What Happened When I Bought a House With Solar Panels

Lynn Jurich, Sunrun’s CEO since 2015, is a mother of two young children and a regular on 40-under-40 and most-powerful-women-in-business lists. Harvard recruited her to play volleyball and basketball. She chose Stanford instead, and after graduation took a job in private equity that required cold-calling CEOs, because she knew it would make her uncomfortable. A few years later, while at Stanford Graduate School of Business, she met fellow student Ed Fenster, who’d also been in private equity, at Blackstone Group LP, and his friend Nat Kreamer, a U.S. Navy officer who was fresh off a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The three began diving into the challenge of making solar more accessible. Fundamentally it was a math problem—“a business-model challenge and a financing challenge,” Jurich told me when we sat down at Sunrun’s San Francisco headquarters in December. She, Fenster, and Kreamer founded Sunrun in 2007.

A company called SunEdison had used the TPO model for years on commercial-scale projects, and SolarCity Corp. had beaten Sunrun to the residential market, launching in 2006 with $10 million from Elon Musk, cousin of the two brothers who founded it. For years after its founding, Sunrun watched as competitors spent wildly to gain market share and new companies crowded the field.

Residential Solar in the U.S.



ventually, Sunrun’s patience paid off. SolarCity nearly collapsed under massive debt before getting rescued by Tesla Inc. in 2016. SunEdison, Sungevity Inc., and others declared bankruptcy. Sunrun remained focused on improving margins and making use of government incentives, while speaking the languages of both environmental righteousness and Silicon Valley disruption. By early 2018 the company was deploying more residential megawatts than any of its rivals. It’s gained market share every quarter but one since mid-2015, has 218,000 customers across 22 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico (California accounts for about half of them), and employs more than 4,000 people. Sunrun’s shares have nearly tripled in value in the past 12 months, and the company projects that its customer base will grow 30 percent in the current fiscal year.

And not so far down the road is the new mandate in California. Jurich sees this as normalizing solar, making it feel less risky for homeowners to adopt. More specifically, she told me, it will be good for companies using the TPO model. Builders won’t want to offer solar as an owned part of the home because that will inflate the sticker price. Instead, she said, buyers will finance the systems via a separate transaction—one that Sunrun is in talks with the state’s 10 biggest homebuilders to provide. Sunrun relies on TPO for 85 percent of its business.

Offering rooftop solar setups worth tens of thousands of dollars for no money down requires weaving an intricate financial web. The monthly payments in 20-year contracts provide Sunrun with future streams of cash flow, but acquiring customers, procuring hardware, and paying installers (and executives) require money today. Government incentives are key, especially the federal Investment Tax Credit, which allows owners to deduct 30 percent of the cost of a rooftop system from their federal taxes.

The structure of tax incentives in the U.S. also helps explain why it’s the only country where the TPO model has thrived. Homeowners elsewhere buy rooftop solar systems outright, and for much cheaper; Americans pay twice as much as their global peers. Australia and other countries offer substantial upfront subsidies or rebates—at one point, the Australian subsidies covered some 80 percent of the cost of a typical system. (They now cover about a third of the cost, which is falling.) In the U.S., by contrast, homeowners who buy systems outright can’t claim the credits until the next time they file their taxes, and then only if they owe the government at least as much as the value of the credit. (Currently the credit can be spread over multiple years.) That and other factors play to the strengths of Sunrun.

Sunrun finances its initial costs by taking on debt and raising capital from what are called tax equity investors. Only a few dozen companies have the appetite for tax credits and financial sophistication to be in this pool, including Google, JPMorgan Chase, and General Electric, says Joe Osha, an analyst who covers energy technology at JMP Securities LLC. They invest in Sunrun not to generate significant cash returns but to reap tax benefits: By assuming ownership of thousands of solar systems they can claim the credits and thus lower their tax bills from other economic activities. Hugh Bromley, a solar analyst at BloombergNEF, says Sunrun and its competitors offer solar, sure, but can be better understood as having created “one of the most sophisticated financial engineering industries of any sector of the U.S. economy.”

Just 1 percent of U.S. single-family homes—1.8 million—are equipped with solar, and the real estate industry’s general understanding of TPO systems remains limited. Our real estate agent, a 35-year veteran, had never encountered one. The listing agents for Jug’s property also seemed uncertain. Initially they didn’t mention the system at all. Then they told us it was owned by Sunrun and that if we didn’t want to assume the lease they’d remove it. Then, apparently because they’d learned the full cost of that, they backtracked.

Aided by a local attorney and my father-in-law, a retired contract attorney, I drafted a letter to Jug’s trust accusing the listing agents of failing to deliver title to the property free of any third-party claims as the agents had said they could. I threatened legal action. It was a last-ditch effort that none of us expected to work. Then it did.

On March 1, a representative for Jug’s trust emailed Sunrun saying it would purchase the system. On March 22, we got the keys to the house and I stood beaming in the empty dining room and took a selfie. On March 30, we moved in.


Sunrun calls our insistence that Jug’s trust buy out and remove the system “incredibly unique and rare.” It’s far more common for home sellers to transfer the lease to the buyer—Sunrun says 94 percent of customers do this—or to prepay the lease and leave the hardware on the roof for the next owner to use. I’ve been kicking myself ever since I learned about this latter option. It would have saved the estate around $12,000 and allowed us to support solar and get “free” electricity, even as Sunrun remained responsible for maintenance and repairs.

t would have been fine from Sunrun’s perspective, too. The $27,300 full buyout price is explained by the necessities of TPO accounting. The federal credits and accelerated depreciation taken by Sunrun and its tax equity investors are dependent on systems remaining in operation for five years; if a system is removed from service before then, the value claimed can be clawed back by the IRS. Sunrun’s buyout price accounted for not only the remaining 18 years of lease payments but also the lost tax credits and depreciation.

The complexities of these arrangements got me thinking about Jug. When he signed the contract with Sunrun, eight months before his death, he’d been battling cancer for years. Did he understand the implications?

Cost Breakdown

SunrunCashCash + Tax CreditLoan + Tax CreditLoanAll

Over the life of his 20-year contract with Sunrun, Jug’s payments would have totaled about $24,000, including maintenance.120years051015$20kSunrunCashCash + Tax CreditLoan + Tax CreditLoanAll

Without the 30% federal Investment Tax Credit, buying a comparable system outright would have cost Jug about $18,000, including maintenance.120years051015$20kCashSunrun* Based on an interest rate of 6.2%Source: Jug’s Sunrun contract; EnergySage; data compiled for Businessweek by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a division of the U.S. Energy Dept.

Jug’s saleswoman was part of a vast network of commission-based salespeople that includes both direct employees and third-party contractors. Sunrun has developed sales leads by deploying people to canvass at football games and stores (Costco is a gold mine, former salespeople tell me) and by going door-to-door and cold-calling. The basic sales pitch is savings of up to 20 percent, a hedge against unpredictable utility rates, and the emotional rewards of doing right by the environment.

On consumer review sites and in local news reports, rueful customers warn others to stay away from TPO solar offered by Sunrun and other companies. State attorneys general and politicians have fielded complaints from people who say they were sold expensive systems they can’t afford after signing contracts they didn’t understand; or are paying more now on their electricity bills, not less as promised; or are having trouble selling their homes because potential buyers are turned off, just as I was. (Customers of Sunrun and other companies must sign binding arbitration clauses, barring them from suing or joining in class actions.)

I brought this up with Jurich, who pointed to Sunrun’s A+ rating by the Better Business Bureau and said “massive edge cases” seized on by journalists don’t fairly represent the typical customer experience. She pushed back hard against the idea that her company contributes to the industry’s negative reputation. To the contrary, “I think it helps us stand out,” she said. “For any long-term success in a business like this, it’s going to be your reputation first and foremost, so the customer experience is critical. … If I wanted to do something to just make money I would have stayed in investing. I want to do something that makes a big impact.”

I spoke with eight current and former Sunrun employees, some of whom praised the sales culture and said bad behavior wasn’t condoned. Others said unethical tactics went unpunished when discovered. “When your paycheck depends on getting the yes, it’s like love and war: All is fair,” said Tank Hanna, a salesman-turned-trainer from Arizona. “It can be done correctly, but it takes a skill level and patience level and understanding that most reps don’t have and managers don’t want.” Salespeople would cherry-pick data, skim over crucial details, and prioritize speed above all, he told me. A trainer from California who listened in on hundreds of sales calls for quality control estimated that 60 percent of customers knew no more than half of what they were signing up for and 10 percent had no clue.

Potential customers often ask what will happen when they try to sell their homes. The salespeople I spoke with said they allayed such concerns by saying solar adds value by lowering carrying costs. Jurich said the same thing during our interview. For TPO systems, however, there’s no data or reputable study to back that up. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a publicly funded research organization in California, has found that an owned system is an asset. TPO systems weren’t shown to provide any net gain—they’re neither assets nor liabilities. (Although, tell that to Jug’s trust.)

One former Bay Area employee sent me a Sunrun training manual he said was current when he resigned in April 2017. It’s called “Power Play 2.0: The Guide to Successfully Sell Sunrun.” (The company confirmed its authenticity.) It instructs salespeople to sow distrust in and disdain for traditional utilities and appeal to customers’ emotions. Over 61 pages, pain is cited at least 31 times and fear at least a dozen. When reviewing a customer’s traditional utility bill, the trainee is told, “amplify the pain significantly.” Among “components of success”: “creating pain and fear.” Among the “five fatal flaws” to avoid: “failing to build pain or fear.”

An excerpt from a Sunrun sales training manual, “Power Play 2.0: The Guide to Successfully Sell Sunrun.”

Jurich didn’t hesitate to defend the tactics when I brought them up in our interview. She called pain a “fair characterization of the experience that people have” paying their utility bills. “We are selling a substitute for traditional electricity, so you would want to demonstrate why your product is a superior product.” Spokeswoman Georgia Dempsey later followed up in an email: “‘Uncovering Pain’ is widely attributed to David Sandler, who introduced the Sandler Selling System,” she wrote. “Sandler defines Pain as ‘finding the prospect’s reason to buy and gaining a commitment to resolve any issues keeping the prospect from greater success.’ Our growing customer base is evidence of households’ desire for the superior energy service offered by home solar and batteries.”

Consumers want to go green, but above all, as Sunrun underscores in company filings, they want to save money. The company promises to produce these savings by offering initial rates that undercut the prevailing electricity costs in a given area and then increasing its rates more slowly than those for traditional electricity. This is premised on claims that traditional energy prices have “skyrocketed” in the past and predictions they’ll continue to. Sunrun works from the assumption that electricity costs will rise 3.76 percent annually. That’s more than double the average increase over the past decade nationally, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration figures. (Average consumption has also been falling, as household appliances have become more efficient.) Sunrun argues rates will rise faster in the future than in the past, in part because utilities need to spend on grid upgrades in coming years.

Regardless of what energy costs end up doing, a well-designed, fairly priced rooftop system should lower the power bill of most Americans. Buying one outright is a better deal for people with the means to do so, but that isn’t everyone. TPO solar, with its simplicity and convenience, can be alluring.

There’s one more twist in this tale. Months after all the drama had played out, I came upon a surprise.

When I originally called Sunrun, I was told that Jug’s SoCal Edison bill in the year before he went solar averaged $115 a month. That turned out not to be true. His file, a second Sunrun rep told me, indicated that it averaged $79. Remember that his solar panels were designed to meet only 85 percent of his electricity needs, making his actual total monthly outlay in the first year with solar $87. That’s $8 more than he’d been paying. When I asked Sunrun about these new figures, Dempsey, the company spokeswoman, said Jug was “a happy and satisfied customer” who “valued the peace of mind” the system provided.

I hadn’t wanted to bother Jug’s family or friends, but now I had to learn what I could about his motivations for signing up with Sunrun. I tracked down two cousins from Iowa and two close friends here in Santa Barbara to ask whether Jug had been a gray green—an older person committed to saving the planet. They all scoffed—he did things to save money. He lived by his mother’s doctrine to buy everything in cash and had the means to do so, they said. They all wondered aloud whether he’d been misled. “Why would he sign a 20-year contract when he knew he wouldn’t live that long?” said Kathy Backus, a fellow ham who met Jug through the Amateur Radio Club two decades ago and stood vigil as cancer ate away at his physical and mental well-being. “Something stinks. It smells like three-day-old fish.”

There’s more to the story, including the fact that Jug’s solar panels never worked at full efficiency. This was because of what Sunrun characterized as “severe shading” caused by the next-door neighbor’s tree. That’s right: Sunrun installed the system beneath a big old tree. This makes me again question the judgment of Jug’s salesperson. Sunrun has a production guarantee—if the system underperforms, you get a credit. In Jug’s case, $203 was credited to his account on July 17, 2017, half a year after his death.

As I write this I’m pregnant. The life Alex and I pictured the first time we walked through Jug’s house, now our house, is taking shape. And let me tell you about our electricity bill. Had we assumed Jug’s lease, we’d be paying $79 a month to Sunrun (the second escalator would have kicked in) plus at least $10 to SoCal Edison to stay on the grid, minus $7.50 for net metering. We’ve been in the house 10 months, and our average SoCal Edison bill is $30. Compared with becoming Sunrun customers, we’re saving $50 a month. We’re going to give some of that to help protect the environment.


What is Photovoltaic Solar Energy?

When someone asks what I do for a living, my answer usually begins with “we mostly design and install photovoltaic systems in homes and commercial businesses”. Inevitably, the next response I get is “Hu? What’s that?” Honestly, it is a fair response to a seemingly complicated answer but thinking about solar generating electricity and Blue Pacific Solar on many levels consumes much of my thought process and to use the word solar to describe this marvelous process just seems too broad a response. [continue reading…]


Best Hike On the Planet!

In every walk with nature one  receives far more than he seeks.
– John Muir

Are you ready for extreme canyon adventure? Are you ready for the best hike on the planet? On this hike you will not see donkeys.  You won’t see trash and the amount of tourists in this area is at a bare minimum. .  This is the trip that Grand Canyon dreams are made of. OK, here we go!!!

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Electric Car

An Electrical Car – Why It Should Be Your New Set of Wheels

The New Year has just begun, and it has probably driven youto make your list of resolutions for the year. With that thought in mind, itwould be a good idea to contribute less to the pollution that’s happeningeverywhere by investing in a car that could be economical for your pocket, and alsoenvironmentally friendly. Electrical and also hybrid cars are just the kind ofride you should be looking at, and these are a couple of solid reasons as towhy you should get an electrical car for yourself.


Renewable energy is very much about how the natural resources

Renewable energy is very much about how the natural resources of a particular region or locality can be harnessed. Wind can be unpredictable – the regular devastation caused by storms and hurricanes shows this only too well – but some countries experience regular windy weather, and this can mean they have strong potential to generate electricity by building wind farms. Those countries on the western edges of Europe, including the UK, Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Spain and Portugal take advantage of their sea-facing geographical positions to source clean electricity in this way.


Can Solar Power Work For You

With the recent furor surrounding the impending price rises in energy bills, it’s no wonder that people far and wide are looking into alternative methods of heating their homes. While many people will look into the possibility of changing suppliers in order to find a better deal, there will be just as many who expect a similar cost and service from similar suppliers and who, therefore, feel that there is something to gain from going green.

Can Solar Power Work For You?

As with everything, there are always arguments for and against the case. Many people feel that solar energy is not a viable way of creating enough energy in the way that we normally source our energy, but realistically, this is just not true. It’s a fact that solar panels can harness a huge amount of energy. The silicon in just one ton of sand, when used in conjunction with a solar panel setup, can physically generate energy levels to match a thousand tons of coal. We have to remember that all energy directly or indirectly comes from the sun – even the energy stored in coal and oil – so using a solar panel is just a way of going directly to the source!

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Stored Solar Energy for Cooking

Off-Grid Cooking

If you have taken the admirable leap of living completely off-grid, you are probably now wondering how to best preserve your stored solar energy. One option is to reconsider your cooking habits. Although there are plenty of energy-efficient electric ovens available, you can save your home’s solar power altogether by using alternative methods of cooking.

The first and most obvious power saving cooking option is an outdoor grill. If you are fortunate enough to live in a warm climate, with the opportunity to spend long hours outdoors, an outdoor grill might be enough to fulfill all your cooking needs. With enough practice, you can cook not only meat but vegetables, eggs, pizza, bread, and even cake on a grill. Some camping stores make it easier with products specifically designed for outdoor cooking. In the spirit of cutting costs, you don’t even have to own a grill. A fire pit can yield the same results as can a large, durable fireplace. If you do plan to use a grill or fire as your primary cooking source, consider investing on a Dutch oven, which is great for baking and slow cooking.

The next best cooking choice is a wood burning cook stove. These stove/oven combinations are used indoors to cook and bake, using wood as their primary sources of fuel. The only disadvantage of a wood burning cook stove is that it also heats your house. This is great if it is ten degrees outside, but it can make your life miserable in the summer.

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Solar energy is becoming increasingly popular

Solar energy is becoming increasingly popular:
It has started to attract the interest of major utility companies. Although this option is expensive relative to more conventional energy sources like natural gas and coal, prices are dropping, making it a great option for home and business owners to consider. Some of the most important benefits of this type of energy are outlined below.

Financial Incentives:
Installing solar panels can result in a variety of subsidies and financial incentives for private individuals who are looking for a new way to power their homes. In addition to subsidies offered by the federal government, many state agencies will also offer financial benefits. These incentives will allow people who take advantage of solar energy with the option of claiming tax credits that are proportional to the generation capacity amount that they install. These incentives can offset the costs that home or business owners need to start using solar power, and the financial savings can increase the system’s overall profitability.

Job Creation :
The use of solar energy has resulted in thousands of new jobs over the last ten years alone. The production of solar panels is one source of these employment opportunities, but there are a variety of other positions that require experienced personnel in order to make the installation of solar panels into a reality, including salespeople, install technicians, designers, and others.


Emergency Essentials

Emergency Essentials
There are two basic emergency situations. Essentials for those trapped in their homes are somewhat different from what is necessary for evacuation. The first basic requirement is water. Humans can live without food for a number of days, but water is a basic need. Shelter comes second. Keep in mind that danger from exposure to excessive heat, or cold, is greatly increased by wet clothing.



Go for the Wind

Going for Wind

For about £1,000 the British householder can buy his own power-generating wind turbine.  By pumping power generated by the mini turbine into substantial batteries, a constant power source can be obtained.  Alternatively you can put it straight into the national grid and get paid for it.

There are two different options for a home turbine – mount a mini-turbine on your roof or alternatively on a freestanding pole.   Greater returns are generally gained from pole-mounted turbines, as wind for building-mounted machines usually has more obstacles to get around, which weakens the flow.  Performance is directly related to the strength of the local winds, and measurement of this before installation is key to purchasing the right level of turbine.  The free-standing pole turbine in the right location will have unobstructed wind access and therefore greater generation capacity.  It is strongly recommended that an anemometer be used to measure the wind speeds in different locations to establish where the best site for a pole turbine will be.

Someone in the UK planning to adopt wind power for electricity generation should consult The Energy Savings Trust, who can provide detailed advice on grants available, the right equipment to purchase and what to do in installation.

One factor to be aware of when purchasing is the ‘cut in’ speed.  This is the speed of wind at which the power generation begins.  While the layman might expect any turning blades to generate power, in fact, it has to reach a minimum level.  Different micro-turbines have different cut-in speeds.


An Electrical Car – Why It Should Be Your New Set of Wheels

An Electrical Car – Why It Should Be Your New Set of Wheels
The New Year has just begun, and it has probably driven you to make your list of resolutions for the year. With that thought in mind, it would be a good idea to contribute less to the pollution that’s happening everywhere by investing in a car that could be economical for your pocket, and also environmentally friendly. Electrical and also hybrid cars are just the kind of ride you should be looking at, and these are a couple of solid reasons as to why you should get an electrical car for yourself.

Lower Price Tags Than Before
Just over the past year, the sales of both full electric and plug-in hybrid cars were doubled, and it wasn’t just because there were more energy conscious people around. The prices of electrical and hybrid cars were slashed by a pretty good bit, with manufacturers such as Nissan Motor Co letting its prices go down by up to 18 per cent. The company was able to give the public a more comfortable and competitive pricing as it had moved its production plant to a more affordable region, and other companies are following suit. The benefits are reaped by consumers such as yourself, as the pricing would not better fit into your expected budget range.

Cost Effective
Compared to gas, an electrical car is battery operated, which just needs to be recharged from time to time. The cost of gas that would otherwise do some serious damage to your paycheck is practically non-existent. Research from the Department of Energy in the States has shown that an electric vehicle could be driven for a good 43 miles at the cost of a single dollar of electricity. That says much about cost effectiveness


Wind Power – Can Reduce Your Energy Bill?

Wind Power – Can It Reduce Your Energy Bill?
It can’t have escaped your notice that wind power is big in the UK right now. Open spaces all over the country are populated with vast wind farms, acres of gigantic wind turbines stretched out as far as the eye can see like an army of mutant ants. Wind turbines are huge, noisy, and probably not something you thought of having in your back garden, but is wind power something you can use to your advantage, or is it a lot of hot air?

Wind Energy PowerDomestic Wind Turbines
It is fair to say that nobody in their right mind would want a huge wind turbine towering over their house. However, domestic turbines are a good compromise and there are different designs to choose from, including roof mounted turbines and turbines fixed to a mast. In general, the larger the turbine, the more electricity it will generate, although a site survey will be necessary in order to establish which type of wind turbine is appropriate for your home.

The Benefits of Harnessing Wind Power
.   Free electricity – Any electricity you generate as a result of harnessing the wind is free. This means that you will be using less electricity from your supplier and your energy bills will be lower as a result.

.   Sell electricity you don’t need – Under the government’s feed-in tariffs, homeowners are paid for electricity they generate. You can also sell any extra electricity back to the grid.

.   Store electricity – Excess energy can be stored in batteries and used when there is no wind.

.   Good for the environment – As with any type of renewable energy, electricity generated from a wind turbine is ‘green’ and, therefore, environmentally friendly. So by installing a wind turbine, you can reduce your carbon footprint.