“Free solar panels”: Are they really free?

If you’ve been shopping around for a solar panel system, you’ve probably heard at least one company advertise ‘free solar panels’ – that they will install a solar system on your roof for free. But, much as with anything, remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch (or a free solar panel).

Free solar panels pure energies

Examples of companies advertising ‘free solar panels’

Decoding the sales pitch: The term ‘free solar panels’ is sometimes used to advertise solar lease or solar power purchase agreements (PPAs). Under both types of arrangements, a company will put solar panels on your roof for no money up-front, but will charge you for the electricity that they produce. Most offers will save you money but not all of them, so make sure you’ve thoroughly compared all your options. Also consider buying the solar panels or financing them with a zero-down solar loan.

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What do companies mean when they say free solar panels?

So what do a company’s marketeers and salespeople mean when they say ‘free solar panels’? Usually, they are referring to solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPA’s). Under these solar financing arrangements, a solar company will put a solar system on your roof at no up-front cost to you. This sounds great – you get to say that your home is powered by clean energy, and can even point to the solar panels on your roof to prove it.

But the reality is that you do not technically own the system, and the solar energy the panels produce is not free. Under solar lease agreements, ownership is retained by the solar company, and you pay for the electricity it produces. In essence, the company has built a small power plant on your roof and is selling you the electricity.

solar panels are not free but our calculator is

Will free solar panels save you money?

You may have various reasons for going solar. If you’re like most people, saving money, eliminating your utility bills and/or reducing your carbon footprint are probably at the top. The environmental benefits of going solar are more or less the same regardless of who installs your system, so it’s key to focus on the financial benefits.

Regardless of its ‘do-good’ image, the solar industry is an industry like any other: the companies offering products are looking to turn a profit. Providers of solar leases make their money by selling you electricity, usually at a lower rate than what you pay your utility.

Although companies like SolarCity once dominated the market for solar leases, countless other players have since entered the space and begun competing with each other. Some solar leases will save you more money than others. You as a solar shopper can now take your pick of company based on the attractiveness of their offering. So even if financial gain is secondary to environmental considerations for you, you should still shop around to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

Interested in learning about your local solar options? By shopping on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace you can compare not only solar lease options, but also purchase and solar loan options. Sign up today to get quotes from solar installers in your area.

Interested in free solar panels? How about financing your system with a solar loan instead?

The revolutionary thing about solar leases was that they made it possible for virtually anyone with a roof to go solar, regardless of whether they had cash in the bank to purchase a system. Solar leases were crucial in removing barriers to entry back when solar system prices were prohibitively high.

But times have changed substantially since solar leases were introduced. Most importantly, solar prices have plummeted over 80% in the last 5 years. This means that solar systems are now more affordable than ever, and that financing options other than solar leases have become viable. The most important of these is the solar loan, which combines the ‘zero-down’ aspect of the solar lease with the benefits of system ownership (‘the best of both worlds‘).

So before you sign up for the first ‘free solar panel’ deal that comes your way, make sure you understand what you’re being offered and that you’ve considered all of your other options. In other words, be a smart solar shopper.

Key takeaways:

-‘Free solar panels’ are not actually free; you will pay for the electricity that they produce, usually under a solar lease / power purchase agreement (PPA).

-If you can’t commit the funds to pay for a solar system outright, consider getting a solar loan instead of a solar lease. Solar loan providers will frequently have zero-down offers – and when the loan is paid off, you own the system.

-If you are convinced that a solar lease is right for you, remember that there are many solar lease providers out there. They are competing against one another, so make sure you shop around and find one that offers you significant savings on your power bill.

solar panels are not free but our calculator is

13 thoughts on ““Free solar panels”: Are they really free?

  1. John

    Thanks for breaking this down. In the world of marketing, seeing the word “free” can often raise suspicions quite a bit. With enough investigation, though, it shouldn’t be difficult to find a plan that works best for your home.

  2. moritz hunt

    Here I am; actually both me and my wife
    at age 64, enjoying solar benefits. It is a
    true story here in ormond beach, florida!

  3. Jessica

    I live in Long Island and I recently contracted a solar panel installation company that installs to own instead of leasing… with the money you save you end up getting the solar panels for free after about ten years.. really can’t beat it!

      1. Lisa castilone

        I did get a FREE solar system with GRID Alternatives and so can other low income home owners. Find out if you qualify at gridsolar.org

        1. Debbie

          I got approved for free solar panels with grid and I still have not had anyone come out to my house to install the panels or even inspect my home. I’m beginning to think that this program is fake.

    1. Morton

      If you are an older person or senior citizen you may not live long enough to recoup the cost. Also realtor told me they can also hurt your resale value of your home.

  4. Antoinette Jones

    Please give me he name of the Solar Company where it should be free after 10 years instead of leasing?

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