Do consumers want to own the solar panels on their roofs? That’s a question I’ve been pondering for a while. I mean, the traditional answer has been no. Solar panels are a depreciating asset and we want the service (energy), not the asset (the panels). Which is why I’ve always thought solar panels would go the way of the car. Lease. Lease. Lease.
Not so fast, though. Sunpower just announced it’s going to roll out a loan program to enable homeowners to buy their solar panels. Now we know that no one really wants to pay the out of pocket expense of buying solar panels up front, which is why various financing schemes from power purchase agreements to leases to now loans have cropped up. They make it easy to compare your monthly financing payment on the panels to your utility bill and if the solar’s cheaper, there you go—cleaner, cheaper energy.
The argument in favor of ownership is that it allows homeowners to claim the tax benefits of solar panels, not the leasing companies. There may be some compelling benefits here, depending on which state Sunpower is selling into. The other potential benefit revolves around what happens when people have to sell their house. With leases, that payment has to be transferred to the new owner. But if the panels are owned, they’re now part of the house and theoretically could boost the value of the house. Needless to say, this is still one more way not to purchase a solar system up front.