How Much Are Solar Panels to Buy?  Free vs. Paid
You’re in the market for a commercial or residential solar photovoltaic (PV) installation.

But how much are solar panels to buy (including all parts and labor)?

Well, in San Diego (and in California in general), residential solar installations average about $10,000 – after all applicable incentives and rebates.  But don’t get too hung up on this figure.  It’s simply an average.  Many homeowners pay way less than $10K.  And because solar is an investment (not an expense), they typically recoup all costs within 4 to 6 years.

Thereafter, they enjoy free and clean electricity for decades.  Some solar installations in San Diego last 40+ years with almost zero maintenance and cleaning.

But did you know it’s possible to receive a brand new solar PV installation for $0.  You pay absolutely nothing for the panels, parts, or labor.

It’s true.  But how?

San Diego Solar Leases & Power Purchase Agreements

A solar lease (a.k.a. power purchase agreement (PPA)) is very similar to a car lease.  It’s a long-term rental in which someone else owns the system but allows you to use it.

That 3rd party covers all setup and maintenance costs for your solar installation.  But every month, you pay a set fee for the electricity you use from the panels.  In most cases, this monthly charge is less than what the utility company demands.

So you enjoy instant savings from Day 1.

Let’s quickly recap the benefits of solar leases.  You:

  • Get a brand new solar PV installation (free of charge)
  • Reduce your monthly electricity bill (almost immediately)
  • Help protect the environment

Solar leases are so popular that even the US Military is getting in on the action.  In fact, roughly 80% of future renewable energy projects within the Department of Defense will use PPAs.  Leases are a terrific way to keep costs down.

But solar leases also have a dark side.

The Disadvantages of Free Solar Panels for Your Home or Business

It’s hard to beat free.  After all, who doesn’t enjoy paying $0 for an awesome technology that helps protect the planet?

However, we generally discourage our customers from using solar leases to finance their installations.  You can see some of our other articles on the topic here.

But in a nutshell:

  • With a solar lease, you’ll never have free electricity.  Ever.  The energy you consume will always carry a cost.  You’ve simply shifted payment from the utility company (i.e. DG&E) to a 3rd party (i.e. the lessor).
  • There is no payback period – because there is no investment.  If your lease lasts for 40 years, you can expect to continue throwing money away for 40 years.
  • You’ll never qualify for any of the awesome solar incentives available in San Diego County.  We’re talking about free money in the form of solar rebates, tax credits, and net metering.

So How Much Are Solar Panels to Buy, Really?

It depends.  If you go the solar lease route, the actual purchase will cost you nothing.  But you don’t receive as many financial benefits in the long run.  These perks go to whoever owns the actual system.

If you finance your solar panels with cash or a loan, be prepared to spend around $10K for a residential installation (commercial properties often cost more but deliver more).

It might be a sizeable investment upfront, but the long-term financial benefits are well worth it.