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By Nichola Groom
(Reuters) - Residential solar company SunPower Corp on Wednesday said it would launch a new financial services division aimed at making rooftop panels affordable for more U.S. homeowners.
The creation of its own financing arm, SunPower Financial, is part of a commitment the company made in September to expand access to residential solar for low-income Americans and push back on the perception that it is a luxury for the rich.
The company's pledge is aligned with a Biden administration initiative to direct clean energy investments to disadvantaged communities.
SunPower Financial will offer interest-free loans, higher credit limits, and expanded loan eligibility to borrowers with lower credit scores, the company said. It will also offer products for shared roofs, mobile homes and more.
Home solar has grown rapidly in recent years and is forecast to expand 21% this year in large part because solar companies have worked with lenders to offer loans and leases with no upfront costs and monthly payments that can be lower than for electric utilities.
But fewer than 5% of U.S. homes have panels installed, representing a large opportunity for residential solar companies to win new customers.
In an interview at the Reuters Events Energy Transition North America conference, SunPower Chief Executive Officer Peter Faricy said research has shown that many consumers still think they couldn't afford solar or wouldn't qualify for financing.
"This perception that people can't afford solar is really an awareness problem," Faricy said. "The facts are going to bear out that this is very affordable for people at different (credit) scores and different income levels."
Because it will be offering the financing in-house, the company's products aren't constrained by terms required by other financial providers, SunPower said.
"It's actually not a very risky loan or lease," Faricy said, noting that default rates on solar loans and leases are "extremely low."
(Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Jane Wardell)