By Paula Mints
Originally published on Solar Power World
In an article for Solar Power World, Paula Mints considers whether solar leases are a trend or a fad. Despite their popularity, she conjectures that in the future, low-cost loans could become more attractive to consumers.
One thing that can be said for the residential solar lease: Love it or hate it, the model is encouraging homeowners to consider including PV as an electricity generating option and as a way to control costs.
Residential solar leases are increasingly looking like a trend and not a fad. Why? This model enables homeowners to install PV systems without the high upfront cost of installation thus emulating the traditional utility model of renting electricity.
For solar businesses committed to this particular model the initial hardware investment should be more than offset by the eventual high margins. For investors, there are those high margins to look forward to eventually (and by eventually I mean perhaps), ensuring either a profitable exit or repayment at a profit.
Though this model looks as if it is a winner for both parties (lessor and lessee), it’s too early to make a judgment in this regard. In the future, lessees may not appreciate the escalation charge that is part of the lease structure. Also, in the future the difference between financing a PV system and leasing a PV system (in terms of cost of ownership) may make cost of leasing (as time goes on) seem less and less like a good deal.
For businesses engaged in the solar lease model, it is too early to assess the costs of unimaginable outcomes such as another U.S. housing crash — foreclosures and abandoned homes as well as abandoned solar leases, or continued strong growth in the housing market that encourages homeowners to trade up (an owned PV system may be an asset; a leased one may not be an asset). Legislated (and thus enforced) standardization of escalation charges (among other things) could take a hunk out of margins. New-connection charges from utilities could annoy lessees. Direct competition from utilities with their own lease models could well make this model less attractive (To all my friends who have created leasing options, here’s a hint: Partner with local utilities now before they figure out how to capitalize on this potential revenue stream).
Finally, remember that everything changes — everything — and sometimes the changes are swift. The example in this regard is the feed in tariff (FiT) model in Europe. Back in the day (and this day is relatively recent), practically everyone thought that this was the incentive model of the future and investors believed FiT systems provided a safe and reliable investment. Now every investment in a FiT installation is one retroactive change away from going bust.
Encouraging people to choose a distributed-generation PV system is a good thing, a step forward in the way we think about accessing our electricity. It is not too late to ramp up consumer education about owning the means of electricity production instead of continuing to rent electricity by the kilowatt hour. In the future with storage including new inverter technologies connecting to the utility grid may be an option — ah, what a wonderful world.
Paula Mints is the founder and chief market research analyst of the global solar market research firm SPV Market Research. Mints provides classic market research products based on primary research and focused on the supply and demand sides of the solar industry and its technologies. See what her company is all about or read her blog, “Notes From The Solar Underground.”
Disclaimer: Any opinions expressed in this blog by persons not affiliated with PV Solar Report reflect the judgment of the author and not necessarily that of PV Solar Report.