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Solar company makes panels cheaper

October 6, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
There's a new way to go solar without the financial pain of those huge upfront costs. Some people are tapping into the power of the sun, for about half the usual price.

Lynette Bunyard always liked the idea of going solar but worried about the initial investment.

"It's like you have to put out your life savings, all of your savings just to buy into solar. It's very expensive initially," says Lynette, a solar customer.

The system Lynette and her husband wanted would have cost about $35,000, and that's after federal and state tax credits. Instead, they signed an agreement with a San Francisco based start-up called SunRun which eliminates some of those upfront costs.

Instead of buying the solar system itself, Lynette is buying the solar power that the panels generate. It's up to SunRun to operate and take care of all the maintenance.

It's called a power purchase agreement and here's how it works. Lynette made an upfront investment of $15,000 and has a 20 year commitment to buy solar power at a fixed rate of 13.5 cents a kilowatt hour.

She says her electric bill was immediately cut in half, saving her about $150 a month.

"This little dot is going backwards, so that means we're feeding back into the grid," says Lynette.

If Lynette sells her home, she has several options that would allow her to buy the solar equipment and roll in into the sales price or transfer the existing SunRun agreement to the new owner.

Nat Kreamer founded SunRun last year. Since then, he says the company has signed up hundreds of customers in California.

"One, it's a lot more affordable, typically people save 30 percent or more on monthly electricity bills when they go solar with SunRun and two it's hassle free, they don't have to worry about how the equipment works if anything goes wrong, because we take care of the whole system," says Kreamer.

SunRun is not alone in its race to provide solar power to the masses. There are a handful of other companies out there with similar business models. Venture capitalist Steve Vassallo says the solar services concept unlocks a relatively untapped market.

"The solar industry in the U.S. is growing roughly at 50 percent a year, but the residential market has been more or less out of the game. It's been mostly commercial and industrial applications," says Vassallo.

In essence, SunRun lets homeowners get the benefits usually reserved for big business. Lynette Bunyard says it's allowed her to be a part of the green revolution.

"What's exciting is that we didn't have to pay as much for solar so we can save and buy an electric vehicle when they finally come out and that's what we're planning to do," says Lynette.

The full circle is that any plug in car will be powered by solar from the roof.

Sun Run: click here


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