There's no such thing as free solar panels, and there's no such thing as a no-cost solar program. If you hear about “free” or “free” solar programs, they're likely to give you a cheap selling point to tempt you to sign a solar lease or power purchase agreement. Yes, there are (legitimate) installers who will put solar panels for free for your home. But the problem is that they require you to enter into a solar lease or power purchase agreement (PPA).
There really is no such thing as truly free solar panels. While verified installers can offer the panels themselves at no cost, you, as the buyer, will have to pay for the installation. No, free solar panels are not a scam. Once the solar panels are installed on your roof at no cost to you, you can use the clean energy the system produces to power your home and lower your electricity bill.
While buying a solar system costs more upfront, it will save you a lot more money in the long run. Renting solar panels may be free, but as long as you do, you will be charged for the electricity produced by the panels. If a solar professional determines that your roof is not suitable for solar energy, or if you don't own your home, you can still benefit from solar energy. Community solar energy allows multiple people to benefit from a single shared solar panel that can be installed on site or off site.
The costs associated with purchasing and installing a solar energy system are divided among all participants, who can purchase from the shared system at the level that best suits their budget. However, the panels are not delivered to you for free, because you don't own them or any other part of the system installed in your home. The leasing company or PPA does, so it receives any tax credit or financial incentive that comes with the system. The company is also responsible for all system repairs and maintenance during the term of the contract, giving you peace of mind.
If you can't shell out the upfront costs of installing a solar system in your home, a lease or PPA could be a good deal and will likely save you money. Just make sure you understand the contract before signing it. Most people will pay more for the life of a solar lease than if they purchased and financed a system. If rebates, tax incentives, or the installation of used or DIY solar systems are not enough to make solar energy possible given your current situation, your roof can help reduce monthly utility bills and help the environment.
The reality is that you don't own the solar system (or the SREC), and the solar energy produced by the panels is not free. But when you look at the contracts, they greatly favor the solar installer over the 25 years of the system's life. Free solar panel systems only make sense for homeowners who don't qualify for the federal tax credit or a solar loan. To make the best decision for your solar energy needs, it's important to go beyond the sales pitch and look at the fine print.
Your savings also depend on the electricity rates set by your utility company and how much the utility company will compensate you for the excess solar energy you send back to the grid. There are several solar-specific financing options available to help you pay for the initial cost of solar energy. The solar company will charge you for the electricity produced by the system, just as a utility company charges you a monthly fee for electricity and gas. DC (direct current) electricity from solar panels is especially dangerous, and there are enough volts flowing through just a few connected panels on your roof to kill you.
There are other solar financing options that can provide you with much better long-term solar savings. They structure it this way so that they can claim the Federal Tax Credit and any local incentives to use solar energy. Because these systems are powered directly to the main electrical system, each grid-connected solar panel must meet specific requirements that previously used, damaged, or self-built panels often cannot pass. The most active solar leasing company in Illinois right now is Sunrun, a California company that has been selling and renting solar panels for several years.