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  • Writer's pictureTiana Starks

Solar panels on homes are increasingly popular, but should you buy, lease or rent?

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

2020 is shaping up to be a dramatic year for solar power.

Starting this year, for instance, most new homes in California will be required to have solar panels. But many homeowners in the state have already rushed to add solar panels and batteries to their houses as they grapple with increasingly frequent blackouts.

Across the U.S., a majority of homeowners have either seriously considered installing solar panels or have already done so, according to a Pew survey last month.

Sunrun, which sells solar panels primarily through long-term lease agreements, in October saw traffic spike 1,500% to the page on its website that explains how to power through blackouts, shortly after California’s Pacific Gas & Electric cut power proactively to thousands of people hoping to prevent wildfires.

During the October blackouts, Sunrun’s California customers with solar and battery systems kept their lights on for more than 36 hours on average, and one Sonoma County family powered their home for nearly six straight days.

“Interest has by far gone through the roof,” Evelyn Huang, chief customer experience officer at Sunrun, told the Associated Press.

When weighing whether to buy, lease or subscribe to a solar energy system, it’s worth considering whether there are hidden costs or pitfalls.

Buying is best If you have the cash, most experts agree that buying a solar system outright is a better investment than leasing or taking out a loan. Customers should check electric bills to estimate monthly energy use when deciding what size system to buy and calculate federal or state incentives. Check with your state’s department of energy or a database like DSIRE.

Make efficiency upgrades elsewhere in the home, such as buying new windows or energy-saving appliances, before choosing a system to help avoid purchasing a solar array that’s larger than necessary.

“Conserving the amount of electricity that you use and installing solar go hand in hand,” Spencer Fields, a content manager at clean-energy marketplace EnergySage, told CBS News. “You can have one without the other, but it makes more sense to do them together.”

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