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Third-Party Solar Financing

Third-party financing allows more Americans to “go solar” by lowering the cost of solar  installation and maintenance of a system. Companies continue to develop new products and services to meet growing demand for solar. SEIA is committed to supporting policies that enable this innovation to continue and lower costs for consumers.  

Quick Facts

  • Third-party financing is an established financing solution in the United States, and it has recently emerged in the solar industry as one of the most popular methods of solar financing for consumers to realize the benefits of solar energy.
  • Third-party financing of solar energy primarily occurs through two models. A customer can sign a traditional lease and pay for the use of a solar system or the customer can sign a power purchase agreements (PPA) to pay a specific rate for the electricity that is generated each month. 
  • In 2011, more residential solar systems in California were financed through third-party developers than through traditional cash purchases.
  • 80% of residential solar installations in Colorado in the first months of 2012 were financed by a third-party model.

Solar Power Purchase Agreements and Leasing Models

Third-party financing of solar energy primarily occurs through two models: power purchase agreements (PPAs) and solar leases.

In the PPA model, an installer/developer builds a solar energy system on a customer’s property at no cost. The solar energy system offsets the customer’s electric utility bill, and the developer sells the power generated to the customer at a fixed rate, typically lower than the local utility.  At the end of the PPA contract term, property owners can extend the contract and even buy the solar energy system from the developer.

In the lease model, a customer will sign a contract with an installer/developer and pay for the solar energy system over a period of years or decades, rather than paying for the power produced. Solar leases can be structured so customers pay no up-front costs, some of the system cost, or purchase the system before the end of the lease term. Similar leasing structures are commonly used in many other industries, including automobiles and office equipment.

Market Adoption and Policy

Although an established method of financing in the economy, third-party financing in the solar industry is less than a decade old, but it is quickly becoming one of the most popular methods for consumers to realize the benefits of solar energy.  In 2011, for example, more residential solar systems in California were financed through third-party developers than through traditional cash purchase. Unfortunately, the PPA model faces regulatory and legislative challenges in some states where third-party developers would likely be regulated as electric utilities. In these states, some third-party developers are still able to offer solar leases.

Third-Party Financing Links

  • Solar PV Project Financing, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) - this report from NREL on third-party financing PPA models identifies the challenges and alternatives to such a model
  • States and PPA FinancingNREL - this article details how states can attract third-party PPA financing
  • New Financing Models for Solar Water Heating, Renewable Energy World - this article details third-party financing models could revolutionize the commercial solar water heating market
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