Solar power is expanding rapidly. In the US, there are currently hundreds of utility-scale solar plants — in 2007, there was not a single one. While solar has now seen a decade of promising growth, the U.S. still only generates 0.6 percent of our electricity through solar power.
So what can we do to up our sustainable energy use? Evidently, we’re already doing it.
Utility-scale solar power plants (like California’s Solar Star Project, the world’s largest solar farm) are useful for harvesting and providing energy for wholesale utility buyers at a fixed price. But it’s the rooftop photovoltaic (PV) panel installments that are the fastest growing sector in solar — and that’s why you’re reading this article. So let’s figure out how to get your home equipped with a solar energy system!
Why Go Solar?
Recent reports show that the cost of solar is often close to, if not completely comparable to, the cost of power on the utility grid.
In December 2015, Congress announced a six-year extension of both the production and investment federal tax credits for solar installations. Add that to the fact that rooftop solar PV panels are about half the cost of what they were three years ago, and it seems like a no-brainer.
So everyone should go out and install solar panels on their homes and businesses, right? If solar power is feasible for you, then great! But naturally, the rapidly growing industry means that the market has become saturated with providers, both big and small. How do you know which solar provider is right for you?
SolarCity vs. SunPower
We’ve looked into two of the leading home solar providers and compared the variables that matter most to you as an individual buyer. SolarCity sells itself as America’s #1 solar provider. But how do you know if that’s the truth, or just another sales gimmick?
The short answer is, you don’t. If you want to spend hours researching companies and reading through the fine print of their contracts and disclaimers, go ahead.
Or, go for option two: read GreenFuture’s posts. (We’ve already done the hard work for you.)
Today’s comparison is between two of the biggest names in the solar game: SolarCity and SunPower.
SunPower has been around for 30 years, so rather than experimenting with making the best solar panels, they focus on customer service and keeping their status as a solar energy provider that’s ahead of the curve. SunPower is the energy provider for many federal organizations including the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. National Park Service, the Coast Guard, Air Force, Navy, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, among others.
SunPower is also responsible for the technology behind Solar Impulse, the first solar airplane to fly off 100% sun-generated power. Zero fuel. Zero.
NASA’s GROVER, which roams the frigid and low light conditions of Greenland, is also generated by SunPower’s technology.
Ok. Now let’s get down to the facts.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?
The cost of your system will vary depending on your location, the size of your home, and your current utility bill. The average cost for a PV system ranges from $15,000 to $40,000, depending on the amount of energy you will use.
You can get a free consultation for an estimate on what you would pay to install SunPower solar panels for your home.
Can I Lease?
Yes. If you decide to lease, you pay a monthly fee to rent the system and still reap all the benefit froms the energy that it produces. Leased systems are protected by a 20-year performance guarantee. If you decide to move, you can sign your lease over to the new owner, and SunPower will handle the details.
You can also make monthly payments to purchase your solar system. Payment plans can range from five to 20 years in length, and you still get the benefits from tax credits and incentives for owning a solar energy system.
Can I Get A Discount?
There is no upfront cost, whether you lease or purchase a solar power system through a payment plan. While there isn’t currently a discounted price, the money you earn through state and federal tax incentives — plus the amount saved on your utility bill — will add up to a nice chunk of change. The typical return on investment is around 15 to 20% and will vary for each individual case.
Is SunPower In My State?
Most likely. SunPower installers are located all across the country. All you need to do is type in your zip code on their website, and they will locate the nearest service to you. There are also headquarters in Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.
How Long Do Panels Last?
All panels are backed by a 25-year power and product warranty, which includes a guarantee that SunPower is providing the most power! According to the SunPower site, only one out of every 20,000 panels has been returned under warranty.
Are There Added Benefits Of Choosing SolarCity?
Yes, quite a few!
- SunPower holds the world record for the most efficient silicon solar panel.
- SunPower has partnered with Audi, Ford, and the Sierra Club to offer incentives to go green for fueling your vehicle as well your home.
We recently covered the details of SolarCity power systems, but here is an overview of a few key deciding factors.
- SolarCity is the largest solar power provider in the U.S. It has several options for prepaid and customized solar systems. As with SunPower, you need to schedule a free consultation to get an individualized quote.
- You have several financing, lease, and usage options with SolarCity that aren’t available with SunPower.
- Installation is free whether you buy or lease with SolarCity, and SunPower doesn’t list installation prices. Hmm…
- Discounts and tax subsidies are the same no matter which provider you choose, they depend on your location and current living situation.
- SolarCity’s warranty lasts for 30 years, and SunPower’s lasts for 25. BUT depending on which plan you choose with SolarCity, your warranty is susceptible to exceptions or exclusions.
- SolarCity partners with the GivePower foundation and donates a solar power system and battery to a school without electricity for every megawatt of power that SolarCity installs.
Which Solar Power System Is Best?
Given the variables we listed above, it’s difficult to say which provider is best. Each owner will have different priorities. Do you want the newest technology or the most affordable option? Is reputation a big selling point for you, or do you think that all solar panels are the same? You will make your choice based on your priorities, but having the facts laid out for you doesn’t hurt!