If you are a homeowner, tired of escalating utility bills year-after-year, want to make an investment in your home that adds home value, and are finally researching the cost of installing rooftop solar panels, a complete home solar system, or a backup solar battery, then you have come to the right place.
In this article I will breakdown the costs, provide you with any overview of your options and connect you with references so you can feel confident that you have done your due diligence.
First, you need to consider the fact that what ever you spend on solar, no matter what size of system, solar installer or solar system add-ons that you consider, you will be saving money long term, while adding value to your home. The cost savings of going solar we have covered in a previous blog, which you can check out: 5 Reasons to Go Solar Now Additionally, there are tons of great resources out there to learn about the cost savings and the added home value that you will receive by choosing to sever the ties between you and the year-after-year escalating costs of your utility provider. Below are two quick links that you can reference, before we do into the cost details:
- Google’s Project Sunroof Cost Savings Estimator
- Zillow’s article on the average home value increase once solar panels are installed
Solar Panel Costs
Depending on what your budget is and what your primary considerations are in choosing the right panels, you have options that vary in price, but the decision to go solar is always the smart choice. Solar panels, like any other product you buy, will vary in size, quality, manufacturer warranty and performance, which will invariably impact how much or little you will have to spend “going solar.” However, when going solar, the primary cost drivers will likely be:
- The type of solar system you want (grid-tied or off-grid)
- How large of a system you need
Solar System Types
The type of solar system that you choose will be the first primary cost driver.
The components of a solar system will vary depending on if it is a tied-grid system (solar system is still connected to the grid and monitored by your utility company) or an off-grid system (solar system is completely self-contained, not connected to the utility grid).
A grid-tied solar system has less components between the two options, are simpler to build and, therefore, are less expensive.
This solar system option contains:
- The solar panels themselves
- Roof or ground mount
- An inverter – converts the direct current electricity to alternating current
- The required wiring
- The appropriate panel – includes your breakers
- The meter – provided by your utility
An off-grid solar system has additional components, which manage both the electricity generation and the storage functions.
This solar system option excludes the utility provided meter, but contains a few additional components:
- Charge controller – manages the flow of energy from the solar panels to the battery
- Battery-based Inverter – serves the same function, but is relies on a battery rather than on the grid
- Batteries – this is the main component of an off-grid system and stores excess energy, enabling the homeowner to have access to electricity at night or when the sunshine is inaccessible (blocked by trees, mountain ranges, etc.)
It is the combination of both the materials and the components that will be the primary cost different between both solar system options (grid-tied/off-grid).
On average, a grid-tied solar system will cost roughly 30 – 40% less than an off-grid solar system, which is primarily due to the cost of the storage battery required to be completely off-grid.
Size matters… and by “size” we are referring to the electricity output of the system, i.e., how much electricity the system will produce (measured in kilowatts [kW]). The more electricity that you will need to produce to offset your current electricity usage, the more panels you will need. Translate that to costs and simply put, the more panels you will need, the more money you will have to spend.
The average cost for a 6-kW system in Texas is $14,820 (Consumer Reports). However, your average home size in Texas is 2,031 square feet, which really means that the average solar system you will need to have installed in order to cover all of your electricity needs for the year is nearly 14-kw per year (Electricity prices per square foot). So, unless you plan to go without using your air conditioner, dish washer or refrigerator all year, you will need to plan for a system over twice that size at a cost of $31,122.
My grandfather, who was a rancher, used to say, “You get what you pay for.” When it comes to quality solar panels, this is most certainly the case.
If you are after quality, then we need to begin by defining what “quality” means for solar panels. The materials and required components used to assemble solar panels are relatively standard, depending on which of the two solar system options you choose (grid-tide/off-grid).
Panels consist of a variety of materials, mainly:
- Silicon solar cells
- Metal frame (typically aluminum)
- Glass casing sheets
- 12-volt wires
- Bus wire
However, the cost differences from a quality perspective comes down to multiple factors, such as:
- The efficiency of the silicon solar cells.
- The most cost-effective solar panels are those made up of 60, 72, 120 or 144 cells
- The more cells per panel, the greater the production capacity will be per panel
- The less panels that you need to generate the amount of electricity required to offset your daily usage, the fewer panels you will need for your home
- A single solar panel generally ranges from $150 – $300 each
- The solar system installation process.
- Using a less qualified, less experienced installation company may save you money in up-front costs, but can cost you more money in the long run
- Roof damage or shoddy component assembly will become apparent in the months or years following the installation and, depending on the warranty, you made end up with the bills for correcting these issues
- Rooftop installation requires workers to be on your roof for extended periods of time and lower costs installers may compromise on safety equipment and training for their employees, resulting in higher risk to you, the property owner, if an accident occurs
Solar panels and solar power system components, including batteries, are manufactured both inside and outside of the United States (U.S.), but the country of origin is not a significant cost factor. However, if you are worried about the safety aspect of the materials as a quality consideration, then be rest assured, most panels and components sold by reputable dealers will decrease the risk of you buying unsafe materials.
Important points to consider:
- Any panels that are sold at a price “too good to be true” should be avoided, because…. They probably are
- Avoid purchasing solar panels or equipment, especially if you are hoping to save money as a Do-it-Yourselfer (DIY-er) by ordering direct from countries outside of any trade agreements with the U.S. (regardless of what you think about government regulation, we have very stringent inspection requirements, which is a good thing when dealing with electricity!)
Here is a great article from Travis Hoium that explains these factors in more detail.
- Manufacturers offer different types of warranties, which should be considered when assessing the cost of the solar system
- Consider the warranty’s duration
- 5 to 10-year warranty products are cheaper up-front, as compared to 20 to 25-year warrantied products
- Depending on your budget, going with the longer-term warrantied products may save you money down the line, especially if you are on a 20-year financing plan!
- Consider the warranty’s coverage
- Solar panels, like any other product, lose efficiency over time, which impacts the performance (solar production), increases the likelihood of equipment failure and, ultimately, your ability to generate the required electricity for your home
- Cheaper solar systems carry a 10-year warranty, which only guarantees 90% of the original production capacity
- Higher cost systems carry a 25-year warranty, which guarantees up to 80% of the original production capacity, which over the additional 15-years really makes a difference in preventing the need to pay the utility again… ever
Here is a link to a nice article that outlines all the major solar panel manufacturer warranties, combined in an easy to read table.
We cannot talk about the cost of solar without briefly touching on the federal tax incentives. Now, I am no tax expert, so I will keep this short, but I do own a calculator and the math is simple. The Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is a temporary incentive that the federal government is offering homeowners to install solar. As of December 2020, the ITC is 26%, which goes towards the cost of your entire solar system. This percentage decreases year to year until it goes away in on December 31st, 2023.
If your solar system will cost $31,000, then the ITC allows you to recover 26% of that cost THIS year (or $8,060), which would bring your total cost down to only $22,940.
All the factors we outlined are the most significant driver of the cost for a solar system.
If you are looking to stay on the grid but offset your electricity costs by purchasing a grid-tied solar system your system will be 30 – 40% cheaper than if you are looking to be completely self-sufficient going with an off-grid solar system. The biggest cost in going off-grid is the battery!
Once you have decided on what type of solar system you want, you need to decide on the system size (how much electricity will you need to produce). If your goal is to never have to pay another utility bill again… ever…. Then you will need a system with enough panels that can generate enough electricity to off-set your annual energy use by at least 100%, but we recommend going longer (110 – 120%) to offset the later loss of production due to solar degradation.
The more panels you need, the more you will have to spend, and with the average home size in the great state of Texas being just over 2,100 square feet, you will need a 14-kW (kilowatt) solar system, which will run you just over $31,000. However, the cost will vary depending on the installer and products that you select for your system. Lastly, tax incentives. The Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is a temporary incentive that the federal government is offering homeowners to install solar.
As of December 2020, the ITC is 26%, which goes towards the cost of your entire solar system. This percentage decreases year to year until it goes away in on December 31st, 2023.
Now has never been a better time for you to invest in your home by going solar.
Contact your energy experts at All Solar Texas. We will put together your Free Energy Savings report and we will even throw in a free electric utility bill calculator for you to use or share with a friend.