A New Lease on Solar

For decades now, one very high hurdle has blocked the path to upgrading a home to solar: that huge upfront investment. It's this front end cost...

For decades now, one very high hurdle has blocked the path to upgrading a home to solar: that huge upfront investment. It's this front end cost that most solar-salivating greens cite when asked why they aren't yet capturing and converting the sun's rays.But that barrier has vanished for some lucky residents in a handful of Western states. Behold the SolarLease. Introduced back in April 2008 by California-based SolarCity, this lease program gives folks the option of rooftop solar without the hefty down payment, not to mention the headaches of installing, owning, and maintaining an array of panels."You rent the equipment and get the benefit of the electricity," says SolarCity's Jonathan Bass, but the company owns the panels themselves, handles the whole installation process, and takes care of any technical problems. The leases usually run for 15 years.sidebar-savings-barchart"It's best for customers who want a low upfront cost and want to see the savings immediately," says Bass. What kind of savings? The numbers vary considerably depending on a bunch of factors–average electricity bill, difficulty of installation, roof size, pitch and orientation, current utility rates–but most customers do see their monthly bills drop right away (see chart).I wanted to to see the saving in action for myself, but since SolarCity doesn't yet serve Brooklyn, I used my aunt and uncle's house in Flagstaff as a stand-in. The site has an easy to use calculator tool which took me all of two minutes to run through. "We've tried really hard to take the mystery out of it," says Bass.I plugged in the Flagstaff address and some basic facts about the house to the best of my memory, and tried on for size a couple of different monthly electric bill totals. The site spat out results: if Aunt Ginger and Uncle Wally currently shell out $150-a-month for their power, they'd save $24 every month. If their bill is $100 monthly, it'd drop to $84 by going solar. When I trimmed down their bill to $60/month, the lease broke even. This is typical, says Bass. "The greater the electricity use, the greater the savings, generally."What, though, if Flagstaff has a terribly cloudy March, or if the panels malfunction and the house has to pull more juice from the grid? Fortunately, SolarCity guarantees performance, so if the system doesn't produce as promised, Ginger and Wally would get a check at the end of the year to make up the difference. The guarantee also means if an Arizona windstorm sends a tree branch crashing into those panels, the company will work fast to take care of it. "Not only do we include repair in the contract," says Bass, "We're incentivized to come out and fix it as fast as we can, because if the system is down and not producing, we're responsible for that at the end of the year."Today, SolarCity serves California, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon, and they'll be opening up shop in a few more states this year (no word on who are the lucky ones). The SolarLease isn't for everyone, though, Bass urges. It doesn't make much financial sense as a "lease-to-own" program, so if you're intent on owning your system, it's best to do that upfront, says Bass. For the vast majority of the solar-curious, though, a $10,000-20,000 down payment stops them in their tracks. A no-down-payment lease that can actually lower energy bills, however, seems like a no-brainer. The future of residential solar is for rent.Photos courtesy of SolarCityThis post originally appeared on, as part of GOOD's collaboration with the Pepsi Refresh Project, a catalyst for world-changing ideas. Find out more about the Refresh campaign, or to submit your own idea today.
Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

Christopher Columbus, Alexander Hamilton, William Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Scott are getting company. Statues of the famous men are scattered across Central Park in New York City, along with 19 others. But they'll finally be joined by a few women.

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth are the subjects of a new statue that will be on display along The Mall, a walkway that runs through the park from 66th to 72nd street. It will be dedicated in August of next year, which is fittingly the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote.

Currently, just 3% of statues in New York City are dedicated to women. Out of 150 statues of historical figures across the city, only five statues are of historical women, including Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman.

Keep Reading Show less

It's easy to become calloused to everyday headlines with messages like, "the world is ending" and "everything is going extinct." They're so prevalent, in fact, that the severity of these statements has completely diminished to the point that no one pays them any attention. This environmental negativity (coined "eco-phobia") has led us to believe that all hope is lost for wildlife. But luckily, that isn't the case.

Historically, we have waited until something is near the complete point of collapse, then fought and clawed to bring the species numbers back up. But oftentimes we wait so long that it's too late. Creatures vanish from the Earth altogether. They go extinct. And even though I don't think for a single second that we should downplay the severity of extinction, if we can flip this on its head and show that every once in a while a species we have given up on is actually still out there, hanging on by a thread against all odds, that is a story that deserves to be told. A tragic story of loss becomes one about an animal that deserves a shot at preservation and a message of hope the world deserves to hear.

As a wildlife biologist and tracker who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of animals I believe have been wrongfully deemed extinct, I spend most of my time in super remote corners of the Earth, hoping to find some shred of evidence that these incredible creatures are still out there. And to be frank, I'm pretty damn good at it!

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less
via / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less