If you are considering solar power for a home or business and ask for proposals, you will notice there are two main options. Some providers simply sell you the solar power system, fully installed and ready to produce electricity. In other cases you are offered a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), where the solar system remains under the provider’s ownership while you use the energy output. There are also providers that offer both options, adapting to the needs of a larger number of clients.
In simple terms, you are paying for the solar system itself in a direct purchase, and you are paying for its electricity output in a PPA. Your electricity expenses are reduced drastically in both cases, but the exact method to accomplish it changes. This article will compare both options and will help you decide which one works better in your case.
Purchasing a solar power system is not very different from purchasing other types of equipment for your home, such as air conditioners or water heaters. In this case the solar array belongs to you once it is installed and paid – you are free to use its power output, but also responsible for providing maintenance.
Commercial solar systems have simpler maintenance requirements than other types of power generation equipment, but this does not mean you can take maintenance lightly.
To purchase a solar array, you can save the capital or you can take a loan from a bank. You save slightly less in you take a loan, due to interest payment, but you can deploy a solar system without assuming its full cost at once.
When you sign a solar PPA you pay for an ongoing service, which means that savings are slightly less in the long run. However, you must also assume more responsibilities and risks if you own the solar system.
With a PPA, you can avoid two of the main hurdles when deploying solar power: the upfront cost of the system and the need for ongoing maintenance. This is an excellent option for businesses unwilling to hire and train a technical staff to service a large solar array, or for homeowners who want the savings of solar power without dealing with the technical aspects.
Compared with purchasing electricity from the grid, a PPA gives you savings through a lower kilowatt-hour price. Consider that electricity flows directly from the generation system to your building, without traveling through an expensive power network, and electricity retailers are also removed from the energy purchase. The kWh price in a solar PPA can be up to 50% lower than your normal electricity tariff.
In a solar PPA, the system provider is responsible for financing, maintenance, component replacements and warranty claims. Your only responsibility is paying for the electricity delivered by the solar system, according to the terms established in the PPA contract. This option is also known as “solar as a service”, since you are paying for the electricity delivered – it is similar to how you pay for electricity, gas and water from utility companies.
Solar PPA providers normally give you the option of purchasing the array, if you prefer to own it at any point during the contract term. You no longer have to pay for electricity if you choose this option, but you become responsible for maintenance.
When deciding between purchasing a solar array or signing a PPA, no option can be considered better than the other for all circumstances. The advantages and disadvantages of each are summarised below:
An industrial client with a well-trained maintenance staff and plenty of capital may prefer the purchase – neither the funds nor the maintenance requirements are an issue in this case. On the other hand, a large retail company may opt for the PPA, preferring to focus on their core business while the solar system provider operates and services the system. In a few words, the best option depends on the needs and preferences of each client.