One headache people have with installing solar is cost. There are plenty of unique financing structures out there. Is there a possibility or reality of free solar panels? We evaluate in this thorough guide.
Free Solar Panels: Is it Possible to Get Solar Panels for Free?
You may have heard rumors about getting free solar panels for your home or business. Is there really such thing as a free solar panels? Or is there a catch?
Have other questions beyond how to get free solar panels? Download our FREE printable PDF file that highlights the most important questions to ask about solar energy.
This free guide highlights the following:
- Questions to ask a solar panel salesman
- Items to consider when buying a home with solar installed
- Questions to ask a solar panel installer
It takes 5 seconds to download and get started. You won’t need to decide how to get free solar energy because we got you covered below to help you make the best decision.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about getting free solar panels.
But first – what’s the big deal about solar panels, anyway?
Why Go Solar?
The United Nations held a meeting this year where they concluded that there are only 11 years left to stop irreversible climate change.
It is vital that we make the change to renewable energy, and solar panels are a great way to power your home sustainably by harnessing the energy from the sun.
Not only are they great for the environment, but solar panels can save you a lot of money over time. They can even increase the price of your home.
Solar power has developed into a huge industry. The United States ranked second in the world for solar power in 2018. It is one of the fastest-growing industries in the country.
Because of this, competition has risen and the price of solar has dropped dramatically. Solar technology has also advanced, and solar panels are more efficient than ever before. Solar also offers plenty of health and environmental benefits that will go beyond defending climate change.
What’s not to like?
The Cost of Solar Panels
You’re keen on sustainable living and want to find a way to power your home more sustainably as well as save money on your energy bills. Solar panels are clearly a great way of doing this (no brainer!), but you may not have $10,000 – $20,000 just rolling around in your bank account.
Okay, so what is the deal with free solar panels then?
Solar companies tend to market their programs as ‘free solar panels’. But that really depends on your definition of free. If by free, you mean you get solar panels installed on your house and never pay a penny for power ever again, then no. They are not free. (Free lunch, anyone?)
BUT, there are various solutions where you can get solar panels on your house without having to pay anything upfront. The good news is that having solar panels can bring you savings of 40%-70% whilst the panels are in operation.
Depending on where you live, you could save anything from $47 to $128 per month on electricity.
Free Solar Panels for Home Use
Okay, so let’s define free then…
We’ve established that it’s unlikely that solar panels will be gifted to you, but there are some ways to go solar with no upfront cost.
Solar panels are often said to be free because a variety of different solar programs are zero down. The panels are installed with no upfront cost, you then pay for the panels each month.
The reason that this is so cost-effective, and in the long-run, ‘free’, is because your monthly payments are considered likely to be lower than your previous utility bills when you were supplied with energy from the grid.
See Related: How to Get Free Electricity on Weekends
Ways to go solar with no upfront cost
You have a couple of options for going solar without stumping up huge sums of cash upfront. And, with the right program, your monthly repayments will be lower than your energy bills.
Solar Leases and Power Purchase Agreements
A Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) is where the energy company installs a solar system on your rooftop and sells you the energy that you use on a per-kWh price.
A solar lease is similar, in that the energy company carries out the installation, but your fixed monthly fee is based on an estimate of the amount of power that you will use.
For all intents and purposes, these types of agreements are the same, so in this article, we will lump them in together! How do you know if you should lease or buy your solar panels?
Use our guide on solar leasing vs buying to help you make the best decision.
So, are solar panels free when using a power purchase agreement?
This comes back to our definition of free…! PPAs, along with solar leases, have many zero down plans, meaning that you do not have to pay an upfront cost. All you need to pay is your monthly payments.
You enter into a contract and rent the panels for a period of around 15-25 years. When the panels have been installed on your roof, you then purchase electricity off the utility company as described above. This rate is usually lower than the rate you would pay for your normal energy bills, bringing you savings in the long run.
There is no upfront cost AND you don’t have to maintain or repair the panels. They do not technically belong to you, but to the company leasing them to you. A disadvantage of this is that you will not reap the benefits of owning your system, such as tax rebates or incentives.
These benefits go to the owners of the panels – the leasing company.
A PPA or solar lease is usually easier to arrange than a solar loan, although you need to have a good credit score.
Be aware, however, that not all states allow PPAs.
The other option for zero down financing of solar panels is…
The great thing about a solar loan compared to a solar lease is that the solar panel system belongs to you. This means that you, as the proud owner of your solar panel system, receive all of the tax benefits and incentives available from the government.
Check your state to find out if there any incentives provided by your local government. Federal tax credit provides solar panel owners with a 30% rebate on the whole system, which is great if your tax bill is higher than the tax benefits that you could receive through this system.
However. Beware – solar loans may come with additional fees, depending on the provider. It’s crucial to go through the agreement carefully.
See Related: Solar Panel Lifespan Guide
Community solar is a great option for people to go solar for no cost. You simply sign a subscription agreement that says you will “subscribe” to a community solar project. Then, the power of that facility will get credited to your electric bill as an offset. It’s a win-win as you start saving money right away. Read more about how community solar works.
One of my favorite ways to subscribe to community solar is by using Arcadia Power. You can elect for clean energy either via community solar or by using renewable energy credits.
What kinds of solar loans are available?
- Secured Loans
These are more affordable than unsecured loans as they have lower interest rates and are tax-deductible. However, this type of loan (for example, a home equity loan) does use your home as collateral, so you need to be sure that you can pay off the money.
An alternative to a home equity loan is an FHA Title 1 Secured Loan. This has a government guarantee, and instead of repossessing your home if you do not make the repayments, the outstanding amount is paid upon selling your house.
- Unsecured Loans
Unsecured loans may cost more. This is because there can be additional fees, the interest is higher, and you have no access to tax reductions. However, similarly to credit cards and other loans, your home will not be used as collateral.
The penalty for non-payment is the negative impact on your credit rating.
- PACE loans
Property Assessed Clean Energy loans are a straightforward financing option that is available to residents of California, Missouri, and Florida. PACE loans differ from solar loans as they tax assess your property. Your payments for your solar system will show up along with your other property-related taxes on your tax assessment.
Homeowners can benefit from this type of financing because sometimes the first payment is not made for six months.
Your home is the only collateral on this type of loan (and does not include any of your other assets). This means that they can be a little bit more expensive than other types of solar loan.
Similarly to PPAs, PACE loans are not available in all states.
The bottom line – what ‘free solar panels’ really means…
Solar loans and leases are zero down. The monthly prices are lower than getting your electricity from the grid as usual. If you get a solar loan, once it’s paid off, thanks to the sun, your electricity really is free!
Is there any way I can calculate my return on investment? How much will I save?
This useful Solar ROI calculator can help you to determine what you will be able to save by installing solar panels.
Free Solar Panels for Low-Income Families
Solar panels are no longer just for the wealthy! Low-income families can also benefit from PPAs/solar leases and solar loans because there are no upfront costs, and savings are made every month compared to paying normal energy bills.
There are also some specific low-income solar programs and initiatives happening across the United States which provide additional support for those on low incomes. There is a range of programs, depending on which area you live in.
Some of these provide free solar loans and leases.
- Grid Alternatives is a non-profit organization with several programs, such as:
- Solar Works DC, a program that trains local people to install solar panels. During their training, these solar systems are installed for free on the homes of those with low incomes.
- Energy for All is a program for low-income homeowners in Colorado, California and Washington D.C.
- Some government grants are available in Boulder, Colorado.
- For low-income citizens of California, keep your eye on the Citizens Energy Solar Homes Program. Although they are currently not accepting applications whilst they move to a new business model, they have historically provided free solar leases to those on low incomes.
- Another California-based program is the Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes Program.
- The Mass Solar Loan program in Massachusetts offers discounts on solar loans for residents on low incomes.
See Related: How Much Energy Does a Solar Panel Produce
Free Solar Panels for Seniors
The average spend on electricity for seniors is a huge $1,500 per year.
Similarly to low-income families, the best option for seniors may be to take out a solar loan or solar lease. Bear in mind that as a senior, if you are not paying tax, you may not receive the tax rebates that make solar loans such a great option.
We suggest checking out the links in the section above to see if you qualify for any of the low-income programs.
Things to Consider with Finding Solar Panels
Here are a few things to consider with looking for low-cost solar.
Do your homework!
You may not get solar panels and energy completely for free, but here is some free advice. Make sure that you review the company providing the loan or lease! With increased competition, there are some unscrupulous providers out there, and you want to be sure that you are entering into an agreement that will work for you.
Whether you decide to get a solar lease, PPA or solar loan, you need to be sure of the agreement that you’re entering into and any potential consequences this may have, for example, if you want to sell your home.
Sometimes, if you are mid-lease or loan, you can come into difficulties when putting your house up for sale.
Can free solar panels be installed on any home?
There are different solar systems for different weather conditions, and some systems come with storage facilities so that you will have power when there are grid failures.
Shop around to find a system that is suitable for you.
For systems that store energy for you, check out this guide on the best batteries for your solar panels.
Not all homes are necessarily suitable for solar panels. If your roof is shaded all year round, you will not generate enough energy to power your home and you may need to purchase additional energy from the grid.
This means that solar power may not be the right option for your home, and you are better trying to find a green energy provider if you want to power your home with more sustainable energy.
Still have questions about Solar?
- 7 Top Solar Energy Questions You Need to Ask when purchasing a solar panel system. Also available as a handy PDF.
- PVWatts® – this a really useful tool that allows you to calculate how much energy your home could generate from solar power.
TL;DR = Although solar panels are not 100% free for most people, it is easy to get solar panels today without paying a penny upfront. Solar leases/PPAs, solar loans and community solar allow homeowners to install solar panels on their houses with zero down financing or no capital cost. You can use a company like Arcadia Power to move to clean, green energy.
The bottom line is, although the description of free solar panels is a little misleading, if you take out a solar loan, solar panels pay for themselves over time.
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Green Coast is a renewable energy and green living community focused on helping others live a better, more sustainable life.
We believe that energy and green living has become far too complex, so we created a number of different guides to build a sustainable foundation for our future.