Solar Energy: Free Upfront

May 10, 2012

Yesterday’s post on SunRun’s new ad campaign was somewhat serendipitous. The New York Times has a story today on their business model, which is rapidly spreading. See one of SunRun’s competitors in the video above.

HOLMDEL, N.J. — Jay Nuzzi, a New Jersey state trooper, had put off installing solar panels on his home here for years, deterred by the $70,000 it could cost. Then on a trip to Home Depot, he stumbled across a booth for Roof Diagnostics, which offered him a solar system at a price he couldn’t refuse: free.

Mr. Nuzzi had to sign a 20-year contract to buy electricity generated by the roof panels, which he would not own. But the rates were well below what he was paying to the local utility. “It’s no cost to the homeowner — how do you turn it down?” Mr. Nuzzi said on a recent overcast morning as a crew attached 41 shiny black modules to his roof. “It was a no-brainer.”

Similar deals are being struck with tens of thousands of homeowners and businesses across the country. Installers, often working through big-box chains like Home Depot or Lowe’s, are taking advantage of hefty tax breaks, creative financing techniques and a glut of cheap, Chinese-made panels to make solar power accessible to the mass market for the first time. The number of residential and commercial installations more than doubled over the last two years to 213,957, according to Greentech Media, a research firm.

“You hear a lot of the gloom and doom about the industry and, you know, ‘The manufacturers are losing jobs, they’re shutting down,’ but if you look at where the actual money is in these systems and where the jobs are, it’s really in the installation,” said Lynn Jurich, Sunrun’s president.

Big corporations like Google, U.S. Bancorp, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America Merrill Lynch see the potential for steady profits in rooftop solar projects and have been supplying the capital to help cover the upfront costs, which typically run $30,000 or more for a single-family home. The investors say they believe the returns, generally 7 to 13 percent, are relatively safe because the solar providers generally sign up only homeowners and businesses with solid credit. In addition, installers say that people tend to pay their electric bills even when facing other financial problems.

“We have customers that are foreclosed,” said Lyndon Rive, chief executive of SolarCity, one of the largest installers. “They’re still paying their electric bill so they still pay us.”

10 Responses to “Solar Energy: Free Upfront”

  1. omnologos Says:

    Hope it catches on in Europe too. Sort of like unlimited broadband. As long as it’s sustainable, eg doesn’t fizzle out as soon as the tax breaks disappear, and doesn’t become a terrible burden on taxpayers.

    PS no serendipity, it’s a coordinated PR campaign.

  2. what do you care? environmentalist are sinister crazy anti business types..damn all those fossil fuel companies going out of business producing power for us lot..because the red greenies taking over…

  3. daveburton Says:

    If they could do this without robbing their neighbors and their children and their grandchildren (the “hefty tax breaks”), I’d be all for it. But, of course, they can’t, even in NJ, where electricity is relatively expensive, even when they’re getting the panels at fire-sale prices, because most of the “value” of the solar panels is in the tax credits, not the modest amount of PV electricity that they generate.

    Here are some residential electricity prices for Holmdel, NJ:

    In Pennsylvania, where cheap fracked natural gas is driving energy costs down, electricity is even cheaper:

    PV is close to making sense in Hawaii, which gets a lot more sunshine than NJ & PA, and where electric rates are about 5x PA’s, but PV has a long, long way to go before it makes economic sense on the mainland.

    • otter17 Says:

      Cost of PV is approaching grid parity, particularly when subsidies and tax breaks are removed on both solar and fossil fuel generation.

      If one accounts for the much larger economic externalities that fossil fuel generating plants place on the public at large, the comparison favors sources such as PV.

  4. mimaura Says:

    Yes, yes, yes!

    The question is not whether we can produce energy cheaper than fracking or burning coal.

    Considering the fallout of our fossil fuel addiction (wars, water shortages, drought, flooding), it is instead a “moral imperative” that we transition to renewable energy. These are the words of Naomi Klein, as spoken in Washington DC at the 350 Tar Sands protest.

    We need to explore this in northern Michigan. We need to start a discussion, that includes other possible models, such as a Solar/wind power combo, or where consumers are part of the buy-in.

    Who are the renewable energy experts out there that might do a workshop on this topic at the Great Lakes Bioneers Conference this fall?

    Thanks for posting this, Gary!

  5. MorinMoss Says:

    I’m encouraged by these efforts but am more than a little surprised it hasn’t been done this way much sooner.

    The utilities could have started this method 15 yrs ago in the sunnier places of the USA ( or perhaps they did??) and built out a mass complex of rooftop solar with only a moderate need for new transmission.

    Instead, all the effort went into wind – which I don’t rabidly oppose but it certainly fares poorly compared to solar in terms of public opinion and solar is, far and away, better matched to peak demand than wind.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      wind has come to market sooner, cheaper and bigger than solar up till now.
      Should be interesting to see what happens as photovoltaics kick in.
      We will need all of them. For more on what the world will eventually look like,
      see Scientific American

      • MorinMoss Says:

        The Jacobson – Deluchi plan? I have that issue in print; it’s interesting but overly optimistic although breakthrough materials would solve more than half the tech hurdles.

        I fear we lack the will and are too prone to be sidetracked by naysayers.

        I can’t see anything short of a catastrophe changing the stubborn minds among the influential.

        But I’ll happily eat my pessimistic words if the Citizens United rule gets overturned and if Obama keeps the Oval Office and the Dems reverse the 2010 disaster in the House and take more seats in the Senate.

  6. Who is an alarmist? Would an alarmist be someone who overreacts to the dangers of putting solar on rooftops by a free enterprise system that sees a profit and customers who see a benefit and lower monthly bills and banks that see a steady lending business with reliable returns? So if these people choose to invest in solar and the winners and losers are winnowed out, what is the problem? Could it be that the very idea offends some irrational, emotional, individuals with a history of knee jerk anti green responses, instead of focusing on the obvious economic and other benefits evident? Will solar be the next industry target of fossil fuel funded astroturf campaigns replete with the usual useful idiots and know it alls with no credentials and front group non-profits with open hand to moneyed interests?

  7. […] N.J. — Jay Nuzzi, a New Jersey state trooper, had put off installing solar panels on … storage buffers fluctuating solar powerSiemens has developed an energy-storage system that can […]

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