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Feb. 9, 2012: Lease Option Increases Rooftop Solar’s Appeal, Study Says

February 9, 2012
KEYWORDS DOE / leasing
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WASHINGTON — Rooftop solar panels are attracting a new demographic of customers who are choosing to lease rather than buy, and enjoying the reduced upfront costs and immediate savings, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The new third-party-lease business model lets homeowners save money the very first month, rather than breaking even a decade later after an initial investment of $10,000 or $20,000.

Analysts with the NREL found that the solar lease models are surging in Southern California. And they’re being adopted in less affluent neighborhoods that had few customer-owned systems. The NREL study is called “The Transformation of Southern California’s Residential Photovoltaics Market through Third-Party Ownership.”

The study indicated an attraction for third-party leasing in neighborhoods with less affluence than those most likely to go for the customer-owned option. It found a positive correlation between customers outright buying solar energy systems and customers living in neighborhoods where the average household income was $150,000 or more. But with third-party-leased photovoltaic (PV) panels, that positive correlation appeared in neighborhoods where the average household income was $100,000 or more.

If what’s true in Southern California proves true for the nation, it means that rooftop solar power could prove tempting for an additional 13 million Americans who live in households that earn between $100,000 and $150,000 per year.

“What is so interesting about the Southern California data is that the strong decrease in PV prices — from lower retail costs and stronger federal incentives — didn’t pick up a new demographic. But the new business model — leasing — did pick up a new customer demographic,” said NREL’s Easan Drury, the lead author of the report.

Repackaging the value of solar as immediate savings on the monthly bill is an attractive alternative to the pitch that it will pay for itself in a decade, he said. “If someone comes up to you and says you can make money next month and forever, that totally changes how people see the value of solar.”

Publication date: 02/06/2012

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