Exploring the Market for Third-Party-Owned Residential Photovoltaic Systems: Insights from Lease and Power-Purchase Agreement Contract Structures and Costs in California

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40 Scopus Citations

Abstract

Over the past several years, third-party-ownership (TPO) structures for residential photovoltaic (PV) systems have become the predominant ownership model in the US residential market. Under a TPO contract, the PV system host typically makes payments to the third-party owner of the system. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the total TPO contract payments made by the customer can differ significantly from payments in which the system host directly purchases the system. Furthermore, payments can vary depending on TPO contract structure. To date, a paucity of data on TPO contracts has precluded studies evaluating trends in TPO contract cost. This study relies on a sample of 1113 contracts for residential PV systems installed in 2010-2012 under the California Solar Initiative to evaluate how the timing of payments under a TPO contract impacts the ultimate cost of the system to the customer. Furthermore, we evaluate how the total cost of TPO systems to customers has changed through time, and the degree to which contract costs have tracked trends in the installed costs of a PV system. We find that the structure of the contract and the timing of the payments have financial implications for the customer: (1) power-purchase contracts, on average, cost more than leases, (2) no-money-down contracts are more costly than prepaid contracts, assuming a customer's discount rate is lower than 17% and (3) contracts that include escalator clauses cost more, for both power-purchase agreements and leases, at most plausible discount rates. In addition, all contract costs exhibit a wide range, and do not parallel trends in installed costs over time.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numberArticle No. 024006
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Volume10
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 IOP Publishing Ltd.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-63000

Keywords

  • lease cost
  • residential solar
  • third-party ownership

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