I've heard that there are solar installers who will now lease you the panels for zero down. Is this for real or too good to be true?
--Erica in Berkeley, California
Yes, you can indeed lease solar panels rather than purchase them, which would enable you to go solar without any payment up front. You can also choose to pay considerably less money down than the full purchase price, and lease at a lower monthly rate than if you put no money down. I contacted one of the leasing companies, Solar City, and quickly received a reliable estimate of the solar capacity I’d need based on my annual power consumption.
But before you jump into any solar lease or purchase, you should first see how much you can cut your energy use by taking all my eminently sensible power-miser measures on the Cool Home Checklist here (PDF). Why hive up more solar capacity than you truly need, especially if you’re worried about the price?
Consider this CBS News story about solar leasing that quoted one satisfied customer who slashed her electric bill from $200 to $300 per month to less than $60 per month by paying a $100 per month in solar rent. She enjoys a net savings of between $40 and $140 per month, but since she had “five TVs and four computers” in a suburban home, she might have saved even more by better managing her excess computer and home-entertainment consumption.
Many U.S. households could easily cut their electric use in half—which would help bring U.S. per-capita consumption down to the level of, for example, Germany or Italy. Because increased power consumption jams up the system, power loss between dynamo and user zoomed from 5 percent in 1970 to 9.5 percent by 2001, according to the Department of Energy. In light of such wretched excess, let’s halt dumb use, or the “smart grid” will begin losing IQ points even before it’s built.