Clean Power

Published on November 29th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan


Which Solar Prices Really Matter To You?

November 29th, 2013 by  

Originally published on Cost of Solar.

When it comes to solar panels, prices vary considerably. However, when it comes to residential rooftop solar panels, prices are fairly easy to quote. But taking another 180-degree U-turn on this, there’s one more “however” to throw in there — when it comes to putting solar panels on your roof, you won’t find a set global or even national price that is likely to fit for your situation.

Let’s delve into this…

First of all, solar panels are a bit like cell phones — there are many different types that are made of different things and vary considerably in “quality.” These different types of solar panels also have varied costs. For a much more detailed run-down, check out our post on the most efficient solar panels.

The bottom line is, different applications require different types of solar panels. NASA needs high-efficiency solar panels that don’t take up as much space, even they are most costly. (Think real estate in NYC is expensive? Consider how precious and expensive real estate on a satellite or rocket is.) Campers who want a clean, portable source of energy for their cell phones or such do better with lightweight and flexible solar panels, even if they are a bit less efficient and cost more per watt-hour of electricity.

More likely than not, however, you are looking for solar panels for your home or business. Am I right? In such applications, the prices are obsessively tracked and are quite easy to find. In Q1 of this year, the average cost of solar panels was $0.65/watt, according to U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research. In Q2 of this year, REC Solar reports that the price was $0.73/watt. On July 31, PVinsights, a global solar PV research firm, reported that the average price of silicon solar panels was $0.69/watt, with a range from $0.55/watt to $0.99/watt (even within this segment of the market, there is some variation in efficiency/quality and, thus, price).

But the fact is, most of us aren’t going to buy solar panels directly. Most of us are going to buy the installation of solar panels on our roof by a certified professional. That side of things swings the panel back in the direction of wide variation in prices.

Solar Panel Prices for Most of Us

For various reasons, the price of installed solar panels is very different in different locations. Different labor rates, different permitting requirements and costs, different levels of market competition and maturity, and different solar incentives are some of the key factors that end up making the average price of residential solar panels less than $3.00 per watt in some places in the US and almost $8.00 per watt in other places.

To actually find out what it would cost to go solar in your area, you need to get connected to local or regional solar installers. You need to get a quote or two. We can help you with that — we can hook you up with a solar panel installer in your area. Simply enter a few pieces of information on our homepage and we’ll get rolling.

Why Solar Panel Prices Are Not The Most Important Thing

Before I leave you to go do that, I’ll just add a few important notes that you may be overlooking.

  1. Buying solar panels is actually not like buying a cell phone. With a cell phone, you want to evaluate the various things you can do with the phone and what capabilities you want or “need.” However, with solar panels, there’s basically one key goal: save as much money as possible. (Or, if you are truly altruistic, your key goal could be: reduce pollution as much as possible.)
  2. Most of you can now get a $0-down or little-money-down loan from the bank or a $0-down or little-money-down solar panel lease, which means that you don’t need to consider the price of the solar panels alone. What you need to consider is the long-term savings.
  3. In every state in the country, people are saving thousands or tens of thousands of dollars from rooftop solar panels. In other words, if you have a roof that doesn’t have serious issues, you would very likely save a ton of money by going solar, and you would be throwing away thousands or tens of thousands of dollars by not going solar. The decision is really that obvious.
solar panels prices

Credit: One Block Off The Grid

But, anyway, to find out how much solar panels would cost for you, how much you’d likely save each month from going solar, and how much you’d likely save over several years, just answer the short questions on our homepage. We’ll shoot you over some initial projections immediately, and we’ll follow that up by connecting you with a solar panel installer (or more) in your area who can give you quotes on installed solar panel prices.

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

Tags: , ,

About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • shrineme .

    Before buying solar seperate the labor costs from the equipment

    Installation costs can by a ripoff if you buy from the installer. Those systems are not difficult to install.

  • Kyle Field

    Go with a DIY install and if you need help, find a local installer to wire it up. The tragedy in the high system costs are that they are actually really basic to design, wire and install. Tragically simple. I went with a system installer for my first 5 panels 3 years ago, then used that basic design and my learnings from the first phase to add 7 more panels this year for ~1/3 the cost. Crazy how blatantly they rip people off for such a basic service. We are truly in need of a total system installed cost comparable to what folks pay in Germany…not to mention a quick turnaround time.

  • Marion Meads

    Wow, the website quoted me a very steep price. $42K for 8kW system before rebates!!! They seem to be in cahoots with solar installers who are ready to skin you alive! For Thanksgiving sakes, we do not live in Hawaii to deserve such exorbitant prices, you know. Seems like they are a front for Solar City as Solar City quotes prices in the same range (depending on quality of solar panels and peripheral equipments used), and they are the highest in the nation, to entice you to do the PPA with them instead as that is their most profitable model.

    The $5.25/watt quoted price means that for an APR of 4.99%, amortized over 20 years, the panel be better producing $0.42 amount of electricity per year to break even. If we use national average of $0.12/kWH, and 1 Watt panel produces 1.8kWh/year, the amount of electricity produced is only worth $0.22/year. It means that we are losing $0.20/year, so the amount of electricity produced will never be able to pay the loan off. Of course they try to misled us by using other metrics, and not the direct financial interest calculations. Regardless of their other numbers shown, clearly we are not dorks to buy in at $5.25/Watt!!! The installed price should really not go beyond $2.75/Watt to break even at 4.99%APR. It would even be worse if utilities had their way and price what you feed the grid at less than 50% retail price.

    For now, I’d still go with for a grid-tied very advanced system that they will sell for only $1.71/watt and the panels made in the USA or Canada. Plus they will help you with the design, permitting process, applying for tax credits. They would also recommend installers that averages $1/watt installation, costing you only half the price than the one recommended by Cost of Solar. And of course, the Admirals Bank work with these cool guys, to give you solar loan. And right off the bat, the 8 kW system would only cost $21K including installation, before tax credits, which is below the limit of $25K for the low APR loan from Admirals bank. If we used comparable system from to that of SolarCity, we could even go lower price than $21K for the 8 kW system.

    the Cost of Solar should work together with They should not take part in fleecing out the consumers with high prices blinded by their marketing gimmicks, if they truly want solar to be adopted quickly.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Solar Home prices look very good. But their prices are for hardware only, no installation. They’ve currently got kits for $1.45/watt. Make me think about adding some more to my system.

      Where do you get the $1/watt installation figure? And permitting/inspection costs aren’t included.

      • Marion Meads

        You will have to call them and talk to them. I called up the representative in Northern California and they have an office in Vacaville. They gave me names and contact persons of licensed but independent contractors who knows how to install panels on the roof as long as I will walk the permitting process, which is also encouraged by our city inspectors who are more than willing to help. Good service overall as I am planning to add solar to our rental property near Vacaville. The $1/watt is for installation only and I have to cough up about $400 for the licensed electrician to connect the system to the grid.

  • Steeple

    With so much of the cost now being due to installation, it seems more clear to me that solar farms should catch on just faster than rooftop solar. I suspect that the installed cost of a solar farm in scale must be much less on a per watt basis than a rooftop installation.

    • Marion Meads

      Nope! When solar farms sells their electricity to the utilities, it is at wholesale pricing. With all the incentives from the state, as the utilities scramble to meet their quota of renewable sources, the cheapest competitive bid from solar farms is $0.06/kWH to be sold to the utilities, in the condition that the solar farms in turn have grant money from the DOE and the state.

    • Bob_Wallace

      The national average price for all classes of solar declined 11.1% from $3.43/W from one year ago to $3.05/W . That is a 31.5% two year drop from the Q2, 2011 price of $4.45/W.

      From Q2, 2012 to Q2, 2013, residential system prices fell 11.5% percent, from $5.43/W to $4.81/W. Common residential system prices ranged from less than $3.00/W to almost $8.00/W.

      Non-residential system prices fell 14.7% percent year-over-year, from $4.35/W to $3.71/W.

      Utility system prices declined 19.2% year-over-year, down from $2.60/W in Q2, 2012 to $2.10/W in Q2, 2013.

      Greentech Media Executive Summary

      While utility scale solar is cheaper it’s producing electricity for the wholesale market. Residential is producing at the retail level.

      Rooftop solar could wipe out utility scale solar by eliminating the midday demand peak as has happened in Germany.

Back to Top ↑