With the fall in solar panel prices, these “soft solar panel costs” now constitute the bulk of what you pay when you install solar on your home. Fortunately, as more people adopt solar power, soft costs have fallen as a result—a trend that’s very likely to continue in the future. It is always smart to use the solar panel cost calculator or find local solar installers in your area to discuss the average costs associated with solar installation in your neighborhood.
What Affects Solar Panel Installation Costs?
These are a few main factors that will determine exactly how much you’ll spend to install solar panels on your home that we list out below:
- Your home’s average utility costs and energy usage
- Your rooftop’s solar potential – amount of sun it receives yearly
- The average local cost for a solar panel system in your area
- The average labor costs and demand in your area
- Local incentives and rebates you could receive.
The Department of Energy expects lower solar installation cost trends to continue and estimates that one million plus homes will have solar panels installed by 2020. Solar costs dropped dramatically in the last few years when the Chinese government influenced the worldwide solar market by pouring low-cost financing into the sector which boosted solar panel manufacturing more than ten-fold.
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What Size Solar Panel System Do I Need?
The average home uses 905 kWh per month or around 10,850 kWh per year in electricity. The average sized home with a decent amount of sunshine could install a 5 kW to 6 kW solar panel system for their home to help reduce utility bills. You may want to learn about your sun number score for solar based off of your home’s location and average sunlight exposure discussed below.
The larger the solar panel system you install for your home, the lower the cost per watt will be. The cost per watt including solar panels, parts, labor costs, permits, and overhead is between $6 a watt and $8 a watt.
The money you save on your electricity bills can more than earn back your initial installation costs in 7 to 20 years. There are plenty of solar rebates and incentives available from both the government and local energy providers, which can significantly speed up your return on investment and give you an accurate solar panel cost. You may also be able to participate in selling excess electricity from your solar panels by net metering in your area.Ready to start
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Additional Solar Panel System Costs
There are a few things you’ll want to add in to your solar energy system’s total cost to get the most accurate price estimate. Here are a few additional factors that will
- Labor costs – Local labor costs for solar installation will change depending on your area and the average costs solar installers charge in your area.
- Installing solar mounts – The costs to install the racks that hold your residential solar panels will effect cost as well. There are a few options for solar mounting.
- Installing solar inverters – A solar inverter will need to be installed to transform direct current (DC) power from the panels into the alternating current (AC) you can use in your home
- Other costs: There may also be costs for any local permit fees, inspection fees, and taxes on the solar panels.
An analysis by the federal government’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) discovered that installed prices have fallen at an average annual rate of 13% to 18%.
How Many Solar Panels Will You Need?
To know how many solar panels you will need, you will want to determine how much electricity you use in your home and the solar panel types installed. The average house in the United States uses about 900 kilowatt hours (kWh) a month—roughly 11,000 kWh a year. You can easily calculate your actual usage by looking back at your electricity bills.
- As a general rule of thumb, a 3-kWh solar panel system will generate about 3,600 kWh to 4,800 kWh per year. A 5-kWh system produces about 6,000 to 8,000 kWh per year, and a 10-kWh system can produce about 12,000 kWh to 16,000 kWh per year.
Depending on the size of the system, the solar panels cost would be between $4,000 and $16,000. Add in another $3,000 to $10,000 for other necessary components such as racks for the panels, wiring, solar inverter costs, and the total solar panel installation cost would now be closer to $20,000.
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How Does Sunlight Amount Affect Solar Panels?
Southern states get more sun than northern states. But southern states with higher altitudes and less cloud cover—think of Arizona and New Mexico—get more energy from the sun than states such as Florida or Georgia. So, for the same size house, you would need more solar panels in Georgia than you would in Arizona.
Remember, the sun may be shining, but if it is behind a cloud, you’re not getting the same amount of solar energy absorbed by your solar PV system. This means that a solar panel in San Diego will produce more energy in a year than the same exact solar panel located in Seattle. The image below will help you determine the solar energy, known as solar insolation, in your area. If your roof does not get a good amount of sunlight and you live on a good size amount of land, you may have other options for mounting solar panels elsewhere with better sunlight.
What is the ROI on Solar Panels?
You can calculate the return on investment for installing solar panels by calculating your total payback. Calculate the amount you spent to install a solar panel system and then figure out the amount you will save on energy bills monthly. These two numbers show how quickly your savings will cover your initial costs. Electricity rates will vary by region, being higher in the Northeast than in the Northwest. Solar tends to be more cost effective where electricity prices are high and sunshine is abundant.
Does Solar Net Metering effect ROI?
In states where net metering is in effect, consumers can sell the excess solar energy they produce back to their local utility. That lowers their electricity bill, shortening their payback period and raising their cost savings.
Should You Lease Solar Panels?
There are several payment options that bundle solar installation costs into a consumer’s electric bill, either as a solar panel leasing option or as a power purchase agreement. Solar leases allow the homeowner to install solar panels without paying anything (or much) up front reducing the overall solar panel cost. After the panels are installed, the homeowner pays only a flat monthly fee. The fee includes the installation costs, which are spread out over time, and the cost of electricity supply.
It is worth noting that under most solar lease arrangements, the solar company usually keeps any incentives that are associated with owning the solar panels. But the consumer gains other advantages. The solar company may offer a monthly fee below the utility rate, or one that doesn’t rise as utility rates do. At the end of the contract, homeowners can renew, purchase the system, or have the solar panel equipment removed.
These type of third-party financing arrangements have a lot of benefits for consumers—the best being no large out-of-pocket investment. And the solar system becomes cash flow positive from day one. Not surprisingly, these agreements have been a big factor in driving today’s solar energy installation boom.
Solar power may be simple in concept, but in application it can be bewildering. And the best approach for one homeowner isn’t necessarily the best for another. Take the time to gather the pertinent information —about house size, local solar insolation, existing electric rates, and consumption. It’s worth it in figuring out your potential solar cost for your home. Solar panels can not only power your home’s electricity for appliances but can also be fitted for other benefits such as heating and cooling your home with solar, solar water heating, and even heating a pool with solar energy.