Going Solar: Understand Your Options

By Isaac Maze-Rothstein, Jonah Bader, Emily Claps, and Danny Tobin

These days, everyone seems to be talking about going solar, but when you start looking into the different options, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The terms are confusing, and “one size does not fit all.” Read on for help on navigating the many options available.  

Rooftop solar (putting solar panels on your roof) is still the most common way to go solar, and the main options are:

  • Buying the solar panel system outright with your own savings;
  • Getting a solar loan;
  • Leasing your roof.

Buying the panels outright is the best financial deal, with a yearly return on investment of 40-70%, but it can cost $10,000-$30,000 upfront, even after tax breaks and incentives. Solar loans can make this option more affordable (learn about offers in Massachusetts here), but financial institutions often require a high credit score. For people who are turned off by the high upfront cost or have credit scores under 680, leasing panels can be a great alternative.

If you lease your system, you sign an agreement with the company that owns the solar panels. In exchange for a set monthly payment, they install the panels on your property, and you enjoy the electricity produced by the panels for the length of your contract. They’ll be responsible for all the maintenance and repairs. This can be a great opportunity for anyone who is primarily interested in using renewable energy, rather than maximizing the financial benefits of solar power.

Unfortunately, those three options still leave a lot of people without a path to go solar. For starters, you usually need a credit score above 680 and need to own your own roof, which stymies many renters and condo owners. Even if you do meet these criteria, your roof must be strong enough to support solar panels for the 20+ years of the system’s lifetime. The roof must be large enough to host a significant number of panels. The roof must have southern or western exposure to sunlight without too much shade from nearby trees. The roof cannot be slate. The list of obstacles goes on, and up until recently, about 80% of Americans were precluded from going solar for all these reasons and more.

Community solar has changed that. Community solar is an innovative new solution that enables households to go solar by tapping into an offsite solar garden. These gardens, which are often rows of freestanding solar panels on open fields, are situated in ideal locations to generate electricity that is transmitted to the power grid. Renters, condo owners, and other people that were previously excluded from the market can purchase the electricity from those panels (at a discount compared to normal electricity rates), much like if you were leasing the panels on your roof. The best part is, though, nothing needs to be installed at your house—no panels or wires. There’s no upfront cost, and you’ll save a bit on electricity every single year.

If community solar sounds like the right option for you, or if you want to discuss all these options further, fill out this form and we’ll be in touch soon.