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Sungevity Spying on Celebrities with Solar Technology

| Tuesday May 18th, 2010 | 10 Comments

As part of the PR for the launch of its LA Solar Lease Program, solar power company Sungevity has used satellite imaging — and a Hollywood Star Map — to estimate how much money various celebrities would save with a solar power system on their roofs.

Oakland, CA-based Sungevity’s proprietary software algorithm uses satellite photos to closely estimate the size, slope, and shading of a roof, and thus determine a home’s solar potential — all without actually visiting the house, in most cases.

Applying this system to the gated mansions of LA celebrities, Sungevity estimated that Jennifer Alba could save $100 a month with a solar system, and Ashton Kutcher $75.

The Sungevity LA Solar Lease Program is designed specifically for customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which has its own, somewhat idiosyncratic solar rebate program.

Like Sungevity’s (and other installer’s) lease programs elsewhere in California, the installer owns the panels and basically rents the customer’s roof. The customers gets a guaranteed discount on their electricity bill for 20 years, and Sungevity will also pay for all maintenance of the panels.

The best way to save money with solar panels is still to pay for them yourself (which Sungevity also offers). But the high cost of a solar system has scared many people away from this option. Leasing a system, on the other hand, accords the buyer all the green bragging rights of buying one — with no money down.

Such leasing programs have proven a powerful incentive to green-wannabes. According to CEO Danny Kennedy, Sungevity installed as many systems in March and April as in all of last year — and 90 percent of those sales were leases.

If the guaranteed savings and maintenance sounds too good to be true, it’s not. But some people may find that the savings involved are not worth the hassle (I have a feeling Jennifer Alba doesn’t need the extra $100).

Sungevity is unique among solar installers in that it has tried to put as much of the process of buying solar panels online as possible, thereby reducing transaction costs. “Probably 10 percent of the end price is pencil pushing, filling out forms,” said Kennedy. “We’ve done as much as we can, legally, to digitize that.”

After determining the type of system appropriate, Sungevity use a network of local contractors to actually install it.


▼▼▼      10 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • Randy

    A solar lease is one of the biggest scams out there. All you're doing is renting your roof to these companies so that they can make a whole bunch of money. And I mean a whole bunch of cash. Even a small systems can net a home owner well over a hundred thousand dollars in net income over the life of a system, but when you lease, all of that cash goes to the leasing company. When you lease you don't get the cash rebate, or the 30% tax credit or the REC credits nor will you get over 25 years worth of income that the system will generate. And the worst part is, after making all those lease payments, you won't even own the system. You're giving all of this away to the leasing company. Unfortunately there are plenty of Solar Sheep out there that will sign a leasing contract and will lock up their roof for 10 to 20 years and give it all to the leasing company. A much better option is the new government sponsored PACE financing programs that are popping up all over the U.S. Unfortunately once you sign your roof away in a solar lease, you can no longer participate in a lease program until the lease is up.

    • Pamela Blunt

      David: I know you wrote this a while ago, but I have looked into Sungevity and there are a few errors in your message, at least in terms of how things are now in August 2011: For one thing, yes Sungevity does get the rebates IF you lease instead of buy. But if one leases, they take care of and monitor the system for the life of the system. Whatever energy we don’t use that (not Sungevity) at the end of the year in a check from my utility company. Also you can pay for the lease up front and it costs about 50% of what it would cost if you paid it off over time. They do service your system and will replace the inverter if necessary–and I couldn’t find an inverter company that guarenteed their inverter for more than 10 years. They cost $3000- $5000. Even though I wouldn’t own the system, at the end of 20 years, I am still ahead because of the savings in the cost of electricity as well as the annual check from the utility company. However, I know that our circumstances may be different from someone elses: we will be gone several months a year, but the allowable amount of solar has been based on the last year when the house was fully occupied, so I am pretty sure we will have an excess amount of energy generated. In our area, there have been several solar and other sustainable energy companies that have come and gone. Our water catchment system was done by a local company that no longer does that so they farm it out and we’ve had trouble getting the changes to it that we needed, for example. Sungevity is backed by Lowe’s and a major bank. They use local installers and repair people, so that if one local company closes down, they will have a pool of solar technicians to rely upon. I am still not sure what we will do. Seems like 6 of one and half a dozen of the other.

  • Cindy

    We received our Iquote from Sungevity and compared it to two other quotes that we had previously recieved from other dealers. Sungevity's quote was over a thousand dollars higher for a smaller system and my husband was upset because they didn't even mention what brand of mounting they were going to use, so we're assuming that it will be a lower cost mounting. Sungevity quoted us a brand of solar panels and converter that we had never heard of before, while the one dealer that we spoke to with the lower price on a considerably larger system was offering us name brand Mitsubishi solar panels and a Sunny Boy converter and in their quote they listed the mountings as Unirak which are made in the U.S.A. We were surprised to see all of the hype on the Internet about Sungevity and they're not even competitive in their pricing.

    • Pamela Blunt

      Sungevity uses SolarTech panels (at least, now they do)–which are pretty well known. I read that SunTower Panels are a little more efficient but they cost 20 – 30% more. I don’t know if Sungevity would be more competitive now (over a year later or not). Were you leasing or buying? Hope you are very happy with your system.

    • Bbbbrian_B

      Hi Cindy. Actually, Sungevity uses top of the line mounting hardware, called Quickmount PV, which is a US company, and their hardware is made in America http://www.quickmountpv.com/background.html. They use the highest quality products and provide the best customer service out there, because they realize that’s how to satisfy customers and win business. I see that was a few years ago, and prices have only gone down on solar, so check them out again at http://www.sungevity.com/.

  • Cindy

    We received our Iquote from Sungevity and compared it to two other quotes that we had previously recieved from other dealers. Sungevity's quote was over a thousand dollars higher for a smaller system and my husband was upset because they didn't even mention what brand of mounting they were going to use, so we're assuming that it will be a lower cost mounting. Sungevity quoted us a brand of solar panels and converter that we had never heard of before, while the one dealer that we spoke to with the lower price on a considerably larger system was offering us name brand Mitsubishi solar panels and a Sunny Boy converter and in their quote they listed the mountings as Unirak which are made in the U.S.A. We were surprised to see all of the hype on the Internet about Sungevity and they're not even competitive in their pricing.

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  • http://www.cutpge.com Cory

    I had a completely different experience than Cindy. I have a Sungevity Solar Lease at the present time. My panels are BP Solar (one of the biggest solar panel manufactures) my inverter is Kaco and Sungevity was the lowest price by far from any competitor that I found in CA. I have a blog that outlines my system http://cutpge.com and also has a coupon code good for any Sungevity leases or purchase.

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  • Boyzinda

    We were big advocates for the Solar Lease Program from Sungevity until 9 months later we were still waiting for our system. Our rebate was reserved early April 2011, Onsite Inspection took place one week later, but then…. all of these strange excuses kept popping up. Sungevity has gotten too big for their britches and can not tend to prospective clients. We would leave voice mail messages, send emails, and get Zero response. Service is beyond horrible. Until… just last week they sent us an email announcing that the State of Arizona passed a new policy that all Solar Lease Participants must sign a 20-year lease. WTH? 20 years from now that vintage system on my roof will be plugging away while my neighbor down the street will have a newer, and most likely, a higher performing model, that will reap all of the technological advances and benefits. No way, we bailed out and will inform our 4 other neighbors whom we referred, to do exactly the same.

    • Pamela Blunt

      Sorry about your experience. We are contemplating Sungevity. They told us that we wouldn’t pay anything until we were through most of the set up process (permits, local contractor, etc.) Now they advertise a 20 year lease, and I guess all leasers in AZ have to offer that. Not sure what to do because if we buy, we will probably be replacing the inverter in 8 – 10 years, so if we save a few thousand now we will just have to spend it later and whatever system we get now, will probably be outdated before the 20 year lease is up BUT Sungevity does guarentee that it will still provide our utility needs backed up by a major Bank and Lowe’s. They have a pretty extensive contract that seems to take care of any eventuality, including paying prospective customers a monthly check for each month they are late with installation. I think you got in when they first came in to Arizona, but I can understand why you are so upset and now your input has given us pause!

    • Pamela Blunt

      P.S.: I don’t get your time line. Your note is written July 11, but you say the rebate was reserved April 11 and you didn’t get your system as of 9 months after you signed up with Sungevity. Since April to July is only 3 months, I am assuming you actually signed up in October 2010?