Updated 1 week ago

Solar leases: Everything you need to know

Written by Catherine Lane

Is a solar lease worth it in your area?

Image source: NREL

Solar leases are a solar financing option that allows homeowners to use solar electricity without having to pay the upfront cost of installation. Instead, a homeowner makes a monthly lease payment to the solar company in exchange for the solar energy. The solar panels reduce your electricity bill, and the lease payment is designed to be lower than your pre-solar electric bill.

But, just because there are no upfront costs doesn't mean a solar lease is the best way to go solar. Let's look closer at how solar leases work and how you can determine whether or not it's the right chocie for you.

Key takeaways

  • A solar lease is a type of financing option that requires $0 upfront, and instead homeowners pay monthly lease payments to use the solar panels.

  • The solar development company owns the solar panels, not the homeowner, so the company gets all rebates and incentives.

  • Homeowners do get to take advantage of net metering, so the solar panels still lower or eliminate their electric bill.

  • Solar leases provide predictable monthly payments, increase access to solar, and have no maintenance costs for the homeowner.

  • The biggest disadvantages of solar leases is that homeowners don't get the federal tax credit, long-term savings are lower than purchased solar panels, and it can be difficult to sell a home with leased panels.

What is a solar lease?

Leasing solar panels works kind of like leasing a car. You pay a fixed monthly payment to a solar installer, but you do not own the solar panels. In return, you get all of the solar energy the panels produce, which cuts down your electric bill.  

Essentially, you are swapping the electric bill from your utility company for a cheaper bill from a solar leasing company. 

Typically, a solar installer will work with a separate leasing company to offer a solar lease. The installer is responsible for designing, installing, and maintaining the solar panels. 

How does a solar lease work?

A graphic showing how solar lease payments work. Solar panels are installed on a homeowner's roof and power the home and send excess energy to the grid. The homeowner gets the net metering benefits and a lower electric bill, and pays a monthly lease payment to the developer since the company own the panels.

Once the solar energy system is installed, you get to use all of the solar power the panels generate. Instead of using electricity from your utility, your home will power itself using the energy the solar panels produce. 

Because you are using solar energy instead of taking electricity from the grid, your electric bill will be lower. If the solar panels generate enough electricity to cover all of your energy usage through net metering, you could completely eliminate your electric bill (besides some fixed charges that solar can’t offset). 

But, you’ll still have to pay your solar lease payment. Usually, the lease payment will be lower than what your utility bill was before installing solar. So, if your electric bill is $150 per month, and your lease payment is $100, you’re saving $50 per month with a solar lease. 

Keep in mind though, that the solar system might not always produce enough electricity to cover your whole electric bill. Maybe there weren’t that many sunny days in a month, or you used way more electricity than usual. In these situations, you could end up needing to take more electricity from the grid to meet your power needs. Then, you’ll have both an electric bill and a solar lease payment.

What are the pros and cons of a solar lease?

Pros of a solar lease

Cons of a solar lease

Zero upfront costs

Not eligible for federal tax credit/certain local and state incentives

Reduce energy bills

Lower long-term savings as compared to purchasing a system

Not responsible for system maintenance/monitoring

Price escalator

Predictable lease payment every month

No added property value


Difficulty selling home

Advantages of a solar lease 

Zero upfront costs 

The best part of a solar lease is that you don’t have to worry about the high upfront costs of a solar panel system in order to get the benefits of solar energy. Most solar leases are zero-down, so you don’t really have to worry about paying any large sum of money. 

Reduce energy bills 

Solar leases will provide you with electric bill savings, as the lease payments are (initially) designed to be less than what your utility bill would be. 

Not responsible for maintenance 

When you enter into a solar lease, you are not responsible for the maintenance of the system. And while this sounds great at first, it’s actually not that much of a benefit. Solar systems are incredibly low maintenance, requiring solar panel cleanings with a hose four times a year.

More serious issues like faulty wiring or inverter problems would likely already be covered by the manufacturer or installer warranty, and damages caused by storms could be covered by homeowners’ insurance. 

So, you would have these protections with a regular purchase of a solar panel system anyway. 

Predictable monthly payments 

You will always know what your lease payment will be because it is outlined in your contract. This makes it easier for you to figure out your monthly expenses. 

Disadvantages of a solar lease 

Not eligible for tax credits and other solar incentives

With a solar lease, you cannot take advantage of any sort of solar tax credit because you are not the owner of the solar panels. So, the 30% federal solar tax credit will go to the solar developer - not you. Any state credits will also go to the solar developer.  

Additionally, you won’t be able to take advantage of other solar incentives and rebates, like SRECs, which can end up putting a lot of extra money in your pocket. 

Lower long-term savings 

The biggest downside to a solar lease is that your long-term savings are substantially lower when compared to buying solar panels. When you purchase a system instead,  you have the ability to eliminate your entire electric bill and you don’t have to worry about any other monthly payments. 

Even if you take out a loan to purchase the solar panels, eventually you will finish paying off the loan and the panels will be yours, which means they’ll be making you electricity for free! The solar energy you use will lower your electric bill, and you won’t have any lease payments - just free energy. 

With a lease, you’re locked into making payments for a full 20 to 25 years. Over that time, the amount that you spend in lease payments could be more than the system would have been worth to begin with! And the electricity the panels generate will never be free. 

Learn more: Owning vs. leasing solar panels

Price escalator 

Solar leases will include price escalators to reflect the increase in electricity prices. However, there is no way to truly know how much the price of electricity will increase until it happens. 

Most solar leases will include an escalator between 1% and 5% per year. So, if your solar lease bill is $100 in Year 1, it will go up by 1% in Year 2. But, if electricity does not increase by that much in a given year, you could end up paying more for the solar lease payment than you would have paid for electricity from your utility.

Doesn’t add value to your property 

When you purchase solar panels, they increase the value of your home. With a lease, they do not add any value since you are not the owner. 

Difficulty selling your home 

On top of leased solar systems not adding value to your property, they can actually make it harder to sell your home. 

Very few potential buyers will want to take over a lease agreement that is based on your energy usage. Plus, many potential home buyers could be confused by the concept of a solar lease, automatically turning them off of the idea of buying your home. 

Is there a better solar financing option than a solar lease?

Solar is cheaper than it’s ever been, but that doesn’t mean it’s not expensive. The average solar panel system in the U.S. will cost somewhere between $13,200 and $15,000 after the federal solar tax credit is applied. That’s not pocket change. 

So, while solar is still expensive, the lower price makes it possible to take out a loan to cover costs. Taking out a loan didn’t use to be feasible for solar - the cost was much too high, so it wouldn’t make financial sense to finance with a loan. This is when solar leasing took off. 

But now the cost of a solar power system is low enough that homeowners can easily take out a loan to pay for the installation. Solar loans, like home equity loans, allow you to install solar panels without requiring tens of thousands of dollars all at once. Instead, you make monthly loan payments until the loan is paid off. Once you finish paying back the loan, the panels are completely yours and they generate electricity for your home entirely for free. 

Plus, when you take out a solar loan you are the owner of the system, which means you get to take advantage of all of the tax incentives and other solar rebates that you can’t qualify for with a solar lease. 

Most solar loans require zero down payment and come with reasonable interest rates. 

Should you get a solar lease?

Although "free solar panels" sound like a great deal, there are very few cases in which this is the best option for going solar. The only time that a solar lease makes sense is if you don’t qualify for the federal tax credit or don’t qualify for a solar loan

The best way to finance solar if you don’t have the money for a cash purchase is with a solar loan. You get all of the benefits of installing solar, like electric bill savings and powering your home with renewable energy, plus you don’t have to worry about all the upfront costs.

Before you settle on a solar lease, you should get solar quotes from multiple local solar installers. They will help you get the best price on your solar system and give you a better idea about whether or not a solar lease will actually be right for your home. 

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Written by Catherine Lane Solar Industry Expert

Catherine is the Written Content Manager at SolarReviews, where she has been at the forefront of researching and reporting on the solar industry for five years. She leads a dynamic team in producing informative and engaging content on residential solar to help homeowners make informed decisions about investing in solar panels. Catherine’s expertise has garnered attention from leading industry publications, with her work being featured in Sola...

Learn more about Catherine Lane