Switching to solar power is a proven method for reducing your environmental footprint, energy burden and reliance on traditional utility companies. However, even though the cost of solar has dropped 80% in the last decade, the upfront cost of solar panels is still significant.
But what is the average cost to install a solar energy system? What are some of the factors that can impact pricing? How much would it cost me, specifically? In this article, we’ll answer questions like these with the goal of helping you make a fully informed, responsible decision about a solar energy investment for your home or business.
If you’re looking to work with a solar installer, we recommend getting quotes from a variety of providers. Use this tool to get matched up with local solar companies in your area, or fill out the form below.
What Determines the Cost of Solar Panels?
There are a few key factors that lead to variation in solar system installation costs. Understanding these can help you decide whether solar panels are worth it for your home. Let’s take a look at them in more detail.
1. System Size Needs
The size of your residential solar system will depend primarily on your energy needs. You can roughly estimate how many solar panels you’ll need based on past utility bills, your available roof space and the amount of sunlight in your area, but to get an accurate system size, you’ll need a consultation with a local solar installer.
Your installer will evaluate your home energy needs based on irradiance maps, energy bills, satellite imagery of your roof, your utility company and more. It can then recommend a custom solar panel system size to accommodate your energy needs. The larger the system, the more expensive it will be.
2. Type of Solar Panels and Other Equipment Costs
There are three basic types of solar panels, two of which are commonly used residentially: monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. Monocrystalline panels tend to be more energy-efficient, which can lead to greater savings in the long run, but they’re also a bit pricier on the front end.
That being said, solar panel efficiency is the name of the game for most homeowners who aim to install a system on their roof, as they’ll likely have less space to work with than commercial solar projects or ground-mounted solar panel systems will.
Other components you may need to purchase include inverters, wiring, charge controllers, mounts, solar batteries and more. Consider how much backup power is a priority for your home – backup batteries will add some costs on the front end, but additional safety and savings on the back.
3. Geographic Location
Another factor that can have a big impact on solar pricing? Where you live. Unsurprisingly, solar installation tends to be most cost-effective in parts of the country that get a lot of sun exposure, and therefore more energy to convert into electricity. This basically means that solar panels will operate more efficiently and, in many cases, means that you’ll need fewer panels overall to power your home.
Those who live in states like California, Florida and Arizona — or really any areas of the Sun Belt or Southwest — will likely get the most out of their home solar power systems. Other factors like the direction of your home and how much shade your house gets will also impact your home’s sun exposure, and therefore the efficiency of your system. Also, keep in mind that the further your company is from your home, the more expensive the overall installation will be.
4. Solar Incentives
Both state and federal governments have established incentive programs to encourage homeowners to buy solar panels. There is currently a 26% federal solar tax credit, called an Investment Tax Credit (ITC), available for homeowners who install residential solar panels between 2020 and 2022. It is scheduled to reduce to 22% in 2023 and may not be extended thereafter.
Your solar system cost will also depend on the net metering policy of your local utility company. Most utilities vary in their buyback rates and feed-in tariffs, but policies can have a big effect on the overall value from your solar system and your solar payback period. Be sure to ask your solar installation company about how cooperative your utility provider is with solar energy installations.
Some states offer better solar incentives, rebates and solar tax exemptions than others, and most solar panel installers should help you identify and apply for the programs in your area. However, it’s still a good idea to familiarize yourself with the local incentives that might be available to you.
5. Additional Factors of Solar Panel Installation Cost
There are plenty of other factors that can impact solar panel installation costs. These include (but are not limited to):
The availability of solar panels in your areaYour current electricity billThe current cost of shippingThe number of providers competing for your businessSupply chain issuesLocal electricity rates
The bottom line? You can learn the most by shopping around. Get a few different proposals from local companies, evaluate what services you might be interested in and ask about sales or specials. Familiarize yourself with the best brands of affordable solar panels if budget is your priority.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost to Install?
To answer this question, let’s take a look at the basic price range for solar panel installations. According to a recent report from the Solar Energy Industries Association, in the first quarter of 2021, the national average cost of a residential solar system was $2.94 per watt. To put this in perspective, this means that after the federal tax credit is applied, a 5-kW system would cost $10,878 and a 10-kW system would cost $21,756. An average residential solar system would sit somewhere between those figures.
The exact price you’ll pay for solar panels will depend on a number of factors and is best found by getting free quotes from local solar companies near you.
Next, you might rightly wonder: What exactly am I paying for? The solar panels themselves usually make up just about a quarter of the total system cost. Remaining expenses include labor costs, solar maintenance and additional parts and equipment (such as inverters, racking, wiring, electric vehicle chargers or batteries).
Cost of Solar Panels by State
One of the broadest ways to gauge the overall cost of solar is by looking at the average price of solar panels by state. Our statewide average prices are calculated using market research and data from top brands. These prices can help convey a better understanding of what solar might cost in your area:
Average Cost of Solar By State
Average Cost of Solar Per Watt
Average Cost of a 5kW System After Tax Credit
Keep in mind that 5kW is a baseline size and near the smaller end of most solar panel installations. Use this figure as a minimum.
How to Pay For a Solar Panel Installation
Different solar installers may offer different financing plans, allowing you some flexibility. With that said, there are three standard options for paying for your solar energy system:
Purchase your solar energy system outright (that is, pay in cash).Take out a solar loan to purchase the system, then pay it back with interest.Lease your solar system; you will pay less month to month but won’t actually own the system yourself.
Our solar financing guide breaks down each of these options to help you make the decision that best fits your needs.
Cost of Solar Panel Maintenance
In general, solar systems are designed to run smoothly for decades without requiring much maintenance or upkeep. However, even the best systems require routine solar panel cleaning and checkups as grime, dirt and debris can accumulate over the solar cells.
Any sizable costs associated with malfunctioning panels should be covered by your panels’ warranty, but it’s not a bad idea to factor in the costs of a simple few cleanings and occasional maintenance.
How to Find the Lowest-Cost Solar Panels
Again, the best way to assess the cost of solar is to get a quote from a certified installer near you. In addition to receiving an installation price, you can learn your estimated 25-year energy costs, how compatible your home is for solar and even compare quotes to find the best offer. The simple process of getting quotes from multiple providers can save you thousands in the long run. You can use this tool to receive free quotes from local solar providers, or fill out the form below to get started.
Make the Best Choice About Solar Energy
Solar energy is not right for every homeowner, nor for every home. With that said, many homeowners will find that the total cost of solar is more than offset by long-term, recurring energy savings that provide a sizable return on investment. Make sure you factor in cost, energy needs, tax incentives, home value and more as you seek to make a fully informed decision about whether to make the switch to renewable energy with solar.
FAQ: Cost of Solar Panels
As you continue to weigh the pros and cons of solar energy, it’s natural to have a few questions. The best way to resolve these is to set up a solar consultation with a local expert, but in the meantime, here are a few general answers to some of the most common solar inquiries.
How will solar energy impact my property values?
Your solar energy system is an asset just like any other, and when installed on your home, solar increases your property value accordingly. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy has reported buyers are willing to pay an average premium of about $15,000 for a home with a solar panel system.
With that said, you are only going to see your property values go up if you own your solar system outright, as opposed to leasing it. The cost of electricity in your area as well as the net metering policy of your local utility will also impact the overall value of your solar energy system.
Which is better, buying or leasing my solar system?
It all depends on your motivation for going solar. If you want to maximize long-term savings and increase the value of your home, then purchasing your solar system is best. However, if you just want a low-maintenance way to reduce monthly energy costs and practice environmental stewardship, then a solar lease might be a better option.
Also, note that leasing can be a good option for those who might plan on selling their home in the short term. Leasing panels does not make you eligible for the solar tax credit.
How long will my solar energy system last?
Solar systems are designed to be exceptionally durable. With just the most basic upkeep, most solar energy systems should continue to work and produce power for anywhere from 25 to 35 years. Standard warranties for panels typically last around 25 years.
Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.
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