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I Bought a House with Solar Panels (bloomberg.com)
416 points by sphuff 37 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 290 comments



>One former Bay Area employee sent me a Sunrun training manual he said was current when he resigned in April 2017. It’s called “Power Play 2.0: The Guide to Successfully Sell Sunrun.” (The company confirmed its authenticity.) It instructs salespeople to sow distrust in and disdain for traditional utilities and appeal to customers’ emotions. Over 61 pages, pain is cited at least 31 times and fear at least a dozen. When reviewing a customer’s traditional utility bill, the trainee is told, “amplify the pain significantly.” Among “components of success”: “creating pain and fear.” Among the “five fatal flaws” to avoid: “failing to build pain or fear.”

Not the company I want to be stuck in a 20-year contract with.


We got a quote from sun run - it made us uncomfortable how all of their numbers assumed ridiculous utility rate increases. And our gut said we should just wait and purchase instead.

A few years later solar prices came down and we made a purchase with an installer whose main business was purchase, not lease.

edit: I responded below, but my complaint isn't with their price -- it's their scare tactics and fuzzy break even financial calculations assuming wild rate increases. We went with a vendor who was more open and honest about the break even calcs.


Sun Run's quotes were on par with every other installer we got, but I bought outright because I didn't want to have to deal with any of this nonsense.


Customers of Sunrun and other companies must sign binding arbitration clauses, barring them from suing or joining in class actions

This is how unchecked capitalism looks like. How can this be legal? How is it that so many companies (Google, Sun Run...) are able to get away with forcing their employees and customers to sign away their rights like this? This is in addition to the fact that even if someone has the balls to sue Google and others, it would take massive resources, so most people aren't going to sue in the first place.

Is it this bad in other western countries? or is it just the U.S?


Norwegian agreement law § 36:

An agreement may be wholly or partly set aside or amended to the extent that it would seem unreasonable or contrary to good business practice to make it applicable. The same applies to unilateral binding dispositions.

The decision takes into account not only the content of the agreement, the parties' position and the circumstances of the agreement's conclusion, but also to the subsequent circumstances and the circumstances in general.

The rules in the first and second paragraphs apply correspondingly when it would seem unreasonable to make the current commercial use or other contractual custom.


So don’t buy from Sunrun. It’s that simple. That’s how capitalism works. If they ask you to sign something as a condition of using their service, simply decline and they lose the sale.


"In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread."

Your idea might work, if all companies didn't follow the same anti consumer rules. At some point a law becomes so favored to a business that the savings from anti consumerism dwarfs potential lost sales. Not enough people will realize they are being screwed in the first place.


You're mixing an economic system with a legal framework.


> So don’t buy from Sunrun. It’s that simple. That’s how capitalism works.

That's how laissez-faire capitalism works, within bounds.

Capitalism just means private ownership and trade; it doesn't dictate, or even imply, anything about regulation.

In more regulated capitalist economies legal systems are quite happy declaring 'unfair' contracts to be void. For example in the UK a single unfair clause can invalidate the entire contract.


To be fair, the cost of solar panels at the time you were considering them was what it was. Someone needed to pay for them. If that someone is Sunrun, they need to recoup those cost and make a return. You can be as creative as you want with the financing, that reality won't change. You could have gotten a bank loan too.


No, someone did not need to pay for them. That's not how the market works. If no one is willing to pay the listed price then the product goes unsold. Sunrun has no right to paying customers at any arbitrary price level, same as any other business.


It doesn't go unsold, everyone pays via subsidies.


Why can't the business suffer losses instead of everyone pay subsidies?


>Why can't the business suffer losses instead of everyone pay subsidies?

Because the old model of coal power plants makes people pay in other ways (pollution). Subsidies are reasonable if it means that the negative externalities are diminished.


So let’s subsidize nuclear instead. Far more efficient than millions of people buying solar panels. Properly designed nuclear is proven technology.


You’re creating a bit of a false dichotomy here. There’s absolutely methods and reason to subsidize both forms of power. Both would be a vast improvement over coal/petroleum.


Let's do both.


Because it’s politically popular to subsidize anointed industries.


Because public traded business must be greedy in America. They will be sued by share holder of they are not greedy.


And that’s why markets end up stuck in local minima. Unless you consider government subsidies, which is a way to collectively share the burden of overcoming temporary obstacles.


It's not their price I'm complaining about -- it's their financial break even model they pushed claiming huge increases in public utility rates -- which didn't seem realistic given recent history.

It's in line with their scare tactics and emotional push.


You aren't wrong, but, unfortunately a lot of consumers weren't aware of the real costs and were misled by companies offering these kinds of deals. I feel like it has done a lot of damage that is going to cost the residential solar industry a lot of money over the coming years.


> You aren't wrong, but, unfortunately a lot of consumers weren't aware of the real costs and were misled by companies offering these kinds of deals

This is the same model mobile phones have operated on in many countries for many years. Up front costs are subsidised by the carrier, who then proceeds to gouge you over the 12-24 month term to recoup that cost + a return.

> I feel like it has done a lot of damage that is going to cost the residential solar industry a lot of money over the coming years.

Possibly, given that the term lengths and financial costs are significantly higher. Unfortunately, the basic model itself is generally appreciated unless you've got the funds to pay up front. More unfortunate is that most people do not have the funds, so accept this trade off and move on.


A loan is a better option than a lease, IMO. The terms are generally less obfuscated with loan agreements as well.


It is funny because we get cold called by these folks probably twice a year, and once a rep came up to our house and wanted to tell us about solar, so I gave them a short tour of the 5KW system we installed 15 years ago. The one that has literally paid for itself (about half way through year 11) based on actual generation and power consumption statistics. It would have paid for itself sooner except that PG&E has twice updated the grid tie rules which have incrementally reduced the benefit of rooftop solar.

The TPO systems as described are a boon to PG&E who, if you can believe their actions, is really concerned that people will just drop off the grid altogether.


Even without explicit subsidies, it seems like rooftop solar is still getting hidden subsidies? If homeowners were paid wholesale rates for the power they provide, with prices based on the spot market, would any of it make sense financially?


No, it wouldn't. For the same reason that me operating a coal power plant in my backyard wouldn't provide me with cheaper electricity then just buying from the grid.

A centralized utility, even a poorly run one, will always provide electricity safer, cheaper, and more consistently then thousands of tiny private installations.


I like this argument but I disagree with it.

I will stipulate that PG&E qualifies as a 'poorly run, centralized utility' and based on its billing it cannot provide power to residential homes for less money than a locally installed solar system can.

The reasons for this are worth considering.

PG&E has to maintain a power transmission infrastructure. That infrastructure has a high inspection cost, land use cost, equipment costs, and insurance risk cost (witness that the threat of the being found liable that their transmission line maintenance (or lack thereof) contributed to the most expensive wild fire in CA history).

Then there are the externalities which we don't account for as much in either scenario. Whether it is the cost of scrubbers on a coal plant, the waste storage costs of nuclear, or the gas pipeline infrastructure for natural gas plants that leaks methane into the air.

What solar does it centralizes the manufacture of the energy production equipment with finite externalitie. It provides highly granular capacity that can be deployed without large step wise changes in capacity (this is the 'nearly unused plant' problem where you have to run a plant because the instantaneous need occasionally exceeds your current generate capacity while the average need is staying below that level (this is where Teslas battery farms help energy companies cut costs).

So when comparing systems dollars to systems dollars, Solar with the current economics of about $3.25/watt installed is actually cheaper than poorly run centralized power plants.


Oh, don't get me wrong - solar power generation is fantastic in areas that can support it (Which is most of the world.)

Rooftop solar power generation is what I have an issue with. Utility-scale solar has all the advantage that you cited, without the disadvantages of being incredibly labour-intensive, overcomplicating the electric grid, and offloading long-term maintenance to non-experts.

If you are going 100% off-the grid, then yes, local installations may be cheaper (Because they don't include the cost of maintaining the grid.)

However, you'll still have to maintain a national grid - because not all buildings or businesses have the rooftop capacity, or the hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital to install enormous battery blocks.

So, what ends up happening, is that a few people drop off the system, and raise prices for everyone else - including people who don't have the option to drop off the grid. My building, for instance, houses 40 units. It has four times the rooftop capacity of an average home. No amount of battery storage is ever going to let it be grid-independent. Other residences dropping off the grid, completely, just shift costs around - they wont reduce overall costs.


It's interesting that you say this because I've had the same feeling. However, I'm still quite hopeful for rooftop installation simply because from a societal point of view it's a better utilisation of land. Where I live we have really ideal conditions for both solar and wind and while I'm relatively happy dotting every hilltop in this area with wind turbines, they've been clear cutting the forest, paving it over and carpeting it with solar panels. I realise that we're going to need some of this, but I would really like to minimise it as much as possible and I'm willing to pay for it. It frustrates me no end that at the same time they started pushing renewable options, they deregulated power sales and capped the distribution costs for the power company in our area. So while the costs of running the grid goes up, they have have no leeway in increasing prices to match. Sigh... I sometimes feel I'm going to be living in a literal silicon valley at some point... The irony, of course, is that I live in Japan and while we have oodles of geothermal potential, it's still a politically sensitive option to even experiment with (for fear of disrupting the hot springs -- lots and lots of money tied up in that and already people complain about the drop off in temperature due to over use...)


It requires a grid, but maybe not a national grid?

There has been a lot of talk about how we need more long-distance power lines for load-balancing solar and wind. However, the PG&E bankruptcy seems to show that we've been underestimating what it takes to properly maintain a grid. Are long-distance power lines more expensive than we thought?

Or maybe rural, fire-prone areas would do better with more local solutions that reduce the amount of low-usage power lines that need to be maintained?


PG&E is a pretty poor strawman for anti-grid arguments. CA pays 2x what neighboring states do for electricity, and despite having mild weather and high population density have unreasonably high levels of safety and reliability issues.

It’s probably second only to Puerto Rico on that front, at least in the US.

Having said that, I’m eagerly awaiting the day I can disconnect my house from the grid, and close my account with them.


You cannot just look at $/MW costs when the goal is to have 100% generation adequacy (i.e. demand is uncontrolled, people can turn on loads within their home whenever they want and always expect to have adequate supply).

If loads are interruptible and you don't mind not being able to turn on your air conditioner at 10pm on a hot summer night, then sure, off-grid rooftop solar can be cheaper. Primarily, the way people who actually live off-grid operate is the same way people without running water wash dishes: you ration your consumption.

But most people want power for all their stuff, all the time. It will always be easier to plan for generation adequacy and resiliency centrally rather than every single power user having to install enough generation and storage to meet their own needs, 100% of the time.


Totally agree that it's easier to plan a centralized system over a decentralized one, provided that you adequately fund people to maintain all the components. (And trim trees!)

But have you ever been in a power outage, used your cell phone as a flashlight, and thought, "man, I wish my entire house ran off of a battery like my cell phone?"

A home builder already plans for 95% generation adequacy of hot water -- they literally find space in the floor plan for a hot water heater, and decide how big the tank should be. If you run out, either you ration usage or you buy a bigger water tank.

If home batteries had the right safety-energy density ratio (admittedly -- hard problem; see the RFS for Energy), you could just include one in the floor plan based on 80%ile usage, like the batteries in laptops, and cell phones, and electric cars. They're just too big and expensive now.


For 6-7 hours on most days, rooftop solar can provide power to residential homes more cheaply than PG&E.

For 12+ hours a day, PG&E is almost certainly cheaper I believe.


A centralized utility, even a poorly run one, will always provide electricity safer, cheaper, and more consistently then thousands of tiny private installations.

Not necessarily. For household solar, economies of scale kick in at the manufacturing level -- if you’re producing lots of standardized units, each household’s installation costs can go down.

You’re right that there will be some distribution inefficiency, as some households will over-produce and some under. But it may not be that bad if most households size their installations sensibly.

The centralized utility can balance distribution across many households, but there are some extra costs too -- installation and maintenance of power lines, power leakage, downtime due to faults.

Edit to add: I suspect we could agree that district solar (small local utility companies) is an excellent compromise that gets most of the benefits of both types.


Maybe? A well-ran local utility is likely to do a better job then a poorly-ran large one.

Unfortunately, how well a business runs is not always correlated with size.


Define safer? more safe for an individual or more safe methods of generating power?

Centralized utilities also have a nasty issue of not coping with natural disasters particularly well...


More efficient to produce a certain kW figure, but run for profit and at the cost of freedom for the consumer.


Counter example: PG&E. More expensive than smaller, greener alternatives. And 85 people killed just last year alone is the safety record.


PG&E provides ~100 TWh of electricity/per year.

Rooftop solar kills ~1 person per 2 TWh of produced energy. Mostly from people falling off roofs.

If you were to look at the big picture, and not one outlier year - and look at the entire past decade, PG&E will probably have a better safety record.

Also, if you want to do fair accounting, you can't solely blame PG&E for California wildfires. The entire state is a powder keg - and they just happened to be the last people who touched it. It would have burned sooner, or later.

If your horse bolts from a barn, because there is no barndoor, do you blame the last person who went into the barn? Sure. Are they the sole point of blame? No. Especially if your barn has a history of horses bolting from it.


There are hundereds of different subsidies in the US across all the different states. Some vesting over time, valid from day x to day y, and all kinds of other scenarios. It's really complicated, but chances are high that there is a subsidy or grant somewhere you could take advantage of.


How do you calculate savings at the 11-year mark? If you'd invested the same amount in index funds over an 11 year period you'd see your money double in an approximately 10 year period.


We have kept records of the power we've consumed, the power we've generated, the cost of the system and the cost of repairs/maintenance (one panel and one inverter so far over its lifetime).

For the financial analysis we assumed the money would be committed to paying for power one way or the other, there isn't really an option for putting it aside in the mutual fund so the 'invest' option was off the table. With the use of a current measuring system[1] we also have time of day usage numbers which is an option that helps people who aren't home during the day. In our case there is always someone in the house so the tiered rate metering was the only rate schedule we needed to consider[2].

With this information we can calculate the total money would would have spent just paying for power from PG&E and making no change, to the money we spent on the system install ($20,000) and the subsequent money we paid to PG&E for power and for their meter reading service. A bit more than 11 years after the install the total money spent over the period was less for the solar option. Our current annual electricity spend is about $420 (that is $120 for their meter reading + about $300 in additional KWh of energy above what we generate) vs roughly $3000/year or average $250 a month. Effectively $2600 a year is not being spent. If I were a min-maxer then I'd be putting that money into a mutual fund and it would start compounding and well, then the difference would start to look ridiculous.

[1] "The Energy Detective" -- http://www.theenergydetective.com/

[2] While it is true we could have changed further things about our lifestyle to fit into other rate schedules that avenue wasn't pursued.


It's worth modeling the cost of capital of your system to provide a fair comparison. Assuming the it lasts 20 years before you need to replace it entirely and after maintenance you save $2600 a year ($217/month) then what rate of interest could you pay if you took out a loan to cover the initial capital outlay?

Plugging the figures into: https://smartasset.com/personal-loans/personal-loan-calculat... and adjusting the interest rate slider you get a monthly payment of $217 when the interest rate is 11.75%. That's a pretty good rate of return for your investment. Not ridiculous, but solid.


What I mean is that your initial outlay either needed capital or a loan. This is money that could have been invested, with electricity bills taken out of that kitty. What's confusing me here is that you've said you've been saving $2600 per year in electricity costs but it took 11 years to save $20000 off your bills. Either you've averaged about $1800 per year in savings or you've spent more than $20k on the system + maintenance, or I'm missing something. Was there some sort of tax offset here to make it more cost effective?

The point I was trying to make is that a dollar spent 11 years ago isn't the same as a dollar spent today.


Thanks for that clarification, we did in fact finance the initial capital, we were re-doing the roof and as part of that we chose to refinance the house to take advantage of the lower interest rates. And yes, there were government rebates in force at the time, the actual system cost was closer to $40,000 but our part of that bill was half or $20,000. FWIW the refinance which only added the cost of the roof and panels to the balance and reduced the interest rate left us with a smaller monthly payment with a similar pay off date (replaced a 30 yr fixed with a 15 year fixed)

As for costs, maintenance included replacing a failed inverter, that was $3500, and a panel, that was $450. The way in which electricity has also changed, when we started it was just kilowatts in vs kilowatts out annual true-up, they dumped that and switched to time of day, but changed their mind when the economics didn't work out for them, and now they are on the tiered system. They also blew up the town of San Bruno and convinced the PUC that they should be allowed to raise rates to cover their costs, so the price of electricity has gone up. Net result is that we didn't save as much per month when we started, incurred maintenance costs above the original $20K, and PG&E has changed the rules several times on how the accounting works. Fortunately all of that complexity can be factored out just by computing the bills vs what we paid.


$250/mo is a pretty generous number to compare against. Our >2500 sqft house averages under $100/mo. With the fairly extreme heat we have in in Texas, and A/C set to frigid while we’re home our bill _peaks_ at ~$150 in August. Well..that’s after a $1000 investment in attic insulation the first month we moved in.


Do you keep track of your KWh per month? If so, consider reading this page: https://www.pge.com/en_US/residential/rate-plans/rate-plan-o... and then plugging in the numbers. That will give you an idea.

For my house in Nov of 2014 the tiers were Tier 1: 15 cents/kwh Tier 2: 18 cents/kwh Tier 3: 26 cents/kwh Tier 4: 32 cents/kwh

And the baseline allowance is 10KWh a day (our house typically uses 24 - 28KWh per day.

Put those numbers in to your power bill and tell me what the number comes out to.


PG&E who, if you can believe their actions, is really concerned that people will just drop off the grid altogether.

It is.

It just looks to the east where nearly all of the largest commercial energy consumers in Nevada have dumped NV Energy and built their own solar farms to save money.


Did they try and sell you anyway?


Thankfully no. But they haven't seemed to have deleted my number from their phone number list either.


Is this really all that different than putting segment.io onto your site, instrumenting every button click, and A/B testing which color or CTA phrasing results in the highest conversion rates?

Just yesterday, there was a front-page post here about the top pricing experiments you can run, full of neat behavioral psychology tricks like decoy pricing and anchoring.

Our industry does the same emotional manipulation... we just call it "growth hacking" instead of "sales scripts".


Yes, it is really that different.

What you're talking about is better connecting with a customer's needs and promoting the product's benefits. There's no losers in that situation, just a customer with more facts of which to make their decision.

What that training manual is describing is exploiting someone's primal fears to manipulate them into something they wouldn't have otherwise done: apples and oranges.

A better analogy might be those beauty ads that call the customer ugly then offer their product as a solution. Seems both that and the Sunrun technique rely on primal fears and worries to get sales.


Tell me how A/B testing a button's color and placement "better connects with a customer's needs" over maximizing primal attentiveness circuits. Or how implementing decoy pricing and measuring relative price plan conversion funnels "promotes the product's benefits." Tell me how running multiple ad copies for multiple persona-tailored landing pages on a platform that's programmed for automatically rebalancing ad-spend with conversion-maximizing optimization algorithms doesn't trend towards finding the primal fears or urges or whatever that best gets sales.

I'm not saying any of this is good, I'm just saying lets not do holier-than-thou mental gymnastics to pretend the tech industry isn't built on taking these traditional sales scripts and industrializing their effectiveness.


I won't pretend it never happens. But you have to admit there's a contrast between abusing negative emotions (like fear, hate, anger, and distrust) and trying to connect with positive emotions (joy, interest, hope, enjoyment, etc).

If for no other reason that it is much harder to get someone to do something they wouldn't otherwise do while prodding at the positive, but almost easy while prodding the negative. The only times when I can see positive emotions being abusable is sex (as a topic) and gambling, neither of which typically apply to the area we are discussing.


"Did you know you're a horrible looking person. You're ugly, and we can see your pimples. And your eyelashes look like thin straw. And your mouth and lips look dry and colorless. Your hair is a tangled dry-ends mess. But our products can make you look human again."

This is what women are subjected to day in and out by all the media targeting them. They're told how ugly they are, how inhuman they look, how they stink, their disgusting bodies (periods), and more that I know I dont realize being a man.

And only the company's products - well, they never make you awesome. They make you whole from ugliness and disgust.

Lo and behold, we see the same strategies being used in this realm too. It's fear, uncertainty, doubt, and self-loathing; and only that company can save you... for a 20 year hunk of flesh.


There are enough real world examples of women with and without make up on where it's obviously not entirely a manufactured cost/benefit ratio. There is a real ROI for women who purchase those products.

Not to say there isn't real anxiety and pressures generated but at the same time it's not all some grand fiction created by the advertising industry like some Fight Club reductionist style ideologies like to promote.


At least from my perspective, the ROI is often negative. Lipstick looks varying degrees of clownish to me, and if I can’t see your pores you look like a robot. I don’t blame anyone for doing whatever makes them feel beautiful; I’m sure my choices look distasteful to some. But a look enabled by product works because it has been sold to us, men and women alike.


I'd love to read this but can't find it-- link/title? (I did use search but could not find anything).

edit: I think this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19133394


Not just a 20 year contract, but a 20 year contract that holds a lien on your home. This lien is great for sunrun. It has near zero risk profit backed by a lien on a home. The financial engineering at the expense of the public is quite good.


Without a lien on the property this type of business model, where the company pays for tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment up front to private individuals who may not have any other assets to be used as collateral, simply wouldn’t work. It’s not that different from a mortgage.


Except that they would still have the solar panels and the power generated by them to sell as assets.


A better system would be to offer buyout of the panels when the house sells.

For example if they decide that the system needs to be bought for 20k when the house gets sold, then when you want to sell your house you just bump the price 20k to account for the panels buyout.

There, no lien to the home, and no confusion from the buyers thinking they get a house with solar panels when they're just getting a house where somebody else's panels are installed.


It's terrifying that California legalized this in such a fashion and seems to have handed companies like Sunrun a huge victory.


And again and again, @AOC is completely correct. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNjckHXBNBI

There's no laws federally preventing corporate collusion and corruption regarding federal congress. And I would also make the claim it's also true for states as well.

This Sunrun contract they peddle isn't good for anyone, except for their wallet books. Just how many homes will have unattachable liens from this debauchery?


People like AOC love pushing these types of these well-intentioned top-down gov economic engineering policies which claim to help the little guy (or the environment in this case) but ultimately either do the opposite and largely just create inefficient systems, promoting graft and cronyism, and generally making us worse-off than before. Often they work for a short period of time before the entire marketplace figures out how to exploit it or work around it. Rinse and Repeat.

Despite constant evidence that it continually fails to do what they claimed and keeps profiting large politically connect companies, at what point to we start rejecting the whole concept in the first place?

Are we continually supposed to believe the next time will be better? The next politician will be more honest and competent? The next batch of over-committed way-too-late patch work of policy with fix the thousand leaks of the boat which they largely generated in the first place?


As per the gp

> There's no laws federally preventing corporate collusion and corruption regarding federal congress. And I would also make the claim it's also true for states as well.

This is where the graft and cronyism comes from, and not just for liberal "over-reaching government" policies - graft and cronyism also infect regulations to enforce monopolies by people trying to downscale government protections, and they infect the removal of some regulations that industries consider too onerous but which benefit society at large.

The issue in the US right now is that graft & cronyism are so deeply embedded into the government that we may not legitimately be able to get them out, but I'd urge caution whenever you're tempted to pre-judge people who want to make large changes as doing so for personal gain.


If you read the article closely SunRun entire business model is built off of buying up thousands of tax credits intended for regular America and selling them to mega-corps so they pay zero taxes. And in return it's thousands of loans directly tied to properties by selling short-term gains to consumer who eventually get burned by long term financial trickery.

I mostly agree with you but giant gov programs in 2019 are just setting you up for failure. This isn't patriotic post-war 1950s American in boom times ready to get to work.

There is a sophisticated highly competent industry set up around poking and prodding these deals inside and outside of government.

Private/public deals are cancer. Well intention gov mega-deals like California's massive tax credits and new solar-policy, etc, etc, etc are just bad ideas that keep working against the public interest while politicians get praised as helping the poor/middle class when it gets first released. There's no accountability afterwards. They tell us it's just a lack of gov interferring, which will solve all the problems they made.

Let markets do what markets do and only come in to regulate when there is a clear and obvious dynamic where markets simply dont work (military, police, health care, etc). Simply the tax code. Simplify spending. Stop pretending these grand social and economic experiments. Stop public/private nonsense and choose one or the other.


That's ancient sales wisdom, not anything new. MCI and AT&T perfected those techniques during the long distance wars in the 80s and 90s, and it was ancient sales wisdom back then.

A corollary is that they are your family. That's my favorite red flag: some employer or vendor or other non-family entity tries to tell me I'm part of their family. Uh, no, I'm not.


Pretty much all sales and advertising is built around creating a perception of pain and/or fear and offering relief for that.

That SunRun included that in their sales manual just indicates that they were addressing a sales force that was significantly staffed with sales novices who didn't already understand that, not that they were particularly nefarious.


> Pretty much all sales and advertising is built around creating a perception of pain and/or fear and offering relief for that.

No, pretty much all sales and advertising is built around finding some problem the customer has that the product or service being sold solves (or solves better than their current solution). But there's no need for the problem to be pain and fear--let alone pain and fear that is a perception created by a sales pitch that has no qualms about playing fast and loose with the truth.


> No, pretty much all sales and advertising is built around finding some problem the customer has that the product or service being sold solves

“Finding a problem” in sales is very commonly a euphemism for creating the perception of a problem that the customer did not perceive before the sellers efforts.

> But there's no need for the problem to be pain and fear

“Pain” (outside of it's narrow use for physical pain) is a synonym for having an actual current problem, fear is having a concern about a potential future problem. The distinction you propose is vacuous.


> “Finding a problem” in sales is very commonly a euphemism for creating the perception of a problem that the customer did not perceive before the sellers efforts.

Yes, but that just omits the crucial distinction between an actual problem that the customer did not perceive before the seller's efforts, and a spurious problem that the customer did not perceive before the seller's efforts.

> The distinction you propose is vacuous.

If that's the way you are using the words "pain and fear", that's your choice. But it's not the way I understood those words. I took those words to be referring to a particular kind of problem, the kind for which the customer can be made to feel that they absolutely need a solution, instead of just that they would like to have one. And that distinction is not vacuous, because it explains why the tactic of convincing the customer to perceive a spurious problem might work a lot better if the perceived (but spurious) problem is of the first kind rather than the second.


My advertising professor told us the opposite, he straight up told his students that the best sales tactics is to evoke emotional responses like fear and mental anguish and to leverage that to your benefit, including with with lies of omission and unsubstantiated claims about what you are selling.

Sure you don't HAVE to do those things, but then you won't make nearly as much money doing only slightly less soul crushing advertising work. Just like being a good politician doesn't usually get you nearly as far as being a bad and corrupt politician willing to lie straight to people's faces.


Every company that sells anything - consumer, enterprise, whatever.. has sales scripts, which this is. If it's not something a live salesperson is walking you through, then there is a workflow you are stepping through to maximize your conversion through steps in a pipeline. This isn't worth getting mad over, and it's universal (it's just modern, quantitative sales best practices). The saying "caveat emptor" is centuries of years old, but is still as relevant, particularly with long term leases.


>The saying "caveat emptor" is thousands of years old.

Yes, and the implication of "caveat emptor" is to take a very dim view of the ethics of folks who pitch in this way.


The implication of caveat emptor is to not to take the word of someone selling you something, period.


Sure, but there's a big difference between simply distrusting people who try to sell you stuff, and seeing actual proof that a particular company has truly horrible and evil ethics.


Some folks manage to act and speak in the customer's interest and still sell things.


Sure, I just don't take their word. If they point out something that I was genuinely unaware of, and I can verify it, then of course it's in my interest to consider it.

But as a general rule, I hope that I don't have to ask the salesman for any information.


Have you ever purchased something custom for business use?


Yes, definitely. The products that I help develop for my day job contain numerous custom components ranging from machined parts to high-level assemblies.

Sometimes it goes well, sometimes not. Sometimes it's our fault, sometimes the vendor's. I'm often not the only person involved in the purchasing process, and there are a number of different interests from engineering, operations, and so forth. Likewise on the vendor's side, we may be talking to salespeople, engineers, and so forth.

I'm often the one who has to bear the bad news: "Hey, this thing doesn't work at all."

We do a great job of tracking service and warranty replacements, and the top-ten list is entirely populated by buy-in subsystems.

Certainly "don't trust any salesman" is an over-simplification that may hold pretty well for consumer products, but not so well when a product is complex and technical. But verifying that the vendor is actually capable of what they claim to do, is still considered to be vital.

The vendor isn't always being dishonest. They may believe that we are over-spec'ing something, and that their product really will fit our needs once we are able to lay our hands on it and use it.


Many sales scripts appeal to the emotional side of us as humans. I don't have a problem with that. My primary criticism is that they focused on using the negatives, specifically "pain and fear" to try and sell their product, instead of using the positives.


The same reason why a lot of other industries and political parties use this playbook: It works more often than not.

It is much easier to influence a decision by catering to emotions instead of reasoning.


The latest brain research pretty clearly shows that all decisions are emotional first, then layered on with the necessary reasoning in our conscious mind to satisfy us. In fact, I recall there is a study that people who have had the emotional center of their brain damaged or destroyed are simply incapable of making any decision at all.


I agree with your post completely.

An interesting irony struck me while reading your post that many of those potential customers are stuck with PG&E, which has to completely suck. No wonder they focus on sowing distrust.


Where can we find this sales manual? I bet it would be a interesting read, maybe better than the original article. I would love to read. Can someone post a link? Thank you


Why create a throwaway for this anodyne question? It’s fine to have pseudonymous accounts on HN. But HN is a community: if for some reason you don’t want to tie this to your main account, create another one for such questions, but keep some consistency. HN isn’t intended to be a collection of disconnected, orphaned statements.


Yeah. Unfortunately sowing fear is a really common marketing gimmick.


> Not the company I want to be stuck in a 20-year contract with.

As opposed to... your electrical utility?! Do people not remember the electricity crisis? It was an enormous, deliberately engineered market fixing scam that produced widespread power outages and a $40B windfall for the power producers financed by emergency state spending. Yet it was totally legal because they managed to get their lobbyists to fool the legislature into writing it into the law before pulling the trigger.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_electricity_crisis

Seriously: I'm sure Sunrun is scummy. But... come on.


One incident that happened almost 20 years ago, in one of the worst-governed states in the union, in a way that immediately inspired one of the biggest landmark examples of corporate regulation in history.


That's a massive false dichotomy. There are many ways to get solar panels other than Sunrun.


When you get down into the meat of how the tax credits and Sunrun's financing work it's astonishing.

Essentially it sounds like Sunrun's investors are paying to install solar panels on your house so they can claim the tax credit to offset their own income. Meanwhile you are paying Sunrun for the electricity generated by the solar panels.

There doesn't seem to be much benefit for the homeowner. You're better off buying the system up front if possible or even financing it and claiming the tax credit yourself. Then you'd only have to pay the utility for the electricity you don't generate.

"The American way" anymore seems to be to take a good idea, overcomplicate it with financial engineering, and funnel the profits to a small minority of people who actually understand what's going on.


When Sunrun got started, no one wanted to issue loans for residential solar. It was a new unproven technology, and the accounting departments at places big enough to provide these kinds of loans at scale just didn't know how to factor the risk.

The article calls these TPO's, but in the industry the more common term is PPA's -- Power Purchase Agreements. That's more how large solar farms work -- they find a buyer willing to pay a fixed price over 20 years and use that contract to raise money in the capital markets. Sunrun kinda took that model and applied it residential, because that's what the financial industry that could supply the capital knew.

Now that we're a few more years into this grand energy transition, PPA's are falling out of favor. Now that the capital markets see this home solar thing is more or less as reliable as promised, has expected depreciation, etc., personal loans are becoming the more common way of buying home solar.


What kind of rates and from which lenders are you seeing on solar loans in 2019? Thinking of it in the next 10 years, wondering about the specifics of cost in the Boston area.


That’s because government subsidies always have to be twisted into the shape of a tax cut to avoid triggering low information voters.


Huh? Electric car subsidies were just that, subsidies (i.e. Tesla cars were cheaper).


No they were still structured as tax credits.

https://www.energy.gov/eere/electricvehicles/electric-vehicl...


Ah, interesting, I never realized!


How are you defining subsidy? Tesla cars were not cheaper at the price level, a buyer in 2018 and before just gets a tax credit of $7,500 upon tax filing.


Ah, interesting, I never realized!


  You're better off buying the system up front if possible
When I looked into it in my country, the payback time for a solar system was 10+ years, and estate agents were reportedly estimated they added nothing to the value of the house.

Buying is all very well if you're sure to stay in the same place for 10+ years - but if you move in that time, better hope you place a high value on feeling you've helped the environment.

Not that having a mandatory loan you try to get prospective buyers to pay for is a better decision, of course...


>> When I looked into it in my country, the payback time for a solar system was 10+ years, and estate agents were reportedly estimated they added nothing to the value of the house.

If that's true, then your strategy should be to buy a house with solar already installed and paid for. You'd get the house at regular prices, but pay much less for electricity.


Depends on the tax breaks in the UK the government effectively guaranteed a 8% ROI for decades at one point.

On some sunny winter days we turn off central heating and use the free electricity.


You don't want it to add value to your house because then you will end up paying higher property taxes on a higher appraised value. The benefit of solar can be stated to a prospective buyer as X dollars less on utility bills each year.


But if the panel doesn't increase the sale price, then you've effectively lost three investment in them when selling.


Huh??

I buy a house for $100k. I put $15k of solar panels on it. I go to sell it a year later, and sell it for $100k. That is what it means for solar panels not to add value - I just lost my $15k investment.

Incidentally, that appears to be the case for residential solar in CA. It doesn’t factor in appreciably to the price of a home.


Your neighbor buys a house for $100k, doesn't install solar and then sells their house a year later for $85k.


> When I looked into it in my country, the payback time for a solar system was 10+ years, and estate agents were reportedly estimated they added nothing to the value of the house.

Solar panels in this type of deal are debt incurred by the home owner so the cost should be deducted from the sale price. In other words, do not buy a house with mortgaged solar panels.


I think you've misunderstood. GP is talking about time to break-even on purchase, and that despite having purchased outright, the panels being worthless as far as house-valuation metrics went


Yep!

We had something similar show up in my Houston suburb.

I read the gist of it and tossed it in the trash. If I want solar panels, I will pay outright, or borrow as needed to install the system.

Why in the heck should I enter into a contract to park someone else's assets onto my own property, to pay for the privilege, and to risk a massive penalty to get out of the contract, a penalty likely linked to an inflated valuation on aging panels, and on expensive installation carried out by someone with every incentive to maximize the cost.

Hahahahaahahaha! No thanks!


Do the calculations include the opportunity cost of the initial money? I.e., what return would the homeowner get on the investment in the market? Market returns are quite low, but could still swing the recommendation toward lease over purchase.


When I ran the numbers for my home back in the days, it more or less came out to a pessimistic 15%/year investment (give or take, it's been a while and memory is shaky. Your millage may vary depending on your power costs). You might be able to do better through other vehicles, but I was planning on using it to diversify my portfolio, so to speak.


> Essentially it sounds like Sunrun's investors are paying to install solar panels on your house so they can claim the tax credit to offset their own income.

They're probably also factoring those arrays into their green initiatives by claiming those green credits to offset their own consumption.


The benefit to the homeowner is defined cost and no up-front payment, which is a big benefit to most people. When you say you can buy the system with credit, you assume that the buyer can get a loan for the $15k cost of putting the system in - for many people, that’s not easy. Additionally, if you buy a solar system and anything breaks, you are on the hook for the repair cost.

Also keep in mind that these are people with very, very low electric bills - a small home in a Mediterranean climate, no need for either heat or A/C. Solar is really overkill for them. For a family with a bigger house and higher electricity usage (maybe an EV in the driveway?) there would be plenty of room for both Sunrun and the homeowner to come out ahead.


>You're better off buying the system up front if possible or even financing it and claiming the tax credit yourself.

Up front means no one is responsible for maintenance except you.

As for the tax credit, you do get it in the form of a discounted price. Over here, that's how all the solar companies pitch it. They'll install it for cheap, but the condition is that you pay them a big fraction of the tax credit the following 2 years. They make it clear that the reason they're giving you the panels at below market cost is so that you can pay them in tax credits that you file for and receive.


> Up front means no one is responsible for maintenance except you.

Ok? That is standard practice when you own a home. You are responsible for all the maintenance on your home. What is scary about solar panel maintenance? I assume they have to be cleaned every so often. Anything else? Maybe you have an electrician come and retorque the connections once a year? It's not like they have a lot of moving parts assuming it's not doing anything fancy like sun-tracking.


I had solar panels for 13 years that I bought up front. Never cleaned them, never had to do anything. We had 1 cataclysmic hail storm (Colorado) that destroyed our roof but the panels had zero damage. We had to pay $5000 to get the panels off to fix the roof but the insurance paid for it.

We also paid no extra insurance for the panels.

One of the best decisions we ever made. We just recently sold the house and it is true the panels gave no extra bump to the sales price but the new owners are ecstatic which is also a warm fuzzy.


Unfortunately inverters fail, including the little microinverters (or optimizers with something like solaredge) on the panels themselves. This requires a qualified person to repair and possibly roof access as well. Depending on which panel it is, they may have to temporarily remove multiple panels to get to it. If the cost of labor is on the consumer, this can wipe out months of returns in a single visit.

Of course, it isn't required to offer a lease in order to also offer a warranty, which is the real solution here.


Yeah. Most inverters have multiple-year warranties, and often offer extended warranties out to about 10 years for the non-micro string inverters. You should still expect a full inverter upgrade/replacement every 10 years.


This is a risk with Sunrun too, though, and the risk that it will happen is undoubtedly factored into what they charge.


That is true, but I've still occasionally seen people misunderstand it. Some feel like the company is more obligated to respond in a lease deal.

To be clear, I don't think that is true and I really don't think very many people should actually agree to lease deals. They are almost always bad for the consumer.


I have a system from SolarCity that also came with my home when I bought it. This past year was finally the point where "buying it out" was possible, but I procrastinated. In retrospect, it's actually a good thing I did. My panels turned out to have a manufacturing defect, and now all need to be replaced. Because of the arrangement, SolarCity is doing it for me.

That being said, their monthly cost is fixed so it's more a philosophical issue for me. I may still just buy it outright someday, especially if I want to expand it.


You've got the weight of the things bolted to your roof. Is your roof new or less than new and needing replaced before the solar panels are paid for? Do you know a roofer who will touch solar panels during a re-roof? This doesn't even discuss the installer incompetence and the damage they'll do to your roof during install. Those panels are bolted to the roof and bolts cut through shingles and the sheathing underneath. All entry points for water.

Bolting solar panels to the roof is not viable in the long run, IMO. The damage and the advancement of tech means these things will be obsolete in the near term.


What do you see obsoleting solar panels in the near term?


Roof-installed consumer-grade nuclear reactors


Solar shingles is where it's eventually gonna end up on cost and beauty, IMO.


It'll probably also increase the cost of your home insurance. I'm not from the USA, but over here, accidents and acts of nature (e.g. a serious hailstorm) can damage your solar panels to the point they need replacing. If you bought them yourself, you usually add them to your home insurance, or purchase separate insurance just for the solar installation (which includes not just the panels).

Sometimes, getting it on a lease contract works out much cheaper, but the situation could be different in the USA -- for starters, as the article mentions, solar is quite subsidized in other countries (although in my case, I'm speaking about Europe), and startups / small businesses that deal with solar are also subsidized (except Spain, which recently changed in unpopular ways which I don't completely understand, yet). That creates a situation where companies that "lease" tend to try to be competitive with the already subsidized market. It sometimes turns out to be slightly more expensive, but the hassle-free nature of having "pros" maintain your installation and ask very few questions tends to be something people are interested in.

As an anecdote: a friend was doing some building work in his house and managed to damage a panel. They were replaced at no charge in less than a week. I was surprised because it was clearly his fault, but I guess they also want to keep their customers happy. Almost made me consider going with them if I bought my home.


Have you owned a multi-kW inverter before? Because if you know one that is mostly free of drama I would love to know the brand! Solar photovoltaic systems are not as maintenance free as one might wish. They still make a ton of financial sense if you own them outright, but inverters and critter damage to wiring can be unwelcome surprise costs.


I have an Aurora PVI-6000-OUTD-US that's been pretty solid. I've also heard good things about the Sunny-Boy inverters. One thing I like about my Aurora is that there is a linux command-line tool that can pull data from the inverter over serial. I pull data from mine every 5 minutes into text files on my home server.


Thank you. I have a SolarEdge currently... after two bad units (to their credit, under warranty) the third has been solid for a long time. I have heard mixed things about microinverters, and my installation has developed partial shading over time (damn trees!) so that's something else I've looked at.


Victron's Multiplus and Quattro are drama free. I buried and conduited/sealed all my cabling and had zero issues.

Added bonus: if you use them with a CCGX and are comfortable with MQQT and/or Python there is literally nothing you can't control, automate or visualise with them. The CCGX itself is arm + linux and mostly open sourced https://www.victronenergy.com/live/open_source:start

The downsides are: 1) price but imho you get what you pay for many times over. 2) veconfigure for the multiplus itself is windows only, but runs fine in Wine on Linux and Mac


   We bought our solar panels from Solar Edge.It's a 4.5-5 KW system 
   We are in our forth year. I've done nothing to it, no  maintenance. It just works. Every now and then it rains and that cleans up the panels enough.


>What is scary about solar panel maintenance?

I don't remember the details, but whenever a solar company reaches out to me they list all the maintenance they will perform on the panels (a not insignificant list), and that they will charge for it if I buy it instead of lease. And that's where I tell them they just convinced me not to get solar.

Where I live, every few years I get roof damage due to weather. These would be covered with a lease, but not with a purchase.

Then there are things they don't cover at all. My roof will need to be replaced in the next few years. They said that they'll remove all the panels and reinstall them for a fee (even with a lease). When asked for the amount of the fee, they usually give me a range ("it depends on each situation"). The problem is that fee wipes out quite a lot of the savings. My electricity bill is only about $60 at the moment. With their lease plans, I'll save perhaps only $10/month. A fee of a few hundred dollars wipes out years of savings.

I don't honestly know if maintenance will be a problem in reality. I just know that I can't trust them to let me know what kind of maintenance is involved.


> I don't remember the details, but whenever a solar company reaches out to me they list all the maintenance they will perform on the panels (a not insignificant list), and that they will charge for it if I buy it instead of lease

That's because they want you to lease, not buy (and not just “lease in preference to buying”), because of their business model (and quite possibly sales agent incentives that exaggerate preferences in the actual business model.)

Sort of like how (well, before most of them went belly up because of internet competition), brick and mortar chain computer store sales staff would prefer driving off a sale to making one without an extended warranty.


It’s risk. You put in a $25k system, then the inverter blows and it’s useless to you until you spend $3k for a new one. That does happen, probably a few percent per year chance. If you don’t have $3k lying around, then you are one failure away from effectively losing $25k.


Maintenance? I bought solar from a company in San Jose. They guarantee production, they warrantee the installation to be leak-proof, the panels and inverter have factory warrantees.

I guess they won't come over and wash my panels for me, but, no kidding.


Which company did you buy from? Which panels are they using? LG, Panasonic, Chinese? I may be in the market soon..


I went with Clean Solar in San Jose. All companies I got quotes from were very similar; I wanted to go with a small/local company, but the smallest company I talked with turned out to be shady/on the verge of criminal, and for me, Clean Solar struck the right balance of being local and big enough to have tons of great reviews and presumably good financial resources, but not huge. The SunRun guy I talked to was also great but I just didn't get the greatest feel in the end.

In my particular case, I got SunPower panels, but (like most installers), you can get whatever you want. I went back and forth and was on the verge of going with 360w LG NeON panels but then a deal came up on SunPower 345s that were substantially cheaper per watt, getting close to non-premium brands (of course with that slight wattage discount; I suspect they're older panels being phased out in favor of new 360s as the top end). I had liked the idea of using SunPower but the 360s were even more expensive than the already-premium LG 360s, and the 345s at a substantial discount were just the ticket.

Feel free to ping me if you like, I was super happy with my sales guy who was far more patient with me and spent far more time on the phone with me than I think most people would, and the install was done in one day, they arrived early and finished early, and left the place spotless. Can't say it wouldn't have been the same case with anyone else, but I was still impressed.

It's pretty cool how they do the quoting and measurements; get up on your roof and use specialized cameras to 'view' the sky from all corners, find obstructions, calculate sun angles, etc. They gave me an estimate of per-month production that's been amazingly accurate. (the guaranteed production is on a per-year basis with production declining at a certain annual %)


Thanks, very helpful. I do prefer local in general. If you don't mind, would love the name of your sales person..


Craig Rush / craigr@ clean solar dot com

He's in Foster City, and was previously an engineer, so I felt he 'gets it'.

If you need to get ahold of me, my username here at gmail.


Thanks.. I might take you up on the offer to contact you if I need more info/advise.


An interesting thing touched on in the article is that some folks' tax burdens are low enough that they can't get the full credit anyway -- or at least not in the first year. It sounds like you can take it over a multiple years, but suddenly the minimal up-front price of a lease scheme might make sense versus fronting a ton of money today, and taking your tax credit over years.


Do these solar panel leasing companies include maintenance in the contract? Do they have guys going around to all of the installs to work on them? I'd always assumed that you would be responsible for all of the maintenance in either case, because that's usually how it works.


They include maintenance in the lease contract. Also, they are closely monitoring the output and will probably notice before you do if there’s a problem.


There's clearly not much benefit, if they sold him on saving a mere $23 per month.


Eh, it's $23 a month with no capital cost to you and environmental feels. You just sign a paper and move on with your life.


We bought a house with TPO panels from SolarCity. It's been ... ok. Our monthly payment never goes up for the life of the lease and SolarCity sends us a check if the panels ever don't produce enough. They provide 100% of our electricity and we generate excess that the power company pays us a tiny amount for.

If I could do it again I'd get a house without TPO panels. If for nothing else, just one less variable and thing to consider. You can always get panels later.

But I gotta say, SolarCity themselves were an absolute nightmare to work with. The person who got the panel deal on our house (two owners ago), has two other panel deals with SolarCity on two other houses. When we took over the lease SolarCity basically just munged all of the account details together. A major red flag went off when they asked if I'd like to pay my bill with my Wells Fargo account. I don't have a Wells Fargo account. For over a year I had to fight these morons to get everything squared away and to finally get my account onto their online portal so I could pay online. Every single month they tried to either charge me for the other systems, or have the other guy pay for ours, and with each other's bank accounts. They told me to not make any payments until this was resolved, but also told me they'd send me to collections for non-payment. It was an absolute nightmare. Don't ever work with SolarCity.


We bought panels outright with Solar City, end of 2007. Overall, we're satisfied.

We didn't get exactly the rig we wanted. As a typical HN reader, I learned more about solar than their customer-facing staff, and had to periodically be put on the phone with a techie they usually insulate from customers. One problem was working around a revered shade tree we had no intention of hacking to optimize solar yield in late afternoon. One shaded array in a string is like one bad battery in a flashlight; that string's output crashes. I determined that we wanted two strings on independent converters, so half the panels would be unaffected. I was willing to pay whatever this cost, but they wanted a simple pricing model. They agreed to my request. Studying the wiring after installation, it was clear that the strings couldn't possibly be independent. It took calls to Germany to understand that the converter algorithm was tuned to "fake" two independent strings, like someone learning to walk with a lame leg. As spelled out in the manufacturer manuals, the algorithms claimed to optimize for the better string, even though they only saw the combined output. They lied about what they were actually installing, or more likely, the customer-facing staff were too ignorant to understand the swap being made without my consent.

There was a full-court crush to get our contract signed by the end of the year, ostensibly to have a chance on a limited number of expiring state-sponsored favorable time-of-day rate plans with PG&E. The state office was swamped with a backlog of unprocessed requests, though it strained credulity that SolarCity wouldn't have some idea about our chances. Of course they knew we had no chance; I found out through a back channel that they never filed until January 7th, making us ineligible. This deception speaks for itself.

Our panels cover various roof vents. This is not allowed by code in many locales. One day, a plumber snaking our bathroom sink drain gave up on the new snake his boss was making him use, and said he'd just go up to the roof and snake from there. (This is standard drain geometry in a house.) He came back down mortified: Our panels were blocking his access. He managed with a different snake, then we discovered the cause for his mortification: Our solar was out as of his visit. His original snake had gone up, not down, and shorted a panel. The panel was fine, but some component near the regulator on the side of the house had literally exploded.

SolarCity repaired this promptly, without charge.


One big reason I didn’t go with Solar City is that they install DC systems, where all of the panels are wired in series DC down to a big monolithic inverter. With such a system, shading is a problem, as you mention - one shaded panel will cut current for the whole string. You are also lucky that the plumber didn’t kill himself or burn down your house - DC systems often run hundreds of volts, and DC can sustain an arc with as little as 80V (http://www.acsolarwarehouse.com/news/solar-fires-dc-arc-faul...).

AC systems have micro-inverters for each panel or panel cluster, so DC is never transmitted over large distances or at high voltage. Because each panel is independent, shading only affects the output of the shaded panel. You can also replace damaged panels or add to the system later without having to match the characteristics of the existing panels.


1. (Edit: In most cases) Never pay for premium PV panels. The 10-20% premium only nets you an additional 1-2% in generation output.

2. Always get at least three quotes, using energysage: https://www.energysage.com

3. As a residential customer, never sign a PPA. Either pay cash or get a loan

4. Tesla solar customer service is wildly inconsistent. Even as a Tesla investor, I do not recommend them for solar.

Sorry for your poor Solar City experience.


Premium PV panels can be worth it if they look better. My parents paid a bit extra for black rather than blue solar panels (said panels also have higher output), and the house really does look a lot better for it. This can matter come sale time; curbside appearance is very important in real estate.


Also a good value if you're launching them into space


Launching a rooftop residential installation into space is kind of a niche use case, though.


Elon Musk needs one up there to charge his Roadster


Black backings produce ever so slightly less than white backsheet, and premium panels can technically be worthwhile if you have limited roof space like we do.


I think they are talking about the cells themselves. Black cells have higher light absorption than blue cells (which are reflecting blue light) but I can't speak for their efficiency (and I should note that absorbed light that doesn't generate electricity generates heat which is bad for PV efficiency.)


If you are doing a self-owned grid tie installation and have limited space, premium panels CAN make a big difference in your cumulative kWh produced per month.

Let's say you have room to mount sixteen, 2.0x1.0 meter size (72-cell) panels.

320W (cheap panels) x 16 = 5120W STC rating

370W (more expensive panels) x 16 = 5920W STC rating.

In the above i'm comparing cheap polycrystalline panels from a not-very-big Chinese maker to a well known manufacturer using high quality 156mm monocrystalline cells from a reputable cell manufacturer.

Edit: Others in the same thread have pointed out there can be aesthetic considerations as well, a cheap panel will look like this:

http://energyinformative.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/sola...

A panel built from 72 x 156mm mono, black cells will look more like:

http://www.cirelectric.com/content/images/TouSilevoPanel.jpg

This can be a big monthly and yearly kWh-fed-back-into-grid difference.

Now, "super premium" panels will be a lot more expensive, like Sunpower, which might have a STC W per sq meter rating even higher (390W in the same space), but you'd be paying literally double per panel.


I have to agree with some of the points you made but disagree on some others. I definitely agree that you should never use a PPA, get the loan or pay cash. But I have to say they whole process for getting my solar installed was really nice. I purchased my first home three years ago almost now and had solar installed back in the spring of 2017. It was on my short list of things to do as it seemed reasonable to do. I had one guy come to my door from a competitor but I was very put off by how pushy they where. So I called Solar City (Now Tesla) to talk to one of their sales people. They came on time and was very professional. In terms of financing it all I asked them to run the numbers for everything just to compare. When it came to the PPA I quickly realized that it basically meant I was replacing my normal provider, PG & E, with them for electricity. That didn't set well with me as I was gonna end up paying roughly the same for what I was currently paying. I had just bought the house so I didn't want to take out the loan. I had the cash so it seemed like the logical thing to do. It was nice and comforting to know that I had some time to decide how I wanted to pay for it, and that I could cancel practically up to the day they installed my system. Since then my power bill has been great. I paid just about 200 dollars for the first year since the day they turned it on. And I am on track to pay even less this year. As far as customer service. I don't have a huge opinion on that yet. I haven't needed to call them, though I probably should call and schedule my panels to get cleaned.

Probably the most interesting part of the whole process was paying nearly 10k dollars through PayPal. That was something interesting.


1) premium (high power density) panels can still make sense if you have limited roof space to work with, especially limited south or west facing.


Energysage website is broken and requires an email - seems like it's main purpose is to harvest PII. I'd be wary of using that site. Gave fake quotes after I gave fake email...


Energysage is a legit marketplace for solar quotes with funding from the Department of Energy. No affiliation, but I do send everyone consisting solar there for quotes.


An important take away from this article is simply the perils of home buying. People usually only do it once or twice in their life (I have done it twice so far) and it's really easy to make a very expensive mistake. Imagine this article with another property problem instead of Sun Run: a mother-in-law unit with a tenant, a disputed property line, a requirement to retrofit the house to make it earthquake proof, illegal additions to the house.. etc. All those things can be pitfalls in a house purchase that a buyer will not know much about.

The realtor sounds extremely negligent to not correctly inform the buyer about the true situation until after offer is made. That should be a flag. Realtors understand loss aversion and that you can get very fixated on a particular house. Better to get you to start thinking the house will be yours then break the bad news to you. People just don't buy houses often enough, and they get too emotionally attached, to make rational decisions. Listen to the author talk about how this is the place where he might raise a child. That sounds so portentous, but really wherever you live is where you might raise a child.

Owning a house can be great, but the best way to do it is to think about it like buying a used car. Realize the people you are working with are nicer, smarter used car salesmen. Check everything out with true third parties and be ready to back out.


> An important take away from this article is simply the perils of home buying ... it's really easy to make a very expensive mistake.

This article was interesting but I don't think the author was at any risk of making a financial mistake. At the end of the day, Sunrun had a lien on the property. The title company and the lender would not allow the sale to go through unless the Jug estate was able to deliver a clear title. If the title company somehow missed the fact that Sunrun had a lien on the property, the author's title insurance would cover the damages.

> Check everything out with true third parties and be ready to back out.

The insurance company, title company, lender, and home inspector are already highly incentivized to ensure that the property isn't a dud.


You are right. He made an arrangement to have the seller remove the equipment that SunRun itself said was rare. People don't often accept surprise problems in homes with less negotiation. Don't do that.


>The realtor sounds extremely negligent to not correctly inform the buyer about the true situation until after offer is made.

Its par for the course - realtors rarely know anything at all about the property they are selling other than what the MLS says (and the MLS is often inaccurate and/or missing information). I was looking at a house and asked if the fireplace was functional and the seller's agent answered with "I don't live here, so I don't know." Another time, back when I was looking to rent, I asked about laundry facilities in the building, she was like "idk." Neither even offered to get an answer for me.


I agree. My point is that people go into it thinking the realtor knows what they are doing. And they probably do in general. But there are a lot of blind spots.

Also, an earlier poster said that inspectors are highly motivated to protect you. I can only offer anecdotes, but my experience was that realtors liked some inspectors more than others. All inspectors probably know they have to tell you about big problems. Some are really thorough about all issues including small ones. Realtors, who want to get the deal done, hate the nitpicky inspectors. But nitpicky is good for negotiating. I am no expert, I am just sharing my impression.


Realtors know they are responsible for representations so they are very careful about limiting their knowledge of the property to exactly what the owners have stated on the listing. Playing dumb is really important to being a listing broker.


I think we should probably assume the author goes by she/her, given that she's pregnant by the end of the story and her Twitter bio doesn't give explicit pronouns. :-)


>Supporting renewable energy is important, and I get spending a little more to help the planet. But a for-profit company like Sunrun wasn’t my idea of the right place to do it.

That's a pretty strange sentiment. 20 years ago, solar was decidedly more expensive than it is now. A fair price would be higher than grid power. For the installation to have occurred at all, the up front capital cost had to be amortized by a for-profit company in an attractive way. This appears to have been crafted as a payment schedule that's slightly back-heavy. Seems to me that the author just didn't want to be left holding the bag, but still wanted to pay lip service and feel like a good environmentalist.


Seems like one thing to make the payment schedule back-heavy and be honest about it, another thing to use unrealistic assumptions about utility price increases to disguise this payment schedule as a lifetime cost savings.


And the huge issue is that if it's a back-heavy payment scheme: A future buyer will only see the heavier portion. Which makes your house less attractive to a buyer, and devalues your home, which also hurts any potential cost savings.


The growth rate of the payment is 2.9%. This is only very slightly higher than inflation, on average.

Also, assuming that the lower home value came true, the original purchaser of the solar installation did put his money where his mouth is, and paid a financial cost to his environmental interests, which is the moral thing to do, regardless of whether he was "tricked" by the negative cash flows showing up in later years (and in this case, when he was dead).

I guess my main point from my multiple posts is that there is no free lunch. If the fully amortized cost of solar is higher than grid power, someone will have to pay. Someone with buyer's remorse, who fully understood the cash flow implications at the time of purchase, can still feel like they were tricked. And maybe, the pessimistic projections of grid power costs made by sunrun should be taken with a grain of salt, and it should also be acknowledged that this deceptive practice is helping the planet.

Maybe a game theory perspective is valuable here- assuming cooperation is possible, people place an irrationally small cost to global warming, and discount future costs (in this case, of their power bill) to an irrationally large degree. The way to get people to cooperate is to trade one irrational impulse for another.


Sure, someone is going to have to pay for greener power. But the problem is that Sunrun is claiming it's cheaper, even though it isn't, and that the owner ends up paying both Sunrun's expenses and their profit margin.


> Also, assuming that the lower home value came true

It did, the estate paid off the cost of the contract.

> the original purchaser of the solar installation did put his money where his mouth is

He did not. He was dead, as you've noted, and the inheritors of his estate paid that price instead.


The article is about a solar installation done in 2016.


Ah, sorry. Yeah, I must have misremembered "20 years" from the first quote below. Doesn't materially change my argument, I think.

Another important point, in my opinion, is the cost given in the second quote below is a fair cost. $6000 over 20 years is an average cost of $300 per year. If you are purchasing 2016-era installed solar, knowing that it is a less cost-effective form of electricity generation than conventional means, an amortized (predicted) cost of $300 per year is fair. Refusing to pay this and still claiming to "be willing to pay a little extra to help the planet" is hypocritical.

>I got ahold of a copy of Jug’s contract, and quickly saw how Sunrun could afford to extend such an offer. It lasted 20 years. The payments escalated annually by 2.9 percent—they’d be 72 percent higher by 2036. The tax credit was worth at least $5,000.

>If Southern California Edison's residential rates continue to rise annually by 2.2 percent, as they have on average over the last decade, Jug's total electricity outlay having gone solar would have cost about $6,000 more over 20 years.


You're mixing up two different sets of numbers here. $6,000 is the extra amount that Jug would have paid after being sold the solar installation as a way to save a lot of money over the next 20 years.

The author, who was willing to pay a little more to save the environment, would have been paying an extra $30/month from the start, before the annual increases started widening the gap. Their bills without the solar started at $30/month, so this would start out doubling their bill and increase from there.


This seems really suspicious to me since in the article they clearly stated that their electricity usage was much lower than the previous owner, who was running some kind of server farm there.

Of course someone needed to pay, but it seems wrong to pay extra for electricity they are not using to pay lip service for supporting a for-profit company who had locked in the plan with an earlier contract.


Owning your panels with a loan is an excellent investment. Leasing them isn't.


>It’s far more common for home sellers to transfer the lease to the buyer—Sunrun says 94 percent of customers do this—or to prepay the lease and leave the hardware on the roof for the next owner to use. I’ve been kicking myself ever since I learned about this latter option. It would have saved the estate around $12,000 and allowed us to support solar and get “free” electricity, even as Sunrun remained responsible for maintenance and repairs.

I'm not surprised Sunrun chose not to tell them about that option as it seems like a losing situation for them. They claim that Sunrun would have been covered, but that merely means they fail to lose money. They stood to make money on that system, and no sane solar panel buyer is going to have heavily used panels put in.

>Aided by a local attorney and my father-in-law, a retired contract attorney, I drafted a letter to Jug’s trust accusing the listing agents of failing to deliver title to the property free of any third-party claims as the agents had said they could. I threatened legal action. It was a last-ditch effort that none of us expected to work. Then it did.

I'm not surprised this worked. Their whole job is to present the actual situation during the sale and they failed at it. There are probably a lot of legal issues with what they did and I bet the agent was quaking in their boots at the thought of that going to trial.


regarding the legal action: based on my recollection from real estate class in law school, failing to provide a free and clear title on a general warranty deed is a pretty straight forward victory. if i remember anything from that class, always get a general warranty deed (ie a deed with all the covenants) when buying a house.


Your class was correct (I just had to go through this very scenario this week, albeit not for solar, with a local title company transferring some property).

Never take action that is going to jeopardize free and clear title on your real estate.


I’ve never seen anything but a quitclaim deed offered at closing. The P&S stipulate the deed is clear, but the buyer runs the title search. If you find something (like TPO panels) attached, there’s a “make right” clause which usually has a maximum amount paid of 1% after which the seller can walk away.

If you want protection for anything after the sale, you buy owners title insurance.


Here's a cautionary tale of purchasing a home with solar panels, even if they're not leased from a third party.

We bought a house with solar panels in 2016. The seller had purchased the system less than a year before the house went on the market, and one of the key selling points was that there was no lease to deal with; by purchasing the home, we would 100% own the solar panels and would reap all the benefits of what they generated.

Six months after the sale was finalized, we changed Internet providers and soon after that, we were forwarded an email by the seller from an organization we had never heard of, asking us to reconnect the solar panels to the Internet as a condition of their contract.

Um ... what contract?

It turns out that when the seller purchased the panels, they made a deal with this green-energy company, which was sort of a joint venture between our state's biggest utility and the state itself. The organization paid the seller $6K up front. The seller, in turn, agreed that for the next 20 years, any Solar Renewable Energy Credits generated by the panels would belong to the organization.

The existence of this contract, which included a lien on the SRECS, was never disclosed to us. And it never showed up on the title search because the lien was on this abstract credit, not on any physical property. The lawyer who did the closing had never heard of anything like it!

We ended up having to get a different lawyer involved, and it was a big production, because not only had the organization dealt with relatively few transfers of ownership, it had never dealt with a case where the SRECS contract was not transferred as part of the home sale, and undoing the mess the seller had caused by not disclosing it took a lot of legal legwork.

In the end, the organization agreed to remove the lien, rather than continue a legal battle, and I assume it then went after the seller for whatever portion of the $6K advance payment it could recoup.

The lesson I learned from all of this is that when it comes to solar panels, not even the people in the industry have much experience with the edge cases. And although installations are starting to become routine, transfers of ownership are not yet routine.

(By the way, the solar panels work well, and our energy bills are very low, but I wish someone would have told me that squirrels love to build nests under the panels and chew through wires, because yeah, that's happened, and it's not covered under the warranty.)


I am amazed that a company in the business of putting up solar panels on residential homes considers selling the home to be a weird edge case in their business.


Squirrels and mice are a pain for electrical wire. That's why its important to get them the heck out of your garage. Its never fun to have a car need repairs because the damn things chewed through a cable. Had to replace a friends spark plug wires on his car because he thought the critters were cute.


A friend was a salesman for SunRun back in 2011 and at the time I was growing pot so I was looking to reduce my energy costs. I got an 8.8kW system(a bit large for my house). I spent probably $1k/year extra for electricity during the first year. Over time, the system started to actually save me money, but it took about 5 years. I also had a bunch of power I was obligated to buy, so I lost the incentive to conserve and ran my central A/C nearly all the time. When I had to sell my house after a divorce, I realized what a pain in the ass it would be. I had to convince the buyer that it was a good idea to assume the lease. I found out things like the requirement to pay thousands to remove the system if the roof needed replacement(one SunRun rep, not my friend, hinted during sign-up that they maintained the roof). The system only saved money if you consumed a lot of electricity. If you didn't need the power, you're stuck paying for it anyway. Fortunately the buyer went for it and I escaped the lease.

Another annoyance was the inverter box that SunRun installed right outside my bedroom. Every morning and night, the system would turn on and off several times as the light levels were close to the threshold. This meant some rather large relays were clicking repeatedly, waking me up at dawn a lot of the time. On the plus side, I got a new breaker panel and had my service rating upgraded from 100A to 150A.

If I had to sum it up, I'd say that SunRun isn't absolutely evil, but if I ever do it again I would buy the system outright, assuming it was economically viable. My personal opinion is that residential solar is a misallocation of resources as long as there are commercial rooftops without solar.


FYI, this has nothing to do with solar panels and everything to do with a buying a house that has stuff with transferable contracts. Save up and buy your solar outright, companies don't lease things to you unless there is profit in it.


A transferable contract locked in for years for a system sized for someone with higher than average energy usage. This seems like an outlier in things to consider for buying a house with solar.


You are paying more but also receive a maintenance service which may or may not save you money and time. Similar to insurance.


It has to do with solar panels to the extent that there's very little else that anyone would put on their house that uses a transferable contract. Solar panels are the most common instance in which anyone would run into this situation. I'm struggling to think of anything else, actually.


When we toured our home, the water softener system said rental on it. We inquired and the home owner confirmed the unit was purchased out right. So water softener systems is another potential example.


A water well was the first thing I thought of as a possible transferable lease, I could see septic systems possibly being leased too.

Edit- Some houses are also still heated by oil that has to be delivered on a routine basis and I could see that having a lease as well.


How do you lease oil delivery? Or do you mean the tank itself?

If you have an agreement for an oil company to come fill your oil when it gets low, you just terminate your agreement when you sell your house.


Tank installation + piping + maintenance + exclusive oil supplier, all wrapped up in a 10 year contract attached to the property. I'm not saying there are companies that do that, but I could see it being a possible business model.


Oil tanks + installation are cheap enough I'm not sure it would make financial sense for this to be a business model (we were quoted a ballpark figure of $1,500 to replace ours). Oil tanks require no maintenance whatsoever, just replacement every 15-30 years.

I have an agreement from a company that they deliver oil automatically when I need it, but I don't pay anything extra vs just calling them for a one time delivery and I can terminate the agreement at any time.


> Solar panels are the most common instance in which anyone would run into this situation. I'm struggling to think of anything else, actually.

Furnaces, air conditioners, water heaters, and water softeners are all often installed on contract.


They are? First I've ever heard of it. I just got a new furnance and some sort of contract wasn't even offered to me as an option.


These contracts aren't available through the same channels that you'd purchase equipment through. They're often offered to low-income homeowners, or sold by (shady, IMO) repair workers.

Many home equipment leases are abusive in nature -- they're deliberately made hard to cancel, with many leasors attaching extortionate "equipment removal" fees to cancellation.


Oh, okay. I guess I'm just not familiar with them because I never sought them out. I was assuming if they were common the installer would say "here's the quote for installation and here's the quote for leasing"


When I wrote that, I was thinking outside of capital goods and including things like land use contracts, mineral/water rights, and perhaps other things in cases like condos.


Cell phone towers, possibly?


> It appeared that if we bought Jug’s place, we’d have to assume his lease arrangement with Sunrun.

The whole article is worth reading but this headache is specifically related to leased panels. Though, leasing makes going solar easier, it is a terrible idea because of issues like these.

Also, every local power company has different arrangements for residents. I live in Suffolk county, Long Island, New York. Our power company arrangement is amazing. We get to sell back any excess power at the same rate we buy it from them. Meaning, they act like a free battery.

I have a 20 years term that started from the day I installed my panels to use up any excess energy they're holding for me. After that 20 years term is over, they pay me the wholesale rate for any leftover power, which is next to nothing.

I don't pay extra fees for net metering but we do have the highest rates in the nation. It's roughly $0.20/kwh, including delivery, taxes and other fees.

If I end up having any extra power and Crypto is still a thing, I'd just plug in a miner and drain it all. It'd be a bonus if I did it during winter and use the heat to warm the house.

Regarding the purchase, I financed the purchase. Got 0% loan on the expected tax credit portion and 6.5% on the rest for 15 years. Even with the interest rates, I'll be cash-flow positive on the monthly payments.

I also essentially locked in my utility costs. My local power company is expected to raise rates 3-5% a year. If I pay my loan off early, I get to avoid those rate increases for the portion of electricity that my panels cover.

Anyway, if you're thinking about going solar, check your local utility rules and go for the purchase option. Leases are not worth the baggage they come with.


The tax credit thing as designed by legislation is nutty. It lets companies buy your tax credit and use it to offset their own income. Leading to all this zero value financial engineering.

But from a homeowner's point of view and Sunrun's point of view it makes sense. Lots of people might not be able use the tax credit because they already owe have low income tax (moderate income + mortgage interest deduction, or retired with a nice nest egg will get you to very low income tax).

(If you pay enough income tax to use the credit you should just get a loan and avoid this.)

This was legislated poorly, probably in order to call it a "tax credit" instead of "subsidy". A subsidy would be much cleaner, have the same economics and they should just do it that way. This whole mess and industry was created just for this one talking point. The government giving you $2000 off an installation is the same as getting a $2000 tax credit from the Treasury's point of view.

Sunrun sounds like not the best business to be involved with. Like "new buyer doesn't want the system" is an obvious thing for the customer service manual. (Referring to "...prepay the lease and leave the hardware ... I’ve been kicking myself ever since I learned about this latter option. It would have saved the estate around $12,000").

Also they are clearly selling this to a bunch of people who could easily use the tax credit and could easily get a homeowner's loan. Super dodgy. I'll bet a lot of the sales nonsense is to hide this fact.


Not trying to discredit or de-emphasize the conclusion, but the ironic thing here is that the utility cost escalation rates that Sunrun had initially calculated were likely based off of pre-solar boom tariff increases.

As renewables have started becoming competitive (both utility-scale and distributed), utilities have been able to avoid building more expensive fossil-based power plants and transmission lines as quickly and thus rates haven't increased as much as before. So basically the solar industry partially created their own financial situation where the utility costs they are offsetting are lower because of their own participation in the market. Ha.

Anyway, I'm glad this in-the-weeds analysis is getting some coverage. As more and more "Distributed Energy Resources" (DERs) are installed in homes ($300 smart thermostats, $1k demand response water heaters, $5k batteries, $10k solar, etc.), people should be aware they need to do utility bill cost analysis earlier in the home buying process. Also, realtors need to get more savvy on utility bill cost impact of all these new DERs so they know how to adjust pricing based on what's installed in a home or building.

Disclaimer: I have a software company that many solar companies use to request utility bill history from customers for financial analysis.


I'm curious how solar could have put a dent in overall power production needs as peek energy usage comes around 6-8pm when solar panels are producing almost no power. And since utilities need to plan their production around peak usage far more than around overall usage, has solar really done that much to lower utility production requirements?


Yes, there is just that much solar being installed. The grid demand curve used to look like a bell curve (peaks mid-day, goes down in the evening). Nowadays, in California there's so much solar that it basically decapitates the curve half way down. Here's today's CAISO demand curve:

http://www.caiso.com/TodaysOutlook/Pages/default.aspx

The industry term for this is called the "Duck Curve", where you install so much solar that you mostly reduce daytime electricity demand, but have peaks in the morning and evening.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duck_curve


I know it breaks HN protocol to leave a comment just saying thanks, but thanks. Those were very interesting/educational links.


> I'm curious how solar could have put a dent in overall power production needs as peek energy usage comes around 6-8pm when solar panels are producing almost no power.

I'm pretty sure the usage peak period is more like noon to six p.m. The grid demand peak is now 6-8 p.m., because of customer-site solar.


You might still need to build as many coal power plants, but you don't need to do as much actual coal burning. It's still a win in terms of carbon released.


I evaluated solar cells for my home, and ultimately decided against because I probably get more total energy saving from the current passive solar of having huge south-facing windows and an oak tree in front of my house - free heat in the winter, shaded in the summer. For solar electric to work, the oak tree would have to go.

That said, central issue mentioned in this article aside (which is legit concerning), cost wasn't really an issue I spent much time worrying about. Am I the only person more interested in giving the middle finger to my corrupt utility provider and their coal-centered power generation strategy than whether I came out a few bucks ahead or behind in 20 years? I suspect a lot of people who install solar have similar motivations.

But that in itself can be a problem, too. The thing that concerns me about household solar is that it's a bit like owning a Prius - it becomes a status symbol for people more interested in _appearing_ green and assuaging their guilt than actual concern about their total carbon footprint. Take a vacation to Hawaii once a year and you'll probably knock off every single bit of good you did for the planet.


Ahh yes Sunrun. We bought a house and our realtor had the foresight to investigate the situation before we closed on the home. We got a letter disclosing the system was owned free and clear. We setup the online tracking portal only to notice that they transferred the account like thousands of dollars in owed monies from the previous owner. After getting a call from the company trying to strongarm us for the debt we essentially told them to kick rocks.

They should’ve just demanded that money as part of escrow and now they’re left with a debt in someone else’s name that is never going to be paid and likely a headache for us in the future.


My parents have a large solar installation on their roof that they own outright. They paid for it cash, but if they hadn't had that much available, then a HELOC would have sufficed and not produced any of this kind of drama at sale time.

Don't lease anything on your house; it's a huge hassle. Get a loan/HELOC for it if necessary and the numbers work out, but don't enter into a long leasing agreement that can cause transferral problems down the road.


Not all leases are terrible, though most probably are. I have a leased propane tank, it's not a hassle or anything, I don't pay anything to lease it, I just pay the company for the propane when it need filling. It only needs filling like every 3-4 years because it's only used for the stove. I'm not really sure why its leased, but it could probably be replaced easily if need be.

I think the people these sorts of things appeal to are the people who have poor credit and/or very little equity in their house.


>Accounting for all these things, taking on Jug’s lease would translate to us paying at least $30 a month more. We’d lose money from Day 1

I'm unsure how I feel about this. $30 is a significant % of the electric bill, but is a very small % of the cost of owning a home.

Didn't solar start as economically viable due to heavy government tax incentives? I'm ignorant of the data, but I thought solar was not fit for public deployment has only edge use cases.


Take that $30, stick it in a savings or investment. When solar prices go down, or utility prices go up, take the money you've saved up and then put it towards the purchase.

There's no point in throwing away money on a losing proposition, since in this case the homeowner wouldn't be the one to get the credit. As an additional bonus, your home will have newer, more efficient panels with a longer remaining estimated lifetime, so if you do end selling the house they'll add more value.

A solar install in a reasonably sunny climate can pay for itself over its lifespan, but you need to actually stay there the whole time, or hope that the added value to your house makes up for whatever your investment was.


I'm closing on a new house tomorrow. The builder has a business arrangement with Sunstreet Solar and they have a ~4KW plant on the roof. While researching the details of the sale, I discovered that Sunstreet owns the panels and has an easement. They get 80% of the generated power and give me 20%. This did not seem like a good deal to me. I negotiated the purchase of the system from Sunstreet as part of the sale, and I got the home builder to reduce the price. This way I can claim the federal tax credit, and I get 100% of the generated power instead of 20%.


DIY array with 17 panels should cost $5000 today with inverters and grid tie - thought I would forgo the grid tie and just get a shit fuck ton of lead acids (probably 30 for another $3000) and have energy for at least a day.

Stop paying these racket companies and their dumbass contracts. The DIY is totally easy.


There’s a couple things wrong with this article and I have a decent understanding of why Jug (RIP) did what he did. (I worked at Sunrun and created this fake account to hide identity; I worked in finance). Not to bash the sales reps or trainers, but they are so far removed from the financing of the product they don’t know what’s going on.

First, at the end the sales rep who provided the #s is bullshit. The sales reps are notorious for inputting whatever #s they want into the internal SFDC system so the average monthly bill isn’t accurate. This isn’t an exception, it’s their own rule to accelerate sales (management does not tell them to do this. To be specific)

The 2.9% escalator is an aggressive and risky product, but requires zero upfront and an incredibly low initial $/kWh. He more than likely was saving money and would have been for at least several years. I don’t know his intentions but you can read between the lines and I don’t want to talk about the dead.

Also, I forget if Conedison does tier pricing, but if it did with all his gadgets, his bill would have been through the roof.

Lastly, Sunrun does offer cash/loan/0%/1.9%/prepaid products, and if I were to go for a cash deal, I would use Sunrun/Vivint/SolarCity because it’s a huge headache to coordinate with developers and file all the correct paperwork.


This is almost entirely for people with solar leases, and not solar loans or paid-off panels.

For panels that are paid off it's a great deal to pay a little more for the house. It just becomes a tax-deductible loan even though it saves you money each month.


A couple years ago, we purchased and had installed a solar system. In MA, there is an incentive program called SRECs, which is a program where the utilities have to buy MWH of produced electricity, and I can sell my MWH of produced electricity -- that's tracked as an SREC. I can sell SRECs for 10 years, I make about 5-6 a year, and they go for 200-300$. It makes the payoff on the system about 4 years, and ROIC about 17%. If, when I go to sell, the 10 year window on the SRECs haven't finished the buyer and I will have to come to an arrangement for the remaining credits.

IMO, solar generally complicates all housing related transactions, but it's worth it.


As far as I know, the SREC is a one-time lump sum for the 10 year period, so you're looking at one payment of $1,000-$1,800 right?


SRECs are generated and auctioned quarterly. After an initial lag I get a check for SREC sales every 3 months.

There are schemes where you can get fixed price SRECs by signing them over to a 3rd-party. The third-party then give you a fixed amount monthly or quarterly or whatever but it's a significant discount on the auction price.

There are also companies that will give you a lump sum for your 10-years of SRECs up front but like all 'need cash now' schemes there is a significant discount.


It's not strictly a per-company problem. The incentives are for per-watt i.e. bigger system = bigger commission for the company instead of maximizing customer savings with Solar. The incentives don't align customers, sales, utilities, and financial providers.

Authority (City, Utility, etc.) typically push and constrain the installation at least 3-6 weeks and they rarely actually know Solar well enough to be a real 'Authority'. Lots of poorly implemented review procedures from untrained city officials and inspectors. Many unnecessary revisions, nitpicks, and expensive truck rolls surface here.

Then we also have Sales and Financing Providers who have the most leverage out of the stakeholders. High leverage also means they tend to get the biggest cut for a given Solar contract. High commissions and high fees or they leave the installation company who has to fulfill a 2-6 month-payout-delay pipeline. The fulfillment team also has the most people to retain, train, and coordinate over what is typically a multi-state field operation problem.

Not at all easy. Still, it boils my blood seeing some of these organizations fall prey to these pressures and turn to customer exploitation. What it amounts to is some deep-rooted systemic issues with the government-enforced monopolies of our utility companies, overly-simplistic incentives, and a market moving faster than the training and organizational development.


It's sad that the resolution of the contractual dispute involved removing the solar panels. That's a lose-lose for everyone -- the company because they have to spend additional labor, the new owner because they would've preferred them to stay at a reasonable price, and of course the environment.

It's too bad the company couldn't come to terms somehow; surely accepting less money in a buy-out offer would have been better for them than having to come out and collect all of their equipment?


I had a very similar experience when selling my house but with vivint solar. I had panels installed less than a year before and soon found out all these issues. Should have read the contract more thoroughly of course, but I am pretty sure the sales people mislead or even lied to me when I asked them questions about what happens if we move etc. Luckily the buyer agreed to take over the lease. If/when I get panels on my new house, I will almost certainly buy them outright.


I don't know enough about Sunrun or the author here, but I will say that - as a general principle - when you see a human interest piece about a multi-billion dollar company with close to 15% of their shares sold short (https://finance.yahoo.com/quote/RUN/key-statistics) then I would take it with a grain of salt and question what is being presented.

edit: and you have to get more than halfway through to see the author managed to take the path of maximal pain: "Sunrun calls our insistence that Jug’s trust buy out and remove the system “incredibly unique and rare.” It’s far more common for home sellers to transfer the lease to the buyer—Sunrun says 94 percent of customers do this—or to prepay the lease and leave the hardware on the roof for the next owner to use. I’ve been kicking myself ever since I learned about this latter option. It would have saved the estate around $12,000 and allowed us to support solar and get “free” electricity, even as Sunrun remained responsible for maintenance and repairs."

edit 2: "On consumer review sites and in local news reports, rueful customers warn others to stay away from TPO solar offered by Sunrun and other companies" - is that true of everything, and none cited? What if this was an article about car dealership?

edit 3: Having finished the article (and having never heard of Sunrun prior to this) it has the feel of a hit-piece. I don't think it is necessarily (author seems to have a solid investigative journalism track record), but it cherry picks very small sets of data without context and it frames things in what seems like a maximally negative way. Not sure if their experience with their specific bad experience and Bloomberg's comp based on moving markets had anything to do with it.


> If Southern California Edison's residential rates continue to rise annually by 2.2 percent, as they have on average over the last decade, Jug's total electricity outlay having gone solar would have cost about $6,000 more over 20 years.

Isn't the math that came to that conclusion completely fucked up?

$115(1.022 ^ 20) = $177

$75(1.029 ^ 20) + $17 * (1.022 ^ 20) = $159

In fact, I'm about 100% sure that that $6000 figure is the amount of additional money that is payed to sunrun due to the increase costs (difference between $75/month for 20 years and the cost with 2.9% increase). It looks like the journalist then went and misinterpreted that data and made up a completely fake chart below it to fit their interpretation of the data. In that chart, clearly the socal edison side should start with a higher cost than the sunrun side and the socal edison cost at 20 years should actually be above the $2k line.


Okay... way at the end of the article they say that $115 isn't the real amount he was paying, he was only really paying $79. Making that change gets a lot closer to their -6000/+4000 for 2.2%/4.75% electricity increases.


I bought a house in CA a few years ago and had to assume the previous owner’s SunRun lease. I didn’t really want to but even if it ends up costing me slightly more in the long term (for now it’s unclear) it’s very minor in the land of $1.5 million housing. This article seems to be making a huge deal over a minor $30/month cost.


The article says the payments to buy out the contract totalled $27,300.

I wish I had the kind of income that made me call that a 'minor cost' !


That's about a third of what the realtors get on a $1.5M sale.


The article started with something that would cost that much but (as the investigative reporter finds out) is seemingly the tip an iceberg of a fraudulent business.


I think that's the scenario that happens the most often. My guess is that both parties here agreed to transact and then the TPO came out. Still it is not clear why the estate didn't just back out of the sale and then relist with the solar panel TPO disclosed. I guess the house only had one offer?


It’s always seemed so obvious to me: electronics depreciate at a rapid rate, solar panels are electronics, do not finance electronics over 20 years and think it’s going to work.

For a 20 year lease, do you really want to be using a 19 year old system stuck on your roof ? Big clunky, weathered with spiderwebs. What does that look like?


Solar panels don't depreciate in the same way as most silicon. 20 years later, panels will still be producing power just fine, albeit with some degradation.

Source: my house has 23 year old solar panels, my garage has 10 year old panels, they all still produce plenty of electricity.

There are plenty of reasons to avoid dealing with these companies, but this isn't one of them.


Out of curiosity, how much do your 23 year old solar panels produce compared to when they were new? 90%? 85%?


Solar panels are not electronics.

Solar panels usually are warrantied to at least 80% of nameplace capacity out to 25 years. And there are hard caps on 1) PV efficiency (Shockley–Queisser) 2) insolation that are non-negotiable physics. If that system is clean and reasonably maintained, it will be 80% as good as they day you bought it (and probably 80% as good as a brand new system) in a quarter of a century.


True, you’ll still have your 80% but that will be compared to the state of the art at the time as a trade off. The production of contemporary panels should (hopefully) be much much better. Imagine the advances in the next 2 decades: higher efficiency, lighter weight, more module, standards we can’t conceive of.

Like the other poster in this thread said: sure your Athlon 500mhz is still runninnfine, even at 80% efficiency


I'm a bit disappointed in your response. Did you look up Shockley–Queisser (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shockley%E2%80%93Queisser_limi...)? The maximum theoretical single p-n junction efficiency is low 30%s. Sunpower is the best consumer grade product and they are in the low 20%s right now (https://us.sunpower.com/products/solar-panels/). There is not that room for improvement. There are higher efficiency pv cells, but they are stacked layers with different bandgaps and/or involve concentrators. And the hard cap is insolation (the amount of sunlight/area) and I am personally very pessimistic that solar tracking will make it in a reliable way to consumer/residential application.

Your Athlon example only works because of where we were in the transistor density s-curve (aka "Moore's law" when it was in the earlier phase and looked exponential). Solar is a lot closer to the analogy at 5 nm scale where quantum tunneling becomes a concern and incremental progress is much slower and more expensive.


Residential-scale solar tracking doesn't really look that different from electric garage door openers, does it? Those seem to work pretty reliably for years with ~daily cycling.


It's tougher than that. They are outdoors and have to stand up to weathering and storms. In the case of dual axis trackers they have an additional degree of freedom.

Finally, an the toughest, in my opinion, is how little net energy budget they have to work with to be economical: they have to require less energy to build, install, and operate than the incremental solar energy they generate over their operation life. They give an approximately 40% production improvement (that's roughly the single/dual axis midpoint. towards the high side), so if you say a 10 yr life with zero maintenance and controlling a single 250w panel you're talking 9 mWh, or $1080 retail electricity value generated. A 40% improvement on that is only $440 worth of energy budget per tracker over a 10 year life.

That glosses over a ton of complexity like if area is amenable to ground vs rooftop, if it's higher latitude, high density panels, stationary panel/tracking mirror, and most importantly having multiple panels per tracker. Zero maintenance/replacement is not realistic, either, since it would cycling dozens of times a day and could be in hurricane/tornado areas.

But given a lower end garage door opener is $150 before installation costs, it gives an idea how tough that would in that price range. Consider that panels are generally engineered to withstand 100+ mph gusts, and this would be a relatively finely tuned machine attached to one or more 18 square foot kites that would be expected to withstand the same conditions.

https://news.energysage.com/solar-trackers-everything-need-k... was a pretty good article I found on it.


Who told you Shockley-Quiesser is a hard cap or "non-negotiable physics"? Maybe in silicon PV but there are newer generation concepts that go around it.


I'm a very interested amateur. Is there a residential scale tech besides silicon pv? I was not aware of anything, but that would be great news to me.

I should not that I didn't say it Shockley-Quiesser was a hard cap. I said it was the theoretical limit of a p-n junction cell. I said, "hard cap is insolation".


It's not residential scale.


So you also assume an exponential increase in solar panel efficiency ? Or in your energy consumption?

Its a rather simple calculation, where do you think the cost of energy will be in 20 years and how will the amount of energy you consume develop in that time.


I'm very excited to be making the last payment on my 500 MHz Athlon this year!


> Hugh Bromley, a solar analyst at BloombergNEF, says Sunrun and its competitors offer solar, sure, but can be better understood as having created “one of the most sophisticated financial engineering industries of any sector of the U.S. economy.”

While this is just a prejudice and their financial engineering _may_ be totally sound, this makes me think of CDOs and the mortgage crisis and all that.

The fact that the deal may not actually be all that good for the consumer -- and may complicate sales of their house since it's effectively a lien forcing future buyers to take a deal which may be _more apparent as bad_ in the future -- only makes me again think of the financial hijinx that led to the mortgage bubble/crisis.


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