Is solar worth it in Illinois?

7 considerations in the Prairie State

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a nice illinois home with solar panels installed on the roof

Solar panels are generally worth it if you like the idea of cheap, clean energy. The main drawback is the high upfront cost of purchasing and installing the equipment. On the bright side, once that’s paid for, solar panels can significantly reduce or even eliminate your electricity bills. For many residents, the long-term savings outweigh the upfront costs over time.


Key insights

Depending on the size of your system and what financial incentives you qualify for, a typical residential solar panel installation costs $11,018 to $31,480 in Illinois.

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On average, it takes solar panels approximately 11 years to pay for themselves in Illinois.

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Over 25 years, Illinois homeowners with solar panels avoid $48,565 in total utility costs on average.

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7 factors to consider before getting solar panels in Illinois

ConsumerAffairs has heard from thousands of solar customers who have already gone through the installation process. It’s generally worth it if you like the idea of lowering your monthly utility bills, helping the environment and gaining more energy independence. But it doesn’t work out for everyone. Here’s what to consider before making the switch.

  1. Solar panel installation costs
  2. Your energy consumption
  3. Illinois solar incentives
  4. Net metering buyback rates
  5. How long you stay in your house
  6. How you pay
  7. The solar company you hire

1. Solar panel installation costs: $10,000 to $30,000

Average solar panel costs in Illinois are comparable to the national average. Before the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC), a typical residential system ranges from $15,740 to $31,480. That price drops to $11,018 to $22,036 after considering the full 30% tax credit.

Most installers set the price according to the system's wattage, with a typical cost between $2.50 and $5 per watt. “Cost per watt” is a little like looking at the price per square foot when you buy a house. It helps you compare the value of solar energy systems in different sizes. In Illinois, the average cost per watt is only $3.18.

Average solar panel installation cost by system size in Illinois

2. Your current energy consumption

Look at your most recent utility bills to see how much electricity your house needs each month. This tells you what size and capacity your solar system needs to be. A typical Illinois household needs a 10.12 kW system to offset its electricity needs with solar energy. You might need a larger or smaller system, depending on your current energy consumption.

Once you know your current energy consumption, you can calculate your potential savings and the time it should take for your solar installation to pay for itself. In Illinois, solar panels usually pay for themselves within 11 years.

3. Illinois solar incentives: federal and state programs

The federal solar investment tax credit (ITC) is a major incentive that reduces the upfront cost of going solar in Illinois. The ITC provides a 30% tax credit on your total system costs, including equipment, labor and permits. It will drop to 26% in 2033 and 22% in 2034.

Additionally, the Illinois Shines and Solar for All programs both help reduce upfront costs and ensure long-term savings on energy bills. Illinois Shines is responsible for more than 40,000 solar projects since 2019. The program collects fees from electricity bills and provides incentives to residents who invest in solar panels. The program is beneficial for low-income households, offering savings and an opt-in to solar for more residents.

» MORE: Illinois solar incentives

4. Net metering rates in Illinois

In Illinois, homeowners who generate solar energy can earn Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) through net metering. Commonwealth Edison, Ameren Illinois and MidAmerican Energy Company have to pay customers with credits on their electric bills for the energy produced by solar.

On average, a 7-kilowatt (kW) solar system generates about 7,665 kilowatt-hours (kWH) to 11,498 kWh per year. For 2024 and 2025, REC prices for an average residential 7-kW solar system are $73.71 to $83.87. So, the average Illinois homeowner could earn an estimated $564 to $964 per year.

The process can be somewhat complicated, according to Alison in Sycamore, Illinois. “They don't tell you that you have to reapply for net metering through your local electric company,” Allison told us. “And it's practically impossible to find all the information you need to complete the net metering application (what's the capacity of the system, the installer license number, etc.).”

5. How long you plan to stay in your house

A Zillow study found that, on average, houses with solar panels sell for 4.1% more. Let’s say you spend $25,000 putting solar panels on a house that costs $400,000. It might sell for $16,400 more in a few years, according to Zillow. But you miss out on some of that $48,565 in total avoided utility costs over 25 years.

Solar panels last 25 to 30 years.

In other words, don't get solar panels just because you want to sell your house soon. Instead, consider a home improvement project with a better return on investment, like remodeling the bathroom or kitchen.

It takes years for electric bill savings to make up for the initial cost. Solar panels typically pay for themselves within 11 years in Illinois. If you sell your house and move before then, you might not fully realize the financial benefits of your solar investment.

6. How you pay

If you can, it’s often financially strategic to pay for the whole thing upfront. You own the system from day one and receive the benefits of available tax credits; plus, you don’t have to pay interest on a loan. Of course, paying cash is not always an option. That’s when loans, leases and other agreements come into play.

  • Solar loan: Solar loans work like any other type of loan. They have relatively low fixed interest rates. Once you pay it off, you own your system outright.
  • Leasing options: Leasing panels is one way to get the benefits of solar energy without the high upfront cost. A solar lease works like a car lease — you get to use the panels but don’t own them. Leasing can be good if you have limited savings. Solar lease agreements typically last 20 to 25 years.
  • Power purchase agreement: Similar to leasing, a power purchase agreement (PPA) lets homeowners install solar panels without the upfront costs. You sign a long-term contract with a solar services provider to purchase the electricity generated by the panels at a predetermined rate. The provider owns and maintains the panels throughout the agreement, which usually lasts 10 to 25 years.
  • Home equity loans or lines of credit (HELOC): Eligible homeowners can borrow against equity in their house to finance a solar panel system. These often have variable interest rates, meaning monthly payments can increase over time.

7. The solar company you hire

People have had mixed experiences with solar companies. In the best-case scenario, it’s easy to make the switch and you’re happy with the system’s performance. In the worst-case scenario, you end up paying thousands for mid-tier solar equipment from a company with poor customer service and no follow-up or support.

One of the most common complaints is related to pushy sales reps who make promises that can’t be delivered. That’s why it’s so important to thoroughly research and verify claims made by sales teams before making a decision. Use NREL’s PVWatts Calculator to estimate how much electricity a solar panel can produce over a year on your house — just type in your address. Project Sunroof is a free solar savings estimator powered by Google Earth imagery.

Monthly costs: solar payments vs. savings

Think of going solar in terms of your monthly costs. Given rising energy costs in Illinois and elsewhere, financing solar panels makes sense as long as your monthly loan payment is less than what you would be paying the utility company anyway.

Is my house a good candidate for solar panels?

Going solar ends up being worth it for many homeowners as long as their house is a good candidate to support a solar panel installation. Here’s what to think about before you commit:

  • How old are my appliances? The first step is to ensure that your electrical loads are as small as possible. If you have an older refrigerator or air conditioning unit, for instance, it’s smart to upgrade those before investing in solar panels. That way, you can get a smaller system, which will be cheaper overall.
  • How much sunlight do I get? Solar panels need regular exposure to sunlight to produce the most energy possible. Illinois averages three to five peak sun hours each day. However, lots of shading — like trees or tall buildings above your roof — could make your solar system less efficient.
  • What is the size and angle of my roof? Illinois (and the rest of the United States) is in the northern hemisphere, so solar panels perform best on south-facing roofs. The worst place to install would be on north-facing roofs, especially if those roofs have a high pitch. For example, if the only place you can install is a north-facing roof with a 30-degree pitch, your costs will likely go up by 30% to 40%.
  • What is the condition of my roof? If you have to replace your roof, do that before you install solar panels. Solar panels are designed to last up to 30 years, so you want your roof to last just as long. Otherwise, it could cost thousands to remove the panels, fix your roof and reinstall the panels again.

Pros and cons of solar panels in Illinois

It’s a common misconception that solar panels will completely eliminate your monthly power bill — this is not always the case. Still, you’ll likely be paying much less than you would for traditional utility bills.

Pros

  • Long-term savings
  • Better for the environment
  • Low maintenance costs
  • May increase home resale value
  • Tax breaks and RECs

Cons

  • Upfront costs
  • Seasonal production variations
  • Potential roof leaks

Benefits of solar panels in Illinois

  • Better for the environment: Some say going solar is worth it in Illinois for the environmental benefits, like Wardell in Chicago: “We need to get ahead of climate change and clean energy is a great way to start.” Traditional energy sources like coal and natural gas release carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants into the air. Solar panels generate electricity from sunlight, a clean and renewable energy source.
  • Higher home resale value: Installing solar panels can significantly increase a home's value. According to the study mentioned above, houses with solar panels sell for 4.1% more on average. The exact increase in value varies by location, with homes in active solar markets sometimes seeing even higher boosts.
  • Cheaper energy bills: The average homeowner in Illinois uses a lot of power, which adds up to a lot of savings when you switch to solar. Going solar now means that your monthly energy expenses will be more predictable (and very often significantly lower). Solar panels also protect you from future energy cost increases.

Drawbacks of solar panels in Illinois

  • Solar equipment is expensive: Even with rebates and other financial incentives, the price typically starts between $10,000 and $30,000. It’s even more expensive if you want a solar battery for energy storage. Solar battery costs are generally between $7,000 and $18,000. Getting a solar battery might be strategic if net billing rates continue to decline in Illinois. That way, you can store energy at home instead of tapping into the local grid when you need to.
  • Potential roof leaks: The installation process involves drilling holes into the roof to anchor the panel mounting systems. If not done correctly, this can lead to leaks or structural damage.
  • Energy production varies: Solar panels are dependent on weather conditions and seasonality. Solar panels still work on cloudy days, but less available sunlight does affect how efficiently they produce energy. Snow cover may also temporarily reduce efficiency until it's removed or melts off.

» MORE: Solar energy pros and cons

Find solar companies in Illinois

A good solar company helps you navigate local incentives, permitting and net metering policies. Compare our picks for the top solar companies in Illinois to learn more.

Do you own or rent?

Illinois solar FAQs

Does Illinois really pay for solar panels?

No, Illinois does not pay for solar panels.

Do solar panels increase property taxes in Illinois?

No, solar panels do not increase property taxes in Illinois. There is a property tax exemption that exempts the total value of the system from your property taxes for 10 years.

Can I get a power purchase agreement in Illinois?

Yes, the Illinois Shines program offers power purchase agreements for residents, allowing them to buy electricity generated by solar panels installed on their property by a third party.

What solar scams are common in Illinois?

A May 2024 news story identified solar companies in Illinois using deceptive practices, such as misleading customers about the financial savings and capabilities of their solar systems.

Scammers often exaggerate the potential energy savings, fail to disclose the full costs associated with installation and maintenance, and sometimes use high-pressure sales tactics to rush consumers into signing contracts. This kind of fraud can lead to unexpected costs and unmet expectations for consumers.

How long does it take to install solar panels in Illinois?

Installation times depend on a range of factors, especially seasonality and supply chain issues. The actual installation might take only a day, but it takes time to design and plan, and you also have to activate the system.

Bottom line: Is going solar in Illinois worth it for you?

Going solar in Illinois might be easier than you think. The main obstacle to going solar is the high upfront cost of purchasing and installing solar panels, inverters and other equipment. For a lot of homeowners, it ends up being worth it as long as their cost savings over time outweigh the initial investment. Others are happy to go solar for the environmental benefits alone.

Solar costs vs. savings: Illinois and nearby states

*For 100% usage offset; **Over 25 years

Article sources
ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
  1. DSIRE, "Illinois Solar Programs." Accessed March 29, 2024.
  2. EnergySage, “The cost of solar panels in Illinois.” Accessed March 29, 2024.
  3. Solar Energy Industries Association, "Illinois Solar." Accessed March 29, 2024.
  4. SolarReviews, “How much do solar panels cost in Illinois?” Accessed March 29, 2024.
  5. Citizens Utility Board, “Introduction to Rooftop Solar.” Accessed June 12, 2024.
  6. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, "Homeowner's Guide to the Federal Tax Credit for Solar Photovoltaics." Accessed May 6, 2024.
  7. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Solar Power Purchase Agreements.” Accessed May 6, 2024.
  8. WPSD Local 6, “‘Legal…not forthright’: Solar power company gives misleading information to customers.” Accessed June 12, 2024.
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