Dear Lazy Environmentalist,

Can I afford solar power for my home?

If somebody were to offer me a way to power my home with solar energy without paying any money up front, I’d listen.

That somebody is SolarCity. In 2008, SolarCity introduced SolarLease, a program that enables homeowners to lease solar panel systems for a low monthly rate and zero money down. SolarCity even provides free repair service and free monitoring for optimal output as part of the performance guarantee, which lasts as long as the lease. Leases run for 15 years, after which time you can apply your accumulated monthly payments toward purchasing your system or opt to return it back to the company. Along the way, you’ll very likely lower your overall monthly energy costs.

SolarCity doesn’t normally recommend installing systems that provide 100 percent of a home’s energy needs. Instead, the company’s technicians recommend systems that eliminate the money spent on energy at the higher rates charged by California’s utility companies. You still use just enough utility-provided energy to take advantage of the low rates, but now clean, emissions-free solar power covers the rest. This works for your bottom line and the planet’s too.

Lazy environmentalists across the nation looking to enjoy the environmental benefits of home solar energy without the upfront costs will soon be in luck. SolarCity has plans in the works to expand its innovative service (also available in Oregon and Arizona) into ten additional states this year.  

More innovative residential solar providers:


Akeena Solar has developed a sleek, easy-to-install solar panel system called Andalay and has partnered with a solar financing company called Sun Run to help consumers go solar without incurring much of the up front costs. Sun Run enables residents to enter into a long-term contract called a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), which helps a homeowner purchase the energy being produced by the solar panels on the roof without actually purchasing or leasing the panels.


Operating throughout the Northeast, Northwest and Canada, GroSolar is steadily becoming one of the largest solar installers in North America. Where rebates and incentives are available in your state, GroSolar files all of the paperwork on your behalf. And since rebate checks can take a while to arrive, GroSolar charges you the “after rebate” price when installing your system and then collects the incentive checks directly, helping to lower your out-of-pocket costs.

Ready Solar

Ready Solar offers a deceptively simple modular system -- aptly named Solar in a Box -- that can be installed quickly and at a reduced cost. Because Solar in a Box is a modular system, you can choose as little or as much solar power as you’d like and then add more capacity over time.

* * * 

Excerpted from Josh Dorfman's latest book, The Lazy Environmentalist on a Budget.

Got a question? Submit a question to Mother Nature and one of our many experts will track down the answer. Plus: Visit our advice archives to see if your question has already been tackled.

Photo courtesy of SolarCity