Who are the top solar leasing companies in the country, and how do they differ in structure and business model? This article aims to answer these questions, examining some of the biggest solar lease providers in the US – SolarCity, Vivint Solar, Sunrun, SunPower and Clean Power Finance.
If you have spent any time at all shopping around for solar, you may have heard of at least one of the companies mentioned above. EnergySage has analyzed these companies and their business models to help you get a clear picture of what differentiates them from one another.
Remember: There’s more to solar than just solar leases & PPAs! $0-down solar loans or buying the solar system with cash may be better options for you than a solar lease. We invite you to compare a wide range of quotes for free using the EnergySage Solar Marketplace.
Why do solar leases exist? How about solar loans?
Until just a few years ago, solar panels and other solar system equipment were prohibitively expensive. As the cost of solar equipment has come down dramatically, the savings from owning a solar system have become very attractive The introduction of $0-down solar loans – which combine the benefits of a solar lease with the investment characteristics of owning a solar energy system – looks set to further diminish the comparative attractiveness of solar leases in the years to come.
But in the meantime many households may not have access to a solar loan option, or may actually prefer a solar lease. If they still want to go solar, they should know the full range of their options. As a solar shopper, competition is your friend.
Comparing Sunrun to SolarCity and other top lease companies
The table below looks at some key aspects of how eight of the country’s largest solar lease providers operate. We also explain how these organizations differ from EnergySage. The questions below cover the various aspects of a solar leasing company’s structure and operations.
What is their business model? All of the solar lease providers listed make their money by financing a solar system for your home and then selling you the solar electricity from the panels. In most cases the companies promise that you will save money on your power bills in the first year – a win-win situation.
What is their primary product? Each of these companies has a different background, but the bulk of them were founded with financing in mind from the outset. The rest of them started as equipment manufacturers or installation companies.
Do they directly sell solar leases? Some of the bigger companies – such as SolarCity – invest a lot in marketing and selling solar leases to consumers, while others leave those activities to solar installers in their network.
Do they have their own installers or do they contract with local installers? About half of the companies listed do not undertake installations themselves. These companies are therefore not ‘solar companies’ in the sense that they will come and put a system on your roof. Instead, they could be thought of as companies marketing a solar financing product.
Where does their financing come from? For you, a solar panel system installed for zero-down may be a way to save money. For the company that finances that system, it is a long-term investment. With solar photovoltaic (PV) equipment prices coming down across the globe and PV technology having proved itself dependable, big banks and securities companies have started to back the financing of PV systems. Wall Street provides financing to most of the solar leasing companies.
Do they manufacture solar panels? Only one company manufactures their own solar panels – that is SunPower, who started as a panel manufacturer but more recently started offering solar leases to finance the installation of systems that use SunPower solar panels.
Which states do they operate in? All of the companies offer solar leases in California, and almost all of them offer them in a handful of other states, including New Jersey, Massachusetts, Arizona and Hawaii. In any case, a quick glance reveals that there is clearly a choice between solar lease providers in most of the big solar states.
Top solar lease companies in the US: what’s the difference?
|Business model||Rents you solar panels, manufacturers panels||Rents you solar panels||Rents you solar panels||Rents you solar panels||Rents you solar panels, manufacturers panels|
|Primary product||Solar leases & PPAs||Solar leases & PPAs||Solar leases & PPAs||Solar leases & PPAs||Solar manufacturing|
|Market solar leases?||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes (in some markets)|
|Have their own installers or sub -contractors?||Own installers||Own installers||Local installers||Local installers||Local installers|
|Solar lease finance resources||Wall street||Wall street||Wall street||Wall street||Wall street|
|Manufactures panels?||Yes (Silevo, Tesla solar roof)||No||No||No||Yes|
|Market scope||AZ CA CO CT DE DC FL HI MD MA NV NH NJ NM NY OR PA RI SC TX UT VT VA WA||AZ CA CO CT FL HI MD MA NV NH NJ NM NY PA RI SC TX UT VT VA||AZ CA CO CT DC DE FL HI MA MD NV NH NJ NM NY OR PA RI SC TX UT VT WI||AZ CA CO CT DE HI IN LA MA MD MO NJ NM NV NY OR PA TX||Solar leases in AZ CA HI NY; Dealer network covers all states|
How are these solar leasing companies different than EnergySage?
- EnergySage does not provide its own products – not equipment, not financing, not installation services;
- EnergySage helps you compare solar quotes from a number of solar installers, including solar leasing companies;
- More competition for your business results in options and lower prices for you.
Three Tips for Solar Shoppers
1. Homeowners who get multiple quotes save 10% or more
As with any big ticket purchase, shopping for a solar panel installation takes a lot of research and consideration, including a thorough review of the companies in your area. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recommended that consumers compare as many solar options as possible to avoid paying inflated prices offered by the large installers in the solar industry.
To find the smaller contractors that typically offer lower prices, you’ll need to use an installer network like EnergySage. You can receive free quotes from vetted installers local to you when you register your property on our Solar Marketplace – homeowners who get 3 or more quotes can expect to save $5,000 to $10,000 on their solar panel installation.
2. The biggest installers typically don’t offer the best price
The bigger isn’t always better mantra is one of the main reasons we strongly encourage homeowners to consider all of their solar options, not just the brands large enough to pay for the most advertising. A recent report by the U.S. government found that large installers are $2,000 to $5,000 more expensive than small solar companies. If you have offers from some of the big installers in solar, make sure you compare those bids with quotes from local installers to ensure you don’t overpay for solar.
3. Comparing all your equipment options is just as important
National-scale installers don’t just offer higher prices – they also tend to have fewer solar equipment options, which can have a significant impact on your system’s electricity production. By collecting a diverse array of solar bids, you can compare costs and savings based on the different equipment packages available to you.
There are multiple variables to consider when seeking out the best solar panels on the market. While certain panels will have higher efficiency ratings than others, investing in top-of-the-line solar equipment doesn’t always result in higher savings. The only way to find the “sweet spot” for your property is to evaluate quotes with varying equipment and financing offers.
For any homeowner in the early stage of shopping for solar that would just like a ballpark estimate for an installation, try our Solar Calculator that offers upfront cost and long-term savings estimates based on your location and roof type. For those looking to get quotes from local contractors today, check out our quote comparison platform.