free solar panels

“Free solar panels”: Are they really free?

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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 energy 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).

What do companies mean when they say 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.

So what do a company’s marketers 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.

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.

Looking for free solar panels? Try 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. 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‘).

The falling cost of solar

the falling cost of solar prices

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.

core solar content
cost/savings content

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

    1. Felly

      It really depends on your roof type and condition, your energy usage and what you/your home qualifies for. Then you will see if it’s a good or bad idea…or at least that would be a really great start.
      Which state are you in?

    2. Martin Hoglievina

      Its a great idea if you do the research. the best locations for the panels are facing Southeast, South, and Southwest. Depending on HOA rules, you may not be able to use the front facing part of your house, so you may be stuck with panels facing the wrong direction and not being able to maximize your solar input. I would suggest owning instead of leasing. Currently, in west coast of Florida, installed in August/2020, we started only paying Utility company taxes. January’s bill we reveived a $3 credit. The sides and rear of our home faces SE and SW. We produce an average over 1000kwh per month and use around 900kwh. it works.

  1. sam smith

    Sign up for “free” solar or a lease, especially with Solar City, and get really taken. They are real crooks!

  2. Mike

    We had someone come out. When I pointed out that the only thing they were doing is making me pay the loan payment, instead of paying the electric company, they quickly left the premises. Even with the so-called incentives it’s still expensive. I would just as soon pay the electric company with no hassles about maintaining all the solar equipment, etc. Only a couple of states with higher incentives would it make sense.

  3. Anonymous

    I just finished putting in an 8.6kW SunPower system that cost me $18k. This system is fully warrantied for 25 years, including labor and a promise that my system will still produce 92% of what it did in year 1. For long termers, def give SunPower a look.

      1. Shawn

        Right…….. you don’t seem to understand how grid tie solar and electricity works. The size of the solar system has nothing to do with your demand.


    I heard if you get the “free panels” which is really a long term lease and if you try to sell your home, the buyer would have to pay for the solar system outright. I went to an open house for a Condo and the catch was there was $35K that must be paid for the solar system on top of the property price! I was floored!

    1. Maria

      My neighbor bought her house and had to take over the solar panels loan as well. I’m thinking about getting them but so confused. I’m in California.y dad just got them 3 months ago and he does see the savings. He pays $155 a month for the next 25 yrs. Yikes!!!

  5. Dennis

    If you buy instead of lease you would be responsible for servicing or replacing broken or worn out solar panels. If you lease the panels I assume the company would maintain/replace them as needed. Is this correct?

    1. Gabby

      Nope, most companies offer warranties that cover all maintenance. I went with Elevation solar! Great company, I went from paying 200 to only paying 100.00 a month locked in rate and now I own my power, it’s pretty awesome!
      Ask for phil he’s the best!

  6. Russell Crawford

    Is that why they run a credit check? I’ve got good credit 720 And was turned down I’ve only needed 3-4 credit cards for various reasons. This was a group from Atlantic City electric the company was sunuity solar and sunova. They didn’t care who I could get with more credit history. Is this normal practice? Just to get me into a 20-25 year leases?


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