Not the company I want to be stuck in a 20-year contract with.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
It's in line with their scare tactics and emotional push.
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.
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.
A centralized utility, even a poorly run one, will always provide electricity safer, cheaper, and more consistently then thousands of tiny private installations.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 12+ hours a day, PG&E is almost certainly cheaper I believe.
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.
Unfortunately, how well a business runs is not always correlated with size.
Centralized utilities also have a nasty issue of not coping with natural disasters particularly well...
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.
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 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.
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.
 "The Energy Detective" -- http://www.theenergydetective.com/
 While it is true we could have changed further things about our lifestyle to fit into other rate schedules that avenue wasn't pursued.
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.
The point I was trying to make is that a dollar spent 11 years ago isn't the same as a dollar spent today.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
edit: I think this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19133394
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.
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?
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?
> 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Yes, and the implication of "caveat emptor" is to take a very dim view of the ethics of folks who pitch in this way.
But as a general rule, I hope that I don't have to ask the salesman for any information.
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.
It is much easier to influence a decision by catering to emotions instead of reasoning.
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.
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.
Seriously: I'm sure Sunrun is scummy. But... come on.
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.
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.
You're better off buying the system up front if possible
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...
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.
On some sunny winter days we turn off central heating and use the free electricity.
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.
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.
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!
They're probably also factoring those arrays into their green initiatives by claiming those green credits to offset their own consumption.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Of course, it isn't required to offer a lease in order to also offer a warranty, which is the real solution here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I guess they won't come over and wash my panels for me, but, no kidding.
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 %)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
A panel built from 72 x 156mm mono, black cells will look more like:
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.
Probably the most interesting part of the whole process was paying nearly 10k dollars through PayPal. That was something interesting.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Never take action that is going to jeopardize free and clear title on your real estate.
If you want protection for anything after the sale, you buy owners title insurance.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Furnaces, air conditioners, water heaters, and water softeners are all often installed on contract.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stop paying these racket companies and their dumbass contracts. The DIY is totally easy.
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.
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.
IMO, solar generally complicates all housing related transactions, but it's worth it.
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
I wish I had the kind of income that made me call that a 'minor cost' !
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?
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.
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.
Like the other poster in this thread said: sure your Athlon 500mhz is still runninnfine, even at 80% efficiency
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.