Solar Is Like An ATM On Your Roof!

A solar purchase often starts with the question “How much do solar panels cost?” Understanding the elements that make up the cost of installing solar on your home will steer you clear of poor quality installers and deliver a solid return on investment that produces value for years to come.

Too many consumers focus on the cheapest purchase price, rather than the long-term investment. Solar produces power, so buying panels that produce more power over time with less degradation is a smart strategy. Investing in a system with solid warranties is also wise.

How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?

How much do solar panels cost is not as simple a question as it seems to be. The price of a complete solar system takes more into account than just the cost of the solar panel. The panel, the inverter, the method of installation, and the financing can all affect the overall price of the system.

If you are in California, systems built with tier 1 solar panels can range from $2.50 per watt to $4.50 per watt, cash price. Systems costing $2.50 per watt will not include attic runs for conduit, critter guard for birds, main panel upgrades, and all-black solar panels. The high-end pricing should include attic runs and other extras that account for the price differential.

Premium solar loans carry dealer fees that can add 10-25% more to the cash price of a solar system. The prices quoted above do not include financing fees for premium loans with low-interest rates. Find out more about solar financing.

Solar Formulas To Know: How to Calculate System Size, Solar Price, System Price, and Net System Price
Solar Pricing Formulas

Price Per Watt: Solar Panel Cost Guide

Solar is priced by the watt the way that meat is priced by the pound.

Premium panels are like premium cuts of meat; you pay more for filet mignon, and you’ll pay more for a premium solar panel. If you have quotes for the same panels from two installers, and one is much cheaper, then other factors have come into play. Typically it’s the inverter, the installation methods, or different financing packages that may account for this.

Know the key factors of a solar quote so you can compare apples to apples. Don’t just compare pricing and panels, know exactly what’s included upfront so you avoid disappointment after it’s installed. Salesmen will play up their quote’s strong point (such as lowest price) and downplay the weakness (conduit run on the roof instead of in the attic).

Long Term Cost Control

Control your energy cost image of Golden Metallic Cog Gears interlocking
Control Your Long Term Energy Cost By Going Solar

Price, however, should not be confused with value. One panel may cost more upfront but produce more power over time due to minimal degradation. So the question, how much do solar panels cost, is like asking how much cars cost, it depends on several factors.

Pricing: Short Term vs. Long Term

Pricing in solar seems straight forward, but just because you save a few thousand dollars upfront doesn’t mean you made a wise investment. It’s like buying a cheaper car that will cost you more to maintain in the long run. An installer who cuts corners in a race to the pricing bottom is at risk of going out of business for multiple reasons: First, because of shoddy installation practices, they fold under the pressure of an overload of service issues that can’t be handled effectively; and second due to the lack of financial stability from thin margins. Check the bankability of your warranty holders! Most importantly, your system may be down for extended periods due to poor installation practices and cutting corners.

Graphic saying Value Vs Cost with Value box checked
How much power your system produces over 25 years is it’s value

What Should I Pay for My Solar?

The range of pricing varies from more than $5/watt to under $3/watt. The price has little to do with equipment (except for Sunpower), and much more to do with installation methods, financing, and service. The best way to know what people are paying for solar in your zip code is by visiting the California Distributed Generation Statistics website. This is a goldmine of solar information.

How much do solar panels cost? Go to the California Distributed Generation Stats site right now and enter your zip code in the “Find an Active Solar Installer” box. Enter your zip code to get recent installations and their price per watt. The results will give you the average price per watt in your zip code. I like to sort by price, both ascending and descending, and then I focus in the middle. Most systems priced under $3 are cutting corners somewhere, and that is coming directly from the California Public Utilities Commission and CSLB.

The California Solar Consumer Protection Guide

The California Solar Consumer Protection Guide, which you must read and sign before entering into a solar contract in California, has a warning: “Note that the best option for you is not necessarily the cheapest bid. A very low bid may indicate that a Solar Provider is trying to cut corners.”

Cover of the California Solar Consumer Protection Guide
The California Solar Consumer Protection Guide

The Solar Protection Guide was created to help protect consumers from bad contractors and also to educate the public about best practices. Read it here. It’s filled with information that the California Public Utility Commissioned wants homeowners to know before getting solar.