Dec 21
Leasing Solar Panels

How does leasing solar panels work?

Leasing Solar Panels

For homeowners venturing into solar panels, deciding between leasing and purchasing involves critical considerations. While a cash purchase or a solar loan presents upfront options, the allure of a zero upfront cost through solar leases has gained traction, with over 40% of consumers in developed markets opting for third-party ownership. 

This article delves into the mechanics of leasing solar panels, examining the intricacies, pros, and cons. However, with a client bias favoring the long-term benefits of ownership, the narrative aims to underscore why purchasing is generally a superior choice over leasing.

What is a solar lease?

Solar panel leasing presents an alternative avenue for harnessing solar energy without the burden of upfront costs. This arrangement involves paying a regular monthly fee to utilize solar panels installed on your property, which the leasing provider owns. The fundamental process and considerations associated with solar leases can be outlined as follows:

  1. Installation and Maintenance Responsibility:

The leasing company is responsible for installing solar panels on your property and ensuring ongoing system maintenance. This alleviates the homeowner from the complexities of installation and upkeep.

  1. Lease Agreement Terms:

A contractual agreement is established between you and the leasing company in exchange for the solar panel usage. This agreement typically spans a specified period, commonly ranging from 15 to 25 years. You commit to paying a predetermined monthly fee with a yearly escalator during this time.

  1. Financial Considerations:

Opting for a solar lease makes financial sense if the upfront cost of solar panel ownership is a hindrance. The monthly payment under the lease should be lower than the savings on your monthly power bill. In such cases, the accrued energy savings offset the out-of-pocket cost, resulting in a net gain for the homeowner.

  1. Evaluation of Monthly Payment vs. Utility Bill Savings:

The viability of a solar lease hinges on the comparison between the monthly payment and the savings on your utility bill. If the lease payment equals or exceeds your utility bill savings, leasing may not be the most advantageous option. Additionally, fluctuations in local electricity costs can impact the cost-effectiveness of the lease, potentially making grid-supplied electricity more economical.

  1. Lease Terms and Conditions:

Like any contractual agreement, a solar lease is bound by terms and conditions requiring thorough review. Some leases may provide the option to retain the solar panels at the contract’s conclusion, while others may require a purchase to maintain ownership.

  1. Early Termination Considerations:

The leasing provider typically bears the financial burden of financing and maintenance throughout the lease period. Consequently, terminating the lease prematurely may incur penalties. However, some lease agreements offer an early exit option, allowing termination if you purchase the solar panels at a predetermined price.

Solar panel leasing provides a feasible avenue for those seeking solar benefits without the immediate financial outlay.

However, carefully evaluating the terms, costs, and potential savings is crucial to determining whether leasing aligns with your financial and energy objectives.

How long are solar panels leased for?

Once the solar panels are installed through a lease, homeowners experience the energy-producing journey of solar. Beyond applying and signing a contract, the leasing company takes charge of the entire process, handling installation and subsequent maintenance.

The typical period of a solar lease can range from 10 years – 25 years depending on your contract. 

The homeowner’s responsibilities boil down to paying the agreed monthly lease. Maintenance costs are seamlessly integrated into the lease, with the leasing company or their designated partner overseeing all upkeep. Homeowners can monitor system performance through the provided software. 

Although a residual electric bill may persist depending on system size, the overall impact is a substantial reduction in energy costs.

Are solar leases worth it?

Solar panel leasing introduces a spectrum of advantages and drawbacks, crucial considerations for those contemplating the transition to solar energy. While the convenience of delegating financing, installation, and maintenance to the provider stands out as a key benefit, it comes with trade-offs. This comprehensive exploration sheds light on the pros and cons of a solar lease.

Pros of Solar Leasing:

Leasing solar panels is a desirable alternative for homeowners who want to use solar energy without paying upfront because it offers several benefits. Here are the key pros of opting for a solar lease:

  1. Lower Upfront Cost:

Solar leasing offers a gateway to solar adoption without the burden of upfront expenses. The lease provider assumes all equipment and labor costs, enabling homeowners to go solar at a lower initial cost.

  1. Maintenance Responsibility on Lease Provider:

The leasing company takes on system maintenance and repairs throughout the contract term. Homeowners are relieved of these responsibilities, streamlining the solar experience.

  1. Elimination of Payback Period:

Unlike a loan arrangement where panels are paid off over time, a solar lease eliminates the concept of a payback period. Monthly costs can result in net savings if they fall below the accrued energy savings.

Cons of Solar Leasing:

Solar leasing offers certain conveniences and drawbacks that homeowners should consider before opting for this financial arrangement.

Consumption of Savings by Lease Payments:

A significant drawback is that lease payments can consume substantial electric bill savings. Long-term savings may be lower than achievable through a cash purchase or a solar loan.

Inability to Claim Financial Benefits:

Ownership of the solar panels rests with the lease provider, excluding homeowners from claiming solar rebates and tax incentives. Only the legal system owner, in this case, the leasing company, can avail of these financial benefits.

Escalator Clauses in Lease Contracts:

Solar leasing contracts often incorporate escalator clauses, potentially escalating monthly payments over time. This introduces an element of uncertainty into the long-term financial commitment.

Substandard Service:

Solar Leasing companies have a negative reputation for substandard service. Companies can face criticism for poor customer service, which seems to be a common complaint among some solar leasing companies. Issues might include slow response times, inadequate solutions to problems, or difficulty dealing with customer concerns.

Sunnova Review

“I am writing this post to warn others that if you are considering Solar-do, do not use any company related to Sunnova. I am leasing my solar panels, and they are responsible for the maintenance. When Momentum contracted with me, I was told they would maintain the solar. Two of my roof shingles have fallen off since then due to being loosened when the solar was installed.

I have been trying to get them repaired for months. The most recent communication I received tells me I am responsible for paying $950 for this repair. I don’t think so. Therefore, I do not recommend Momentum Solar or any company related to them or Sunnova. I hope that by posting this, I may get a positive response from a company that cares about their customer and reputation.”

Is it harder to sell a house with leased solar panels?

Selling a property with a solar lease presents additional challenges. Navigating contractual obligations and addressing potential buyer concerns becomes crucial as the lease is tied to the property. 

Selling a home with a solar lease can be challenging due to several factors related to the lease agreement and potential buyers’ perceptions. Here are some key reasons:

  • Lease Transferability: Solar leases typically last for 20-25 years. If you sell your home before the lease is up, the lease must be transferred to the new homeowner. This transfer process can be complex and may require the new homeowner to qualify for the lease based on their credit score and financial stability.
  • Buyer Reluctance: Some potential buyers may hesitate to take over a solar lease. They might not be familiar with solar technology, might not understand the benefits, or might be concerned about the obligations and terms of the lease. This can limit the pool of interested buyers or negatively impact the home’s marketability.
  • Prepayment Penalties: Some solar leases have prepayment penalties or costly terms for buying out the lease early. These costs can be a deterrent for sellers considering buying out the lease to make their home more attractive to buyers.
  • Long-Term Financial Commitment: The long-term financial commitment of a solar lease can be a concern for buyers who are unsure about their long-term plans. They might not be comfortable committing to a 20-25-year lease or might be uncertain about the financial benefits.
  • Property Liens: Some solar leases or Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) involve placing a lien on the property. This can complicate the home’s selling process, as it needs to be addressed during the sale process.
  • Negotiating Lease Terms: If the buyer is willing to take over the lease, negotiations might still be involved regarding the transfer terms, which can prolong or complicate the sale process.
  • Impact on Home Valuation: The impact of a solar lease on home valuation can be unclear. While solar panels can increase a home’s value, a leased system might not have the same positive effect as a system that’s fully paid for.

Homeowners must carefully manage these aspects when selling before the lease term concludes to ensure a smooth transition and clear understanding between the parties involved.

How much are monthly payments for a leased solar system?

Exploring the financial side of leasing solar panels is essential. While lower upfront costs may seem attractive, the long-term picture unveils specific considerations. Monthly payments associated with solar leases could offset the money you save on your electric bill. 

Additionally, leasing may exclude you from financial perks like rebates and tax incentives. The introduction of escalator clauses adds another layer of uncertainty by potentially increasing your payments over time. When we scrutinize these expenses, purchasing solar panels is a more financially prudent choice.

The yearly escalator in a solar lease agreement refers to the predetermined rate at which the cost of your solar lease payments increases each year. This is important to consider when entering a solar lease agreement. Here’s how it typically works:

Fixed Percentage Increase: The yearly escalator is often a fixed percentage. For example, if your solar lease starts at $100 per month with a 3% yearly escalator, it means that each year, your lease payment will increase by 3% of the previous year’s amount.

Compound Effect: Because the increase is typically compounded annually, the increase is not just a simple addition. In the above example, the second year’s payment would be $103 (which is $100 plus 3% of $100). The third year’s payment would be about $106.09 (which is $103 plus 3% of $103), and so on.

Long-Term Cost Calculation: The escalator impacts the long-term cost of your lease. Over a 20-25 year lease term, even a small escalator can significantly increase the total amount paid. It’s important to calculate the total cost over the life of the lease and compare it with your expected energy savings and other financing options.

Impact on Savings: Initially, solar lease payments may be lower than your current electricity bill, but due to the yearly escalator, there might be a point where the lease payments could surpass what your electricity bill would have been without solar.

Comparison with Energy Cost Inflation: It’s also useful to compare the escalator rate with the historical inflation rate of energy costs in your area. If the escalator rate is higher than the average energy cost increase, you might save less in the long run.

When considering a solar lease, it’s important to understand how the yearly escalator will affect your payments over time and to compare this with other solar financing options like loans or outright purchases, which might not have such escalators.

Despite the initial simplicity of the leasing option, owning solar panels is less complex and affordable in the long run. Balancing the convenience of zero upfront expenses with potential drawbacks is crucial in aligning your choice with your broader financial objectives.

Leasing Solar Panels vs Buying Solar Panels

Choosing between leasing and purchasing solar panels entails crucial distinctions. This can significantly impact your long-term financial outlook. While the allure of zero upfront costs in solar leases is evident, a closer examination reveals vital variances.

Opting to buy solar panels outright grants you ownership. It allows you to capitalize on benefits such as rebates and tax incentives. This ownership also eliminates uncertainties tied to escalating monthly payments, commonly found in lease agreements. Monthly costs under a solar lease may consume your electric bill savings, diminishing the overall financial advantage.

Furthermore, purchasing provides control and flexibility over your solar system, enabling modifications or upgrades to align with evolving energy needs. Leasing, on the other hand, ties you to a contractual period with limited control.

While the immediate appeal of low upfront costs in leasing is evident, a comprehensive analysis leans toward the long-term advantages of purchasing. It ensures ownership and financial perks and provides greater control and adaptability over the solar investment. The purchasing path emerges as a robust and sustainable choice for homeowners seeking enduring benefits from solar energy.

What Leasing Can Cost You?

Leasing solar panels might incur unforeseen costs beyond monthly payments, particularly for homeowners leaning toward purchasing.

  1. Exclusion from Rebates and Incentives

Choosing a lease means forfeiting access to rebates and incentives that could significantly reduce the overall investment. Unlike outright ownership, where these financial perks are accessible, leasing transfers these benefits to the leasing company.

  1. Potential Challenges in Home Sales

There are potential challenges in selling a home with a solar lease, which aligns with the client’s preference for ownership. The lease being tied to the property introduces complexities in navigating contractual obligations during a home sale. 

Prospective buyers might hesitate due to the existing lease arrangement, potentially affecting the property’s marketability. This aligns with the client’s bias towards purchasing, as outright ownership would simplify the home-selling process, avoiding potential hurdles associated with transferring a solar lease.

Why Buying Solar Panels Is Better

Understanding these aspects emphasizes that leasing costs extend beyond regular payments. The immediate appeal of zero upfront costs in leasing is evident. These long-term implications include the exclusion from financial benefits and potential hurdles in property transactions. It makes purchasing solar panels a more financially prudent choice for homeowners considering long-term ownership.

  1. Qualification for Rebates and Incentives

Investing in solar outright provides homeowners access to financial incentives, substantially offsetting initial costs and rendering the decision to purchase financially strategic.

This qualification for rebates ensures an immediate return on investment and bolsters the affordability of transitioning to solar energy. The financial advantages of gaining rebates make choosing ownership prudent and economically sound for homeowners transitioning to solar power.

  1. Long-Term Financial Benefits

Purchasing solar panels offers substantial long-term financial benefits. Unlike leasing arrangements, where monthly payments may erode electric bill savings, ownership ensures homeowners accumulate enduring economic advantages. 

The absence of escalating monthly payments provides stability and predictability in financial commitments, allowing homeowners to maximize savings over time. This extended financial gain positions purchasing as a strategic choice, aligning with the client’s focus on long-term ownership. 

By opting to buy, homeowners secure a sustainable investment, enjoying immediate returns and the ongoing financial rewards associated with solar energy ownership.

Is Leasing Solar Panels a good idea?

Leasing solar panels may appeal initially for lower upfront costs, but a closer look reveals potential drawbacks. Monthly payments in leases could offset electric bill savings, diminishing financial gains. Exclusion from rebates and incentives further limits the financial benefits compared to purchasing.

Additionally, potential challenges arise when selling a property with a solar lease. While leasing offers convenience, long-term economic advantages often favor purchasing. For long-term use, homeowners should consider the potential downsides of leasing solar panels. Typically, buying them proves more financially advantageous over time.

Buying solar panels: An Ideal Choice with Financial Means

Buying solar panels is an ideal choice for those with financial means. Ownership grants access to valuable rebates and incentives and ensures long-term economic benefits. Unlike leasing, where monthly payments may diminish electric bill savings, purchasing provides stability and predictability.

Homeowners investing in solar outrightly secure a strategic and economically sound decision, maximizing immediate returns and ongoing financial advantages. With the means to make an upfront investment, buying solar panels is a prudent and financially rewarding choice for those aiming for sustainable and cost-effective energy solutions.


However, leasing solar panels may initially appear appealing with no upfront costs. A more detailed evaluation uncovers potential drawbacks. Monthly lease payments offset anticipated savings on electricity bills, and the absence of rebates and incentives reduces financial benefits. 

Additionally, selling a property with a solar lease can pose difficulties. Overall, the analysis suggests purchasing solar panels is more financially advantageous. Careful consideration of the convenience of leasing versus its potential drawbacks underscores the enduring benefits—and sustainability associated with owning solar panels, offering a resilient and long-lasting energy solution. 

Moreover, as solar technology advances, owning panels allows for easy upgrades and integration of the latest innovations, ensuring a state-of-the-art and efficient energy system.

About The Author

Ki Song is a dynamic project management professional and certified scrum master with a six-year track record of success in the solar industry. Renowned for a client-centric approach, Ki excels in steering solar projects from conception to fruition and launching innovative solar products tailored to market demands.