Leasing Rather Than Buying Boosts Solar Industry

NY Times Magazine
August 9, 2012

Here Comes the Sell: The Secret to Solar Power
Jeff Himmelman

This article from the Sunday New York Times Magazine contains a few noteworthy nuggets:

  • “Enough sunlight falls on the earth’s surface every hour to meet the entire world’s energy needs for one year. A plot of roughly 100 miles by 100 miles in the American Southwest, if covered with today’s industry-standard 15-to-20-percent-efficient solar panels, could generate enough power for the entire United States. This is not the whole story, of course; the sun shines only during the day, and as yet we have no efficient way to distribute and store the power that such a plot would generate (so that the energy could be used at night, for example). But the potential of the sun as a power source is nearly unlimited”
  • “[O]ver the last five years, revenue in the global solar-energy industry has increased to $93 billion in 2011 from $17 billion in 207.”
  • “[T]he [solar] installers would much rather lease you a system than have you buy one, even though buying one is usually a better deal if you can afford it. The average price of a system has come down to $25,000 or so from $50,000 over the last five years.”
  • “People don’t buy gas stations. People don’t buy utilities. Why are we having them buy solar equipment?”
  • “[T]he basic value proposition is this: Say you have been paying your utility, on average, $100 a month. The solar company installs solar panels on your roof, maintains them, monitors them and repairs them for the life of the lease. The output will reduce your utility bill to roughly $20 a month, and you pay around $65 a month to lease the equipment (and the power the equipment produces, along with maintenance). You’re now paying $85 a month total, 15 percent less than you were, the installer has a revenue stream that it can use for cash flow or sell off to an investor and everybody is playing his part in reducing the burning of fossil fuels.”
  • “[T]here is something truly disruptive about solar: a fully distributed model of energy generation. We currently rely on the centralized hub-and-spoke delivery systems of the utilities, many of which are outdated and suffer tremendous losses as electricity travels from power plants, along transmission and delivery lines and into our businesses and homes. There is a massive infrastructure of regulation and enforcement in the energy market to underwrite the utilities; it’s one of the most highly regulated and noncompetitive markets in the country. Imagine a world in which homeowners and business owners are miniature power plants, with the full ability to sell power back to the grid at retail prices — power, literal and figurative, would be wrested from the hands of monopolistic, polluting utilities and their ancillary industries: mining, fracking and the like.”
  • “The advantages of such a system are obvious. Not only would Americans pay less for energy, but with solar they would also provide power back to the grid at peak hours, when utilities are the most taxed — and when they turn to their most expensive and dirtiest ‘peak’ power plants, which are standing by for just such occasions. We would also avoid some blackouts, because fewer houses would be reliant on the grid, and transmission failures wouldn’t cascade in the same way.”