If you’re considering solar and you’re like most people, one of the first questions you ask is: How much do solar panels cost? Solar is a great idea for many people, not only to cut their utility bills but also to reduce their energy dependence and clean up their ecological footprint. Whether you care about the environment or energy independence, though, the cost of solar is one major element in the decision to go solar that matters to essentially everyone.
I can very easily answer the question “How much do solar panels cost?” (see below), but I think the real question you’re asking is, “How much will it cost to put solar panels on my roof?” That’s a more complicated question to answer, but I’ll explain the nuances in more detail and provide some useful perspective on that in the article below.
[Updated February 11, 2018] This article has been updated to reflect current prices and add more context.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost Today?
Solar panels themselves are now a global product. There’s tremendous variation in the cost of solar panels based on the type and efficiency of the solar panels. However, the type of panels used for residential solar installations is fairly standard and the cost is basically set globally. That cost has fallen tremendously within the past few years. Solar panels now about half the price they were in 2013 (a year before this article was first published). In 1979, solar panels were approximately 100 times more expensive than they are now. In 1977, they were approximately 200 times more expensive.
The average weekly spot price for polysilicon solar modules this week is $0.37/watt. Another source also pegged it at $0.37/watt at the end of 2017. When I updated this article on July 15, 2016, the average weekly spot price was $0.49/watt. In 2015, the average price was $0.62/watt.
For a thin-film solar modules, the average weekly spot price is $0.37/watt. On July 15, 2016, it was $0.52/watt.
For residential solar modules, which are typically of a higher efficiency than solar modules used in utility-scale solar farms, the figure would be a bit higher than the averages above.
But how much does this solar cost info actually help you?
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost … On My Roof?
When you ask, “How much do solar panels cost?,” what I think you really want to know is how much it costs to put solar panels on your roof, right?
The bulk of the price of going solar is now the “soft costs” (installation, permitting, etc.) rather than the solar panel cost itself. Referencing the latest US Solar Market Insight report, the average installed cost of a residential solar panel system was approximately $2.75/watt, compared to just under $3.50/watt in Q2 2016. (For commercial rooftops, it’s now approximately $1.50/watt, whereas it was just under $2.00/watt in Q2 2016.)
However, prices vary tremendously by region. “Common residential system prices ranged from less than $3.00/W to just above $7.00/W,” the Solar Energy Industries Association wrote in 2014 regarding 2013 figures. Even though prices on both ends have come down dramatically, there’s still significant variation by region.
The total price of a system, of course, varies tremendously based on the size of your roof and your electricity needs as well.
So, the key is really just to get an initial quote and then get a closer look at your situation from a local installer, who can give you a more specific quote.
How Much Does It Cost To Go Solar? & How Much Will I Save?
When it comes down to it, you want to know how much it will cost you to actually go solar, but that’s only half the equation. A related question is how much you will save in the long run.
In many places, you can now go solar for $0 or close to $0 down through solar leasing companies or through simple bank loans, the latter of which would generally be my preference. Then you’re just making monthly payments like you would be making on a house, car, or college loan. However, in this case, your payments are likely to be less than the amount of money you’re saving on your electricity bill. So, really, you’re not paying any more than you’re already paying for electricity … you’re saving money! That’s the idea, anyway. Your mileage may vary depending on a dozen or so factors.
Studies have found that the average solar homeowner will save about $20,000 over 20 years from going solar. In three of the four most populous states in the country, that 20-year total is actually $30,000. In Hawaii, it’s up above $60,000! And that’s just the average.
Furthermore, solar panels are likely to pump out electricity for well over 30 years, perhaps even well over 40 years, almost like new.
But, again, the financing options and the savings really depend on where you live and some personal circumstances (like how much you’re spending on electricity right now). So, what you really need to do is just get a solar quote if you’re interested in finding out how much solar panels cost for your situation/home/business, then look at how that cost spreads out of time, then look at how much the expected cost of non-solar electricity spreads out over time.
For a little more of a look at how prices and savings can vary by state, below is an infographic based on 2011 research. Obviously, the story has gotten much, much, much better since then. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any comprehensive studies like this since 2011.
I hope that infographic and article helps you in considering the many factors at play that influence the cost of solar power. In the end, you can go buy solar panels on Amazon.com if you like, but if you want someone to come and install solar panels on your roof (the way most people go solar), you need to get quotes from as many solar panel installers as you can and choose the one that seems to offer the best value for the money. Every installer is likely to answer “How much do solar panels cost?” in a different way — with different solar panels, a differently sized installation, different warranties and services, etc. Drop us a note if you want some help comparing offers.
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