Rooftop solar is great, in theory. Instead of letting sunlight that is hitting our roofs do nothing more than heat up our shingles, a rooftop solar system can take that same solar energy and use it to generate electricity. 20 years ago, solar panels were prohibitively expensive, but new technology and manufacturing techniques soon slashed the cost.
Even still, the cost of a rooftop solar system was large enough that creative financing models were needed to pay for them. Conventional lenders were skeptical of the new systems and refused to lend money to finance them. 5 years ago, companies like SolarCity devised leasing programs to make rooftop solar accessible to more families. Recently, no-money-down purchase options have become available.
But barriers still remained. People who wanted a rooftop solar system still had to navigate a permitting process that could be confusing and arbitrary. Leases and purchase agreements often interfered with the ability to sell a home without a lot of extra legal expense and hassle.
Many conventional, investor-owned utility companies have resisted the wave of new rooftop solar systems, claiming they would destabilize the electrical grid. In reality, however, they are more afraid of losing customers and therefore revenue than anything else. Their response to rooftop solar has been to punish homeowners who installed solar panels on their homes with burdensome monthly surcharges.
There are relatively few municipal utility companies in America, but those that do exist look at the market for electricity differently than investor-owned utilities. The municipal systems follow a much more service-oriented approach that does not need to satisfy bond holders.
Now CPS Energy, the municipally owned utility that services San Antonio, Texas, has come out with an entirely new way to get more customers involved with rooftop solar. No leases, no financing arrangements, no credit checks, and no permitting hassles. Instead, CPS provides the panels, the installation, the servicing, and the warranty process. All customers have to do is let CPS install solar panels on the roof for a period of 20 years to get a credit of up to $30 a month on their electric bills. CPS takes care of everything else, according to Slate.
Are people warming up to this new idea? Oh, yeah. Until recently, about 2,100 rooftop solar systems have been installed within the CPS service area over the past 7 years with a combined capacity of 24 megawatts. In early September, CPS announced it wanted to install 10 megawatts of new rooftop solar — enough to cover about 100 acres of rooftops. Within 3 days, more than 2,000 people applied to be part of the program.
Not all applicants will qualify. Their roofs must face the right way and not be too shaded. But the number of interested homeowners just happens to be equal to the number of people who have actually installed solar panels on their homes in the San Antonio area in the past 7 years. That sounds like an unqualified success by any measure.