The Solar Lease Mystery Shopper: Part 1

From the guise of an ordinary customer, I did some investigative work on buying solar panels from each of the “Big Three” solar lease companies – Sungevity, Solar City, and SunRun – in San Francisco. Since the city is the epicenter of these leasing companies, it was easy to get quotes for putting solar on my house here. Even though there are other leasing companies out there, these three companies offer a majority of the volume in the market.

To benefit you more, I went by the mystery-shopper pseudonym John Schumpeter. As I said, my home is in San Francisco; every other morning my local district gets immersed in fog, reducing the effective sunlight. It usually clears by the afternoon. My house has a flat tar and gravel roof, about 880 sq. ft., and it unobscured by shade. Read about my first quote-gathering experience below!

Part 1: SunRun

I began by calling up SunRun to quote solar panels. As expected, they first asked me to gather my electrical utility bills. They needed these bills to figure out how many panels they should offer men, and what the terms of the lease would be. I had a few recent printouts of my utility bills, and I knew they were on the low end. Therefore I figured I would get a pretty competitive quote from SunRun, because I knew they referenced their quotes based on my utility bills. I read off the rate of seventy or eighty bucks a month from my bills, which is effectively like giving them a lowball offer. It turns out there were very open and upfront, basically saying, “Hey, do you know what? We think solar leases aren’t going to be a compelling transaction for you, because you’re already using such little electricity from your utility.”

I was actually very pleased because I thought that if they were being shady, they would just offer me a lease amounting to size of my bills (or just a little less) and try to transact on that, maximizing their return from me as a customer locked into them for fifteen years. At least this told me that, in providing panels and serving the lease, their costs plus their desired profits amortized over fifteen years was greater than my bill- otherwise they would have pursued the transaction.

And that was it for SunRun for the time being. Stay tuned for the low-down on Sungevity!

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