Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sunpower Lease: A Dissection


Finally, a Sunpower PV system for the rest
of us...

Take it from one who's both sold Sunpower systems and sold against Sunpower during 10 years in the industry. It's better to sell it. And now it's even easier to lease it.

This writer has been skeptical of solar leases in the past. It was reasoned that after a lessee makes the monthly lease payment and pays the utility what the PV system did not produce (net metering), the savings would be quite minimal.

Well, Sunpower makes a better case for leasing.

First off, the other two nationwide solar leasing programs, Solar City and SunRun, lease for 15 years while Sunpower leases are for 20. Furthermore, Sunpower underwrites the leases on its own equipment. This shows a confidence in its products (panels, inverters, monitors, racking) and a commitment to stated kilowatt-hour projections over the 20-year lease term.

For those new to solar, Sunpower is the Tiffany of solar panels. Using the highest grade silicon, Sunpower leads the industry with 18 and 19% efficiency panels; suitable standard panels are around 14%. Thus, a Sunpower 230W panel (18%) takes about 13.6 square feet and a similar 14% module requires 17 to 18 square feet. This means a Sunpower system makes a smaller footprint on a roof if space is an issue and allows for expansion later if more space is available. Sunpower was the first to make all-black panels (frames, cells and substrate) which improve aesthetics and mitigate reflective glare.

Now for some numbers.

Sunpower offers both no-money-down monthly contracts and prepaid leases (see comparison below). Here in California solar leases can offer modest savings to mondo savings depending upon the ratepayer's bills. This blogger has presented lease proposals that will save $50 on a $225 bill and $400 on a $1000 monthly bill, again with no money down.

Click on this lease comparison for a detailed view. Direct purchase price for this 6.9kW system is $42,523.

Monthly lease payments can be modified (cheaper at the beginning) with annual escalators of 1-4.5%. In a state whose Big 3 utility (PG&E, SCE and SDG&E) rates increase between 6-7% annually, such escalators keep Sunpower lessees below the norm.

Finally, Sunpower offers the prepaid lease. This method comes between 50% and 75% of a purchased Sunpower system price. The prepaid lease can nearly eliminate all power costs for the 20 year term. All leases have set year-by-year termination values in case the lessee moves. In such case the lease holder can add the termination value to the asking price of the house or offer the buyer to take over the lease.

Credit requirement: Prospective lessees need only have a 700+ FICO score and own their houses to qualify. The credit check takes about a day and is reported only a pass/fail. Think about this: A homeowner can be upside down on his mortgage and jobless but a 700 or better credit score gets him the lease.

End of Lease: Much like a power purchase agreement, at the end of the lease term lessees can either renegotiate their lease; purchase their system; or have it removed.

As lessor, Sunpower is responsible for the system's operation. However, lessees are required to keep the system safe and panels clean for optimum production. This is no different than a tenant performing general upkeep of an apartment.

The sweet spot of the Sunpower lease is that it allows people who maybe never could afford to purchase a top-of-the-line PV system the chance to benefit from PV without upfront costs. One of my customers is saving a modest $50 per month on his bill. "It might not be much but savings is savings and we didn't have to layout anything to get it."

(For inquiries about the Sunpower residential solar lease in San Diego and Orange counties, call David Brands a 760/908-3770 or email david@clarysolar.com.)


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