Updated October 28, 2020
Are free solar panels a good deal?

You may have seen solar installers advertising ‘free solar panels’ for your home. This sales pitch might sound like it’s too good to be true, however there really are solar installers who offer to install rooftop solar panels without any upfront costs.

But, there’s a catch – these free solar panels won’t give you the same great electric bill savings that you get when you pay for the solar system.

On this page
What do ‘free solar panels’ mean?
Are free solar panels a scam?
Other financing options that save you more
Should you get free solar panels?
What do solar installers mean when they say ‘free solar panels’?
When installers say free solar panels they are referring to one of two solar financing options:

Solar power purchase agreements (PPA) or
Solar leases
With both solar leases and solar PPAs, you enter into a long-term contract with a solar installation company that will perform the solar panel installation at little to no cost to you.

Once the solar panel system is installed, you get to use the clean energy it produces to power your home, all while saving big on your electricity bill!

Sounds great, doesn’t it? However, the thing is, you don’t own the solar panels on your roof with a solar lease or PPA. And although the solar panels are installed at no cost to you upfront, you have to make monthly payments to the solar company for the solar energy produced on your roof.

Are free solar panels a scam?
No, free solar panels are not a scam. Entering a solar lease or solar PPA will still end up saving you money on your utility bills. The solar energy produced on your roof will be used to power your home and reduce your power bills through net metering, a program offered by your utility company.

However, you do have to make monthly payments to the solar company for using the solar energy. The good news is, these monthly payments will be less than what your electric bill would have been prior to you installing solar.

For example, if your utility bill was $200 per month before installing solar panels, your solar lease payment might be somewhere around $125 per month. So, you would wind up saving $75 per month.

Keep in mind – just because free solar panels will save you money, doesn’t mean they are the best way to finance solar panels for your home.

Free solar panels don’t save as much money as other financing options
The appeal of solar leases and PPAs is that you don’t need to have thousands of dollars on hand to get solar panels installed.

Leases and PPAs increased access to solar panels for homeowners, and helped drive the solar industry in the United States forward when the price for solar was high.

Now, solar is cheaper than ever, and homeowners can take advantage of other financing options, like solar loans, that result in greater long-term savings. Solar loans allow you to purchase solar panels with zero-down payment, while still having all the benefits of owning the solar system.

Cash purchases and solar loans will give you the best long-term solar savings.

As the system owner with a solar loan, you’ll be able to take advantage of government incentives and rebates like the 26% federal tax credit and SRECs, unlike when you enter a solar lease or PPA. Plus, you’ll get higher long-term energy bill savings.

Should you get free solar panels?
Before you decide to get free solar panels, you should weigh all of your financing options and get quotes from multiple solar installers. Purchasing solar panels, either with cash or a solar loan, will give you the best long-term savings.

Plus, when you own your solar system, you’re able to take advantage of various incentives, like the solar tax credit. You won’t be able to do this if you install free solar panels.

If you don’t have the cash to cover how much solar panels cost upfront, you don’t qualify for a solar loan, or don’t qualify for the federal tax credit, then free solar panels might be the right choice for you.

But, you should always consider getting multiple solar quotes from multiple installers to make the most informed decision about what is the best way for you to go solar.

Key takeaways
Free solar panels refer to two types of solar financing options: solar leases and solar PPAs.
Free solar panels are not a scam, however, you get lower long-term savings with solar leases and solar PPAs than you do with other solar financing options.
With a solar lease or solar PPA, you do not own the solar panels on your roof – instead, you make monthly payments to a solar company for the energy the solar panels produce.
With a solar lease or solar PPA, you do not own the solar panels on your roof – instead, you make monthly payments to a solar company for the energy the solar panels produce.
You should only consider installing free solar panels if you do not have cash for an upfront purchase, do not qualify for a solar loan, or do not qualify for the federal tax credit.

Conor Cummins
Richard Nollman

Richard Nollman is the Chief Technology and Information Officer of Energy Mitigation Associates. He is an innovative leader driving technical vision to achieve EMAs mission, to provide our clients with the best possible outcomes resulting from environmental consumer litigation.

As CTO/CIO, his role is to develop strategies for using technological resources to evaluate and implement new systems and infrastructure to ensure that technologies are used efficiently, profitably, and securely.

A graduate of Boston University School of Public Communications, Richard has spent over 30 years working with complex technologies for Fortune 500 companies and multiple start-ups creating business value and growth through technology and information management.

Steven Giacalone

Steven Giacalone is a career business management and finance professional who has decades of experience in the commercial, mortgage, and investment banking sectors. He also has extensive experience in various investment analysis and management roles within the commercial real estate development industry.

For the past 20 years he had provided effective consultative vision and independent management guidance to dozens of start-up companies who have collectively sought out his exceptional organizational management skills and keen business acumen. In the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis he successfully helped to assemble and originate 15 FINRA fraud and misrepresentation arbitration cases against Auction Rate Securities (ARS) Wall Street broker dealers.

A former USAF officer, his natural leadership talent has and continues to produce enormous incremental enterprise value for such clients. He holds a BA with majors in both Mathematics and Social Sciences from Dowling College as well as an MBA from Harvard University. He also recently completed an Advanced Studies Program (ASP) Fellowship from MIT, with a concentration in Financial Engineering.