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Are solar panels worth it?

This depends on three factors: the cost of the solar array, the amount of sunshine and the cost of energy in your area

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    solar panels on roof

    Experts in the solar energy industry say the return on investment for a solar panel array depends on a handful of factors, including the original cost of your system, the cost of electricity in your area and how much energy your household consumes — plus any costs you may incur for maintenance. The consensus is, however, that the investment tends to pay off over time.


    Key insights

    • Solar panels do eventually pay for themselves, experts say.
    • How long it takes your solar array to pay for itself depends on your system’s efficiency and other factors.
    • The efficiency of your solar array depends on how much sunlight your home gets and the size of your system.

    Solar panel return on investment

    Investing in solar energy allows property owners to "lock in the cost of their energy and avoid ever-increasing utility costs," said Tim Deters, content manager at Green Ridge Solar, a solar company based near Portland, Oregon. With the energy inflation rate at approximately 5% per year, this savings adds up even more over time, he noted.

    Even homeowners who finance the purchase of their solar array will one day see a return on investment, since the cost of the solar array will eventually be paid off. For homeowners who never invest in solar power, the cost of utilities is unlikely to ever go away. Once the cost of your solar investment is paid off, you'll enjoy free energy for your home.

    How long do solar panels take to pay for themselves?

    While solar panels do eventually “pay for themselves,” how long it takes depends on many factors, including:

    • Cost of energy in your area: Replacing high energy costs in your area with energy your solar panels generate translates into savings you can weigh against the cost of your solar array and installation.
    • Exposure to sunlight: The more sunlight your solar panels are exposed to, the more energy your panels will produce. The more energy produced by your panels, the faster your panels will pay for themselves.

    If you use financing to purchase your solar array and then choose a lengthy repayment period, the interest you pay over time will add to the total cost. This draws out the period of time before your solar array will pay for itself. Paying in cash for your system will help you recoup your costs more quickly, but this option isn't feasible for most homeowners.

    Should you get solar panels?

    Whether solar is right for you depends on various factors, such as where you live, your current utility costs and your budget. Not every household will benefit from solar panels in the same way. If you live in a sunny area, your home is exposed to sunlight on a regular basis and you're able to take advantage of local and state incentives to offset the cost of your system — going solar might make sense.

    Do you get enough sun?

    Solar panels work when photons from sunlight are absorbed by panel cells. This creates an electric field that's converted into electricity and directed through your home. Solar panels need regular exposure to sunlight to produce the most energy possible. This is why your local climate and sun exposure are key factors.

    Some sides of a home get more sunlight than others. When you contact solar installers for quotes, some may show you satellite images of your home at different times of day to demonstrate which sides of your home get the most sunlight. If the shorter side of your roof happens to be the side that gets the most sun, you may require a larger solar array.

    You’ll also need to consider obstructions that create shade. Nearby trees, buildings, telephone poles and other structures can create shade over the solar array, reducing the overall efficiency of your system. If you live in a forest or in a densely populated urban area surrounded by taller buildings, any solar panels cast in the shadows will produce less energy.

    What will it cost you to go solar?

    Solar systems vary in price depending on multiple factors, such as the number of panels you purchase and the type and ease of installation. Buyers also shouldn't forget about tax credits and incentives, like the 26% federal solar tax credit.

    To find out how much you can expect to spend on your home’s solar array, contact multiple solar installers in your area, get bids and compare. You want to compare not only the costs but also the efficiency of the panels — and the product warranty. While a better system made from higher-quality materials may cost more, it may also last longer, have more efficient panels and require fewer repairs over time. This could make the higher cost worthwhile.

    How much is your current electric bill?

    In addition to your home’s sun exposure throughout the day, your installer may also ask to see a year's worth of electrical bills to determine how much energy your household uses throughout the year.

    The amount of energy your household consumes in a month or a year will determine how large an array your home requires and how much you can expect to spend. For some people, this calculation is the deciding factor in installing panels.

    Can you get incentives for going solar?

    Some states and local governments provide incentives to homeowners to encourage solar power usage. While these incentives may not make solar panels free, they can dramatically reduce the cost of a new solar array installation.

    You can find out more information about incentives available to you by calling solar installers in your area. Solar installers are often up to date on the incentives available to homeowners they serve.

    In addition, you can look up solar incentives on the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE). This website is kept up to date with all the latest changes to solar incentives around the country. Just plug your ZIP code into the online form to find the incentives in your area. There's also the federal solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which allows homeowners who install solar on their homes to claim a federal tax credit of 26% on systems installed through 2022.

    Do you have the space to go solar?

    The size of your roof can play a big role in the effectiveness of your solar array. If you don't have room on your roof for enough solar panels to generate the amount of electricity your household uses, you'll never be free from your local utility company’s electrical grid, and that can dramatically decrease the benefits of installation.

    If you’re going to want solar battery storage or backup, having space in your home for that will also be a consideration.

    What material is your solar array made of?

    Quality plays a big role in the effectiveness of your solar array. Not all solar panels are created equal. While purchasing a lower-quality solar panel may seem to save money in the short run, solar panels are a long-term investment.

    ConsumerAffairs reviewers often mention the importance of product quality in solar installation. A reviewer from California, for instance, said his representative "went above and beyond" to keep him informed about solar quality and brands. A reviewer from Los Angeles also appreciated her representative, who "explained the differences between panel quality and degradation and inverters versus microinverters."

    These distinctions in solar panel quality and materials are important to understand. There are three types of solar panels you can purchase for your home:

    • Monocrystalline: Monocrystalline solar panels are made with a single silicon crystal, and their solar cells are black. Though more expensive, they tend to be more efficient. Those who can afford these panels may find them worthwhile overall.
    • Polycrystalline: Polycrystalline panels aren't as efficient as monocrystalline panels, but they are more affordable. They're made by melting silicon fragments together and tend to have a blue hue.
    • Thin-film: Thin-film solar panels are constructed using noncrystalline silicon or nonsilicon materials. They're flexible and lightweight and can look black or blue. Thin-film panels have a short life span but are the cheapest of the three types and have the fastest payback time.

    What's your commitment to the environment?

    For some homeowners, the decision to install solar panels comes down to their commitment to the environment. They view monetary savings as a nice feature, but it's ultimately the reduction in the home's carbon footprint that drives their decision.

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      FAQ

      Are solar panels worth it in Florida?

      While Florida is a state known for its abundant sunshine, relatively low utility costs in the state may slow down the return on investment of going solar. The best way to figure out if solar panels are worth it in Florida is to weigh the cost of the installation versus your current utility costs and to calculate the ROI.

      Are solar panels worth it in Texas?

      Solar panel purchases are often worthwhile in Texas, depending on the cost of installation, how much sun your house gets, incentives at the time of purchase and how much money you typically spend on electricity.

      How much do solar panels cost for a 2,000-square-foot house?

      The cost to install solar panels on a 2,000-square-foot house ranges from $20,000 to $35,000 before local, state and federal incentives. Costs vary by company, solar panel quality and array size.

      Bottom line: Are solar panels worth it?

      Whether solar panels are worth it is truly a decision that comes down to each specific homeowner. When you're considering solar for your house, you’ll need to do your homework.

      Investigate your home's energy usage throughout the year. Get quotes to find out how many panels you'll need and what the cost of installing panels will be. Think twice about purchasing the lowest-cost array for your home — quality of materials and installation makes a big difference when it comes to system longevity and the long-term costs of maintenance and repair.

      ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. To learn more about the content on our site, visit our FAQ page.
      1. U. S. Department of Energy, "Homeowners Guide to Going Solar." Accessed June 2, 2022.
      2. Solar Energy Industries Association, "Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC)." Accessed June 2, 2022.
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