Big funding for residential solar power

I saw this story yesterday, about Google investing $280 million in SolarCity to help them grow their residential solar business.  I think this is fantastic news.  Here's why.

Following up on an earlier post I wrote here about how I believe more in individual solar installations over large, monolithic solar farms, I talk to a lot of people about why we put solar panels on our roof and what it's been like to do it.  One of the first questions people ask is how much money it cost us to get the project done.  It's not cheap, and even though it more than pays for itself over time (we estimate breakeven some time in Year 8), many people have difficulty coming up with the spare capital even though everybody I talk to is in favor of solar electricity.  Price is a big obstacle.

This is exactly the problem that Google is trying to address with its help of SolarCity.  SolarCity, as well as other companies, offer a plan for residential customers that lets you pay little or no money down for your installation.  In this deal, you end up leasing the panels from SolarCity for some period of time and you get your energy for cheaper than you now pay your utility.  It's a win-win: SolarCity gets new customers, and homeowners can go solar without having to come up with a big down payment.

The problem?  SolarCity needs capital to be able to invest in this program, because they're the ones laying out all the capital for all of these installations.  Well, $280 million is a lot of help.  If a reasonably-sized installation costs $20,000, this lets SolarCity help 14,000 homeowners.  By my incredibly rough estimate (assuming about 4kW of generating power per installation of this size), that's something like 5+ megawatts of power.  That's pretty cool!  And it gets the word out even more about what residential solar can do for our country.

Great move, Google; nicely done.

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