (a local installer that SunRun contracts with), was very upfront about this: 'Your return will always be better off buying it.' But then you'd need to float the cost and take the risks. The question becomes: do you want to?

Pegler started off by walking around the exterior of the house to inspect the roof exposure and tree shading, confirming an earlier analysis he had done using aerial images. SunRun won't even offer you a free array unless your roof faces approximately south and has minimal shading. They run the numbers for your site and see whether they can recoup their costs—it's all very hardheaded. As it happens, my brother and his wife's house qualified. For fun, we asked Pegler what would happen if they wanted to put the panels on the northwest side of the house rather than the southeast. Then SunRun would have politely declined.

Free Solar Roofing

We went inside, had some lemonade, and Pegler looked over the household electric bills. Government subsidies will only pay for an array that covers a family's annual electric usage—if you want to become a net producer, you'll have to fork out for that yourself. In my brother and sister-in-law's case, it didn't matter: the array size was limited by their roof area, anyway. A system of that size would cost about $30,000, before subsidies.

When Pegler explained the zero-dollar option, we Mussers looked at one another in surprise. It sounded like a real letdown. In return for letting SunRun install and maintain the array, my brother and sister-in-law would save 10% on their electric bill. Ten percent? That's it? To be more precise, they'd commit to buying all the expected array production at a rate of 16.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, versus the utility rate of about 18.5 cents. As my brother later confessed to me, 'It's not really that exciting.'

Solarcity, a solar energy firm announced a nationwide scheme where home owners can get solar panels installed on their roof for free, by buying the energy they produce. The launch of this new way to buy power means customers can now buy solar power just as they would conventional - except it will be coming off their own roof. Ground mount solar panel systems offer benefits for all homeowners. Even if you are a good candidate for a rooftop solar energy system, there are many benefits to choosing a ground-mounted solar panel system. First, ground-mounted solar panel systems are very easy to place, because they can be located on open land. With a solar lease or solar PPA, you do not own the solar panels on your roof - instead, you make monthly payments to a solar company in exchange for the energy the solar panels produce. When you install free solar panels, you cannot take advantage of certain solar tax incentives and rebates. A recent study found that solar panels are viewed as upgrades, just like a renovated kitchen or a finished basement, and home buyers across the country have been willing to pay a premium of about $15,000 for a home with an average-sized solar array. Additionally, there is evidence homes with solar panels sell faster than those without.

This is the tradeoff of a free system. Basically, you get to have only one zero. You can pay zero, or you can zero out your electric bill, but not both.

But as Pegler continued his pitch, the deal started to sound sweeter. SunRun limits its annual rate increases to 2.9%. By comparison, our utility rate has gone up about 40% since 2005, an average of 6% per year. The way it's going, it'll top 60 cents in 20 years, versus 30 cents for SunRun. So the 10% savings would grow steadily to 50% or even more if the government introduced carbon pricing.


The same logic applies to a self-financed system, but you need to factor in the maintenance costs. When SunRun pays, it has every incentive to watch the panels like a hawk. I talked to SunRun co-founder and president Lynn Jurich about this in April, after I wrote a post about problems with the quality of solar installations. She said SunRun contracts with Burnham Energy, a solar consultancy, to conduct quality-control checks. SunRun also monitors the output of each array for signs of trouble. Inverters tend to conk out after 10 years, and the company budgets for that. Jurich estimated that diligent monitoring can squeeze 30% more energy out of a system over its lifetime. Once, she recalled, the company noticed that all the arrays in one area were producing less power than expected. It turned out that ash from a forest fire had coated them, and the company sent out cleanup crews.

Pegler said the SunRun contract runs for 20 years, at the end of which my brother and sister-in-law would have the option of buying the system at its depreciated value. If they sell their house before then, the contract gets transferred to the buyers, unless they for some reason would rather not have cheap electricity, in which case the company would unbolt the panels from the roof and truck them away. SunRun sets up an escrow account to pay for continued maintenance in the case the company ever goes bankrupt.

So it really comes down to personal preference. On balance, I'm happy I bought my system. (Besides, SunRun didn't operate in N.J. at the time I got my array.) But dealing with all the bureaucracy and upfront costs was really a hassle, and I suspect that most people would rather put their time and money elsewhere. I'd love to hear about your experiences. Please comment below or email me directly.

P.S. Whenever I mention government subsidies for solar power, people write in to complain about wasting taxpayer and ratepayer money. Living in a state (N.J.) that consistently subsidizes the rest of the country by paying more in taxes than we receive in Federal spending, I have some sympathy for this grievance. So, yes, let's eliminate subsidies—starting with those that make electricity from oil, gas, and coal artificially cheap. But until the playing field is level, it's inconsistent to complain about solar subsidies. Besides, the solar industry is already weaning itself. State rebates are much less favorable than they used to be. Jurich she said she looks forward to the day when solar can stand on its own: 'The best thing we can do is to get off subsidies.' So please, don't hijack the thread to complain about solar subsidies.

Photos by Bret Musser

Go solar with help from Texas solar panel incentives

They say that everything is bigger in Texas, and the benefits of solar are no exception. With some of the strongest sunshine in the country and lower-than-average solar costs, it’s no wonder that the Solar Energy Industries Association ranks Texas as a top 10 state for solar. Going solar is easier than ever thanks to some major solar incentives and rebates.

The best way to compare your solar options and save money at the same time is by registering on the EnergySage Marketplace. When you compare quotes for solar panels on EnergySage's competitive solar marketplace, you can expect to see prices up to 20% lower than working with a single solar company.

What are the best Texas solar tax credits and rebates?

Homeowners in cities across Texas have access to significant rebate programs and special policies that can help them save thousands on the cost of installing a solar energy system on their roofs. These are just a few of them:

Texas solar rebate programs

While Texas doesn’t have a statewide solar tax credit or solar rebate program, many utilities (large and small) and local governments offer incentives to homeowners who want to go solar. Here are some examples:

  • Austin Energy: If you live in Austin, you can get a rebate of $2,500. Plus, you’re eligible for Austin Energy’s Value of Solar Tariff, which pays you $0.097 for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) your solar panels can generate.
  • CPS Energy: If you’re a CPS Energy customer, you can receive up to $1.20/W of solar panels that you install on your roof. Like Austin Energy, the value of the incentive drops as more solar is installed, so now’s the time to go solar if you are in the CPS Energy service area.
  • Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative, and the City of Sunset Valley all also offer rebates for homeowners in their areas.

Renewable energy systems property tax exemption

Beyond saving you money on your electricity bills, solar has another financial benefit – it can increase the value of your home. While higher home values typically bring higher property taxes, Texas has a renewable energy property tax exemption so that residents of the Lone Star State don’t pay extra taxes as a result of the value that their solar panels add.


Texas renewable energy: solar offers top incentives for homeowners

Texas net metering

Although Texas doesn’t have a statewide net metering policy, many utilities in the state (including El Paso Electric, the City of Brenham, CPS Energy, and Green Mountain Energy) have policies that credit owners of solar energy systems for the electricity that their panels produce. If your utility has a net metering policy, you receive credits on your electric bill for all of the extra electricity your solar panels produce. When your panels aren’t producing enough electricity to meet your use (like at night or if it’s cloudy outside), you can draw on those Texas net metering credits instead of buying electricity from the utility.

Solar Panel Installation For Free Near Me

Solar rights law

Is Solar Installation Free

If you live in a neighborhood governed by a homeowners’ association (HOA), also known as a property owners’ association, you might be worried that HOA regulations will keep you from being able to go solar. Luckily, Texas has a solar rights law that prevents HOAs from banning solar energy systems on their properties, so you can go solar with confidence.

Free Solar Systems For Homes

The federal solar tax credit

Don’t forget about federal solar incentives! With the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), you can reduce the cost of your PV solar energy system by 26 percent. Keep in mind that the ITC applies only to those who buy their PV system outright (either with a cash purchase or solar loan), and that you must have enough income for the tax credit be meaningful.

How Much Do Solar Panel Installation Cost

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