Continuing a string of clean-energy investments, Google said today that it will invest $280 million to fund residential solar installations through partner SolarCity.

The investment is the largest Google has made in clean energy, bringing the total amount of money it has put into renewable energy to $680 million, Google’s director of green business operations Rick Needham said in a company blog today.

SolarCity’s leasing model is designed to lower homeowner’s monthly electricity bills with a lease. The homeowner pays a monthly fee and SolarCity owns the panels and benefits from state and federal incentives for solar.

Google will create a $280 million fund which SolarCity will use to finance the installation of residential solar photovoltaic arrays using a model that greatly lowers or eliminates the upfront cost of solar.

In addition to installing solar panels, SolarCity offers the option to lease the panels, rather than buy them. Instead SolarCity owns and maintains the panels and benefits from the state and federal tax credits for solar. Homeowners pay a monthly fee but their net monthly electricity bills go down.

SolarCity makes the solar financing model, which is being pursued by more companies, available in 10 states in the west and northeast. The San Francisco-based company has raised similar funds from banks and utilities to finance residential installations.

Needham said that the partnership with SolarCity complements Google’s investments in large-scale solar and wind energy projects. “We think ‘distributed’ renewable energy (generated and used right at home) is a smart way to use solar photovoltaic (PV) technology to improve our power system since it helps avoid or alleviate distribution constraints on the traditional electricity grid,” he said.

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