Free Solar Panels From the Government for Homes a Scam? Avoid This Mistake!

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Solar Panels | April 1, 2024

Man watching another person carrying a solar panel wonders how to get solar panels for free and if there is a guide to free solar panels for home options that explains federal solar tax credit options and is solar a scam?

Is it possible to learn how to get solar panels for free?

Can you get free solar panels from the government for homes?

Solar panels are an awesome tool for helping to reduce your carbon emissions as well as remove energy dependence from the grid.

But, although there are legitimate ways to get solar panels for ‘free,’ there are some things you should know. Even some effective strategies can be confusing, leading homeowners to believe that they are getting panels for free after a certain time period.

But, that is sometimes not the case. The only way to obtain “free” solar panels is to purchase them, maintain them, and get a full return on your investment after a certain period of time.

Afterwards, the panels will be providing ‘free’ power.

But, there are some legitimate ways you can lower the upfront costs of solar panels.

This complete guide explains how to get solar panels for free, as well as what to look out for in order to avoid scams.

How To Get Solar Panels for Free: Clarification Regarding “Free Solar Panels”

Since solar energy is a complex topic, misleading terminology and blatant lies can be used to extract money from unwitting customers.

There is no such thing as a free solar panel. There are always costs involved.

Whether the costs are primarily upfront costs or charged over time depends on how the customer purchases or leases the solar energy system.

For example, some states and companies offer panels in exchange for delivering energy to the public grid. Yet, this is also tricky because there is usually a monthly ‘fee’ charged to the homeowner, and the panels never become their personal property.

Government tax credits can help reduce the overall finacial burden of installing solar panels on your home, but the credit is usually around 5-10% of the price you’ll pay.

Whether or not the customer realizes any of the financial benefits of a solar energy system relies heavily on performing due diligence and focusing on facts and data instead of hype and vague guarantees.

What Are the Eligibility Requirements for a Federal Solar Tax Credit?

The IRS is the best source for information on what are the eligibility requirements for a federal solar tax credit.14

As of December 2022, there was no dedicated federal solar tax credit. The Residential Clean Energy Property Credit governs whether a solar energy system qualifies for a tax credit.

It cannot be repeated enough times that there is no way how to get solar panels for free. What some would call a free solar panel is either a reduction of the upfront costs – such as grants and credits – or a financial rearrangement of how and when the costs are paid.

Solar loans with fair terms are a beneficial example of a financial rearrangement; any loan, lease, or power payment agreement with outrageous charges and fees qualifies as a detrimental example of a financial rearrangement.

What’s the Real Cost of Solar Panels?

The upfront costs involved with purchasing and installing solar panels and their necessary supporting equipment – such as physical mounts and solar charge controllers – are the most expensive aspect for consumers seeking solar energy systems.

Though maintenance and cleaning do incur expenses as well, the typical costs associated with monitoring solar energy systems and cleaning solar panels are very small compared to the upfront costs, and to the maintenance costs of many other forms of energy generation.

Sunset sunlight hitting solar panels.

(Image: Bru-nO15)

“Free solar panels” is a misleading claim that refers to an outside agency – typically a third-party solar company with government backing – accepting the financial and physical responsibilities of installing the solar energy system. The solar company owns the solar energy system, which typically means that the solar energy system provides warranties for the solar panels and is responsible for honoring the terms of the warranty.

However, this also means that the solar company receives governmental benefits from the solar energy system. In addition, the solar company collects routine payments from the customer.

When the solar company leases the solar energy system to the customer, the customer’s solar lease payments are analogous to lease payments for apartments and temporary housing; the customer is paying for the right to use the solar energy system.

When the solar company establishes a power purchase agreement with the customer, the customer pays the solar company for the electricity that the solar energy system generates; some power purchase agreements charge the customer for the electricity that the solar energy system generates instead of the amount of energy that the customer consumes from the solar energy system.

The adage “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is too good to be true” applies to free solar panels.

The term “Free solar panels” can be used as a hook, intended to lure customers. It’s also misleading – or a downright lie – due to the monthly payments that customers will send to the solar company.

A general rule of thumb is that phrases such as “Free solar panels,” “No-cost solar programs,” and “No cost solar” have significant catches involved.

“Solar panels for zero money down” is a more honest assessment when the customer has the option of purchasing the solar energy system from the solar company. In such a scenario, the upfront costs associated with acquiring and installing solar panels are analogous to the down payment for a home or an automobile.

“Solar panels for zero money down,” however, is misleading when the solar lease or power purchase agreement does not allow the customer to buy the solar energy system from the solar company. An alternative to solar leases and power purchase agreements is a solar loan.

A solar loan is a type of home improvement loan, where eligible customers borrow money from a financial institution and pay it back – with interest – via monthly payments.

The biggest benefit of a solar loan is that the customer owns the solar energy system. This means that the customer receives government incentives, electricity credits, and other financial benefits associated with solar energy systems.

When faced with solar companies misrepresenting their services or engaging in fraudulent activity, consumers have resources available to protect themselves. Such resources include, but are not limited to:

  • The Federal Trade Commission,1 allows customers to report fraud through their website
  • State consumer protection offices (USA Gov) can help customers find their state consumer protection office2

In addition, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory provides information about solar consumer protection.3

Solar Panels for Home

The first question that homeowners should ask themselves when considering solar panels for home energy generation is “Is my home environment a good match for solar energy?”

A solar energy system requires access to direct sunlight to achieve its peak operating capacity.

Homeowners living in areas with large numbers of cloudy days might not achieve environmental and financial ROIs on a solar energy system as soon as others who have longer average daylight hours.

Residential house with solar panels for home installed on the roof, with tall trees in the background.

(Image: Reijotelaranta16)

Also, homeowners contending with high amounts of air pollution should forestall or forego solar energy since the contaminant particles can block sunlight and damage solar panels.

A solar energy system also needs a significant amount of physical space. Roofs are a common solution, but homeowners must determine if they can place enough solar panels on their roofs to achieve the benefits that a solar energy system can provide.

Roof installations may not be possible if the roof cannot sustain the weight of solar panels due to disrepair or age, so it’s helpful to know how much does a solar panel weigh.

The U.S. Department of Energy offers a helpful checklist that guides homeowners on how to prepare their homes for solar energy system installations.4

Solar Panel Installation

Residential owners that do not have considerable training and safety equipment should defer solar panel installation to trained professionals.

Errors during the installation process can lead to death or critical injuries.

Solar panel technicians on roof with a small crane lifting solar panels to the roof for solar panel installation.

(Image: Elsemargriet17)

Solar panel installation overlaps with electrical work, carpentry, and roofing. This means that solar panel installation carries the risks and dangers of all three jobs, which include:

  • Falls
  • Electrocution
  • Ergonomic injuries
  • Injuries and illnesses associated with extreme temperatures
  • Illnesses spread by soil-dwelling organisms5

The risks involved with solar panel installation combined with the lack of consumer protections such as warranties and guarantees make do-it-yourself solar panel installation a risky task.

Solar Tax Credit

United States homeowners may qualify for a federal solar tax credit when they purchase and install solar panels on their property.

Desk covered with documents related to solar tax credits, with a computer mouse, a cup, and a pen on top.

(Image: Stevepb18)

Important points about the Residential Clean Energy Tax Credit:

  • The percentage of the tax credit is scheduled to gradually decrease in the future. Qualifying homeowners who install a solar energy system on their property by December 31, 2032, may qualify for a 30% tax credit.
    The percentage falls to 26% for residential solar energy systems installed between January 1, 2023, and December 31, 2033. The percentage falls again to 22% for residential solar energy systems installed between January 1, 2034, and December 31, 2034.6
  • Whoever owns the solar energy system may qualify for the federal solar tax credit. Customers in a solar lease or a power purchase agreement do not qualify, but the solar company does.
  • The residential home with the solar energy system does not need to be the owner’s primary residence. It does, however, need to power the residential home and comply with safety codes.
  • Rental properties do not qualify.
  • The residential home does not need to be a traditional house. Houseboats, condominiums, mobile homes, and manufactured homes are examples of primary residences that may qualify.

This article does not include professional tax advice. Readers should consult a certified tax professional or the IRS if they have questions or concerns about solar tax credits.7

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also provides information about renewable energy and loan grants for each state.8

How To Get Free Solar Panels From the Government

There is no method how to get free solar panels from the government or any third-party entity.

Any group trying to tell a potential customer how to get solar panels for free is using deceptive wording to establish a long-term payment plan that could be a long-term financial burden to the customer.

How To Get Solar Panels for Free

When a group or business offers a pathway on how to get solar panels for free, potential customers should turn around and walk away with haste.

However, customers can eventually obtain the panels for no cost, after they have been used long enough to pay for themselves in the form of energy.

Once the financial resources have been used to purchase a solar energy system, customers have the potential to receive a positive return on their investment if they properly maintain the solar energy system and operate it for its complete lifecycle.

The financial benefits associated with owning a solar energy system include:

  • Government benefits such as tax breaks and grants
  • Increased property value by up to $15,0009
  • Reduced energy costs (or even energy credits when excess energy is sent to the grid)
  • Savings from low maintenance and cleaning fees

“How to get solar panels for free” is a lie. However, it is both true and common for solar energy system owners to recoup their costs and even gain money on a properly used solar energy system.

The caveat is that purchasing a solar energy system must be treated as a long-term investment similar to buying a government bond or a certificate of deposit.

After a solar energy system achieves its ROI, the remainder of its operation is financial profit for the solar energy system owner.

How To Qualify for Free Solar Panels Courtesy of a Government Solar Program

There is no government solar program on how to qualify for free solar panels.

Consumers should avoid any company or organization that promises or even implies that one can receive free solar panels.

Is Solar a Scam? Are Solar Panels a Scam? Inquire Before Installing

Solar energy as a concept is not a scam. No fewer than 37 countries have both industrial and residential solar energy systems contributing to their electric grids.10

Solar panels themselves are not scams. A high-quality and properly installed solar panel can convert energy at peak efficiency for at least 25 years.

Solar energy as an industry is not a scam. It is not comparable to fraudulent business models such as pyramid schemes and Ponzi schemes.

However, it is possible – although probably illegal and unethical – for groups and individuals to engage in fraudulent activities and misinformation, using solar energy as their angle to profit at the expense of their victims. Such bad-faith actors are why some may think that the answer to questions like “Is solar a scam?” and “Are solar panels a scam?” is a yes.

Entering any solar energy system investment should not be done quickly or hastily. In addition to the warning flags and points to consider covered previously in this article, questions that potential solar energy system owners and users should ask include:

  • Does the vendor portray a false or exaggerated sense of urgency?
    Hard-sell tactics should be treated as a red flag. When a vendor insists on an immediate answer, the best answer is almost always “No sale.”
  • Can the vendor provide references?
    Feedback from previous clients can provide a good indication of how the vendor operates. In addition, unbiased and moderated review websites can provide additional feedback and insights from customers.
  • Does the vendor provide detailed answers?
    Solar energy systems are associated with a wealth of data from the first purchase to their eventual decommissioning. Customers should treat a lack of specifics and educated estimates as a warning sign.
  • How does the vendor respond to requests for additional time to review documents and contracts?
    Customers should walk away from vendors that urge them to sign paperwork without reading it or who minimize questions and concerns.
  • Does the specific representative work on a commission?
    Employees who have an increased financial incentive to complete a deal have an additional incentive to coerce or trick a potential customer.

Solar is an excellent option for anyone, but some people might benefit from building their system in increments, or starting small.

Related Reading: Individual Carbon Footprint Calculator

Do Solar Panels Save Money?

When asking “How can I get solar panels for free?” many people also want to know, “Do solar panels save money?”

Absolutely, when they are used long enough.

Solar panels can save money for the solar panel operator provided that the operator maintains the solar panel and use the solar panel for its entire operational lifecycle.

A clock, stacks of coins with budding sprouts on top, and a piece of wood in a shape of a house.

(Image: Nattanan2319)

Due to the materials and infrastructure associated with manufacturing, transporting, and installing a solar panel, a solar panel has high financial and environmental upfront costs.

Keeping a solar panel running at peak efficiency and using it until it naturally wears down not only negates its costs, it provides both financial profits to the owner and a positive effect on the environment by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide and pollution in the atmosphere.

Government incentives such as tax credits and grants can blunt solar panels’ upfront costs, lowering the amount of time to reach the financial breakeven point and become financially profitable.

How To Get Solar Panels for Free in California: A List of Solar Programs in California

There is no program on how to get solar panels for free in California, any other state in the United States, any United States territory, or Washington D.C.

California offers net energy metering to qualified renewable energy.

Renewable energy system owners participating in net metering can receive financial credits from their energy providers when the renewable energy system produces enough energy to contribute to the electric grid.

The California Public Utilities Commission has additional information about net metering as well as other renewable energy programs, including solar programs in California.11

Learn How To Install Solar Panels for Free

It is possible to learn how to install solar panels, by using DIY guides and other tips.

However, in order to correctly ensure that they are hooked up to your home and batteries, most areas require a certified electrician to perform the hook up.

Solar Tax Credit Form

As of 2023, United States residents applying for residential energy credits should use Form 5695.12

There is no dedicated solar tax credit form, but homeowners that install residential solar energy systems may qualify for residential clean energy property credits when filling out itemized tax returns.

How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?

When asking how much do solar panels cost, the answer depends on your location, how much energy you need to generate each day, and they type of solar system you want to install.

All of these (and additional) factors influence the cost of solar energy.

Solar farm with rows of solar panels mounted on metals, with the cloudy sky on the background.

(Image: Mark Stebnicki20)

Some include:

  • The hardware costs: Such as manufacturing and the processing of materials – make up 35% of the solar panel’s cost
  • The soft costs: Including taxes, permit fees, and profit – make up 65% of the solar panel’s cost and are the expenses that do not pertain to the creation of the solar panel

A residential solar energy system owner can expect to pay roughly $2.71 per kilowatt-hour that the solar energy system can produce at peak efficiency.13

The previous estimate refers to the entire solar energy system, not solely to how much do solar panels cost. That is because a solar panel by itself is of no use to its owner.

Solar panels rely on supporting equipment and devices such as mounts, solar charge controllers, and monitoring tools to operate at peak efficiency – or at all.

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need?

There is no static answer to “How many solar panels do I need?” because households and businesses do not have static energy needs.

Fortunately, residential owners can use an online calculator to determine how many solar panels their photovoltaic system needs to meet or exceed their energy needs.

Solar Panel for AC Unit

Modern solar panels are compatible with residential air conditioning units. There is no specialized solar panel for ac unit.

Any functional residential solar energy system can power an air conditioner unit like it would any other energy-consuming part of the residence, but homeowners can also install partial systems that power specific appliances, such as an AC unit.

By removing a large power drain from grid energy, you’ll save money by lowering your utilities.

Charging Tesla With Solar Panels

Like air conditioners, residential solar energy systems can recharge Tesla vehicles.

Unlike air conditioners, the residential solar energy system must be upgraded with additional devices.

A parking lot with a Tesla charging station with 12 solar panels mounted on it.

(Image: Kindel Media21)

Charging Tesla with solar panels from a residential photovoltaic system requires three additional components:

  • Additional solar panels to offset the additional energy usage
  • Solar batteries to facilitate charging during evenings and significant periods of low direct sunlight
  • A specialized Tesla charger to connect to the vehicle

Solar Farm Income per Acre

The profitability of a solar farm depends on its size, the quality of the soil on which it is built, its distance to the grid, and the amount of direct sunlight that the solar farm receives. A reasonable estimated range for an optimally placed and properly maintained solar farm income per acre is between $1,770 and $3,540 per acre per month.

A solar farm income per acre calculator can provide a narrower range that factors in the solar farm’s specific parameters.

Solar energy systems – when planned and operated correctly – can be an integral part of the effort needed to reduce the global carbon footprint and address the climate change catastrophe. Sadly, the necessity of solar energy and other renewable energy sources gives predatory businesses and con artists a hook that they can use to trick their victims into financial losses.

Residential owners should be alert, deliberate, and cautious when dealing with any solar company. Asking questions, getting references, and thoroughly reviewing documents before signing or initialing them are vital actions to take.

And everyone should avoid any group or any individual that advertises or claims that there is a way how to get solar panels for free.


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