Are solar panels worth it in Pennsylvania?

7 factors to consider in the Keystone State

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Do you own or rent?

solar panels on the roof of a two-story home

Even though Pennsylvania gets less sunlight exposure than states in the Southwest, local policies and incentives like net metering and solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) make going solar a viable option for many.

The main drawback is the high upfront cost of purchasing and installing the panels and other equipment. On the bright side, once that’s paid off, solar panels can significantly reduce or even eliminate your electricity bills. For many, the long-term savings outweigh the upfront costs.


Key Insights

  • Depending on the size of your system and what financial incentives you qualify for, a typical residential solar panel installation costs $10,229 to $29,225 in Pennsylvania.
  • On average, Pennsylvania homeowners with solar panels avoid $58,076 in total utility costs over 25 years.
  • Several factors determine if solar panels are worth it for you, including initial installation costs, the orientation and shading of your roof and how long you plan to stay in your home.

7 factors to consider before getting solar panels in Pennsylvania

We’ve talked to more than 150 solar customers who have already gone through the installation process in Pennsylvania. 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 you make the switch.

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

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

Solar panel costs in Pennsylvania are comparable to the national average. Before the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC), a typical residential system ranges from $14,613 to $29,225. That price drops to $10,229 to $20,458 after considering the full 30% tax credit.

On the higher end, one solar customer in Pennsylvania told us they paid $100,000 for a system, including for a $23,000 battery.

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 Pennsylvania, the average cost per watt is only $3.05.

Average solar panel installation cost by system size in Pennsylvania

2. Your current energy consumption

Look at your most recent utility bills — how much electricity does your house use each month? Once you know this, you can calculate your potential savings and how long it should take for your solar panels to pay for themselves. By one estimate, a Pennsylvania homeowner with solar panels can avoid $58,076 in total utility costs over 25 years.

A typical Pennsylvania household needs a 10.17 kW system to offset its electricity needs with solar energy. You might need a larger or smaller system, depending on your current energy consumption and anticipated future energy needs. For instance, a new heated pool would require additional power, meaning you need a bigger system with more panels to keep everything running.

3. Pennsylvania solar incentives: Tax credits and net metering

The federal solar investment tax credit (ITC) is a major incentive that reduces the upfront cost of going solar in Pennsylvania. 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.

Please don’t get confused: the ITC is a credit, meaning it directly decreases the amount of taxes you owe. This is different from a deduction, which reduces your taxable income. The ITC only offsets your tax liability; you can't take advantage of it if you don’t owe taxes in the first place. However, the credit rolls over to future tax years if you don’t use the full amount.

Residents can take advantage of additional Pennsylvania solar incentives, statewide net metering and legalized power purchase agreements.

4. Net metering: Full retail buyback rate

Net metering lets you sell extra energy generated by solar panels back to the local power grid. The following utilities offer net metering in Pennsylvania.

  • West Penn Power
  • UGI Utilities
  • PECO Energy
  • PPL electric utilities
  • Citizens Electric
  • Metropolitan Edison
  • Pennsylvania Power
  • Pike County Light & Power
  • Wellsboro Electric

Net metering rules, compensation rates and availability vary depending on the utility provider. However, it seems like a good deal for many in the state. For instance, Archie in Lewiston, Pennsylvania, had a significant surface one year. “Penelec, my electric company, charges me $10.25 a month, and that's just to process the billing. I won't have to pay that till September because I had 521 kilowatt-hours leftover from last year that I banked,” he told us, and he’s “loving” it.

5. How long you plan to stay in your house

Solar installations are expensive, and it takes years for electric bill savings to make up for the initial cost. Solar panels typically pay for themselves within 9.5 years in Pennsylvania. If you sell your house and move before then, you might not fully realize the financial benefits of your solar investment.

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 $58,076 in total avoided utility costs over 25 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.

6. The solar company you hire

Pennsylvanians 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, like Lynnann in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. “I was also able to choose a pay per month plan that fit my budget. This made it easier to get the work done that I wanted,” she told us.

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. For instance, Daniel in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, said sales reps “screwed” him around. “So, now it cost me 300 and some dollars plus my electric bill, and I'm paying just as much as I was before I had the panels,” he told us.

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.

7. 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.
  • 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): These let eligible homeowners borrow against equity in their house to finance a solar panel system. They often have variable interest rates, meaning monthly payments can increase over time.

Monthly costs: Solar payments vs. savings

Think of going solar in terms of your monthly costs. Given high residential electricity rates in Pennsylvania, financing solar panels makes sense as long as your monthly loan payment is less than what you would be paying the utility company anyway. Once the initial installation costs are paid, solar panels essentially generate free electricity.

Is my house a good candidate for solar panels?

In Pennsylvania and elsewhere, going solar ends up being worth it for many homeowners as long as their home is a good candidate to support a solar panel installation. Here’s what to think about before you commit:

  • How much sunlight do you get? Solar panels need regular exposure to sunlight to produce the most energy possible. Pennsylvania averages 2.5 to 3.5 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 your roof? Pennsylvania (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 your 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.
  • How old are your appliances? The first step is to ensure that your electrical loads are as small as possible. For instance, if you have an older refrigerator or air conditioning unit, it’s smart to upgrade those before investing in solar panels. 

» BEST STATES FOR SOLAR: Pennsylvania ranks 15th

Pros and cons of solar panels in Pennsylvania

It’s a common misconception that solar panels always 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. Diane in Dubois, Pennsylvania, told us, “During the summer when the central air is going full blast, my electric bills are either $0 or less than $10.”

Pros

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

Cons

  • Upfront costs
  • Seasonal production variations
  • Performance can be affected by shading from trees or buildings
  • Potential changes to compensation for extra power

Benefits of solar panels in Pennsylvania

Solar power is a renewable energy source that does not produce greenhouse gas emissions or other pollutants. They also require little maintenance and can increase the property value of homes.

  • Cheaper energy bills: The average homeowner in Pennsylvania uses a lot of power, which adds up to a lot of savings when you switch to solar. With electric rates throughout Pennsylvania increasing, especially in FirstEnergy territories (which includes Met-Ed, Penn Power, Penelec and West Penn Power customers), going solar now means that your monthly energy expenses will be more predictable and often significantly lower. One resident, April in Baden, Pennsylvania, said, “Even if I leave lights on all day long, which I got two kids that have to have a TV and everything on at night, I'm not spending thousands of dollars on electric.”
  • 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.
  • Better for the environment: 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. Installing solar panels on your roof helps the environment primarily by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.

Drawbacks of solar panels in Pennsylvania

The main obstacle to going solar is the high upfront cost of purchasing and installing solar panels, inverters and other equipment. Additionally, some residents have complained that utility companies’ fees related to rooftop solar systems are prohibitively high.

  • 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 Pennsylvania. That way, you can store energy at home instead of tapping into the local grid when you need to.
  • Energy production varies: You can expect some seasonal fluctuation in how much energy your panels produce. Solar panels are dependent on weather conditions and available sunlight, meaning their performance can fluctuate with cloud cover or shading from trees and buildings. Seasonality also affects how much energy they can produce.
  • Potential roof leaks: Installing solar panels involves mounting racks and brackets onto the roof, which typically requires drilling holes. This process can lead to roof leaks, which are expensive to fix. Luckily, proper installation and maintenance can significantly mitigate this risk, making solar panels a viable option for many homeowners.

» MORE: Solar energy pros and cons

Find solar companies in Pennsylvania

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

Do you own or rent?

Pennsylvania solar FAQs

Does Pennsylvania really pay for solar panels?

We are not aware of any programs for free solar panels in Pennsylvania at this time. However, you can also lease equipment for little to no upfront costs.

» FREE SOLAR PANELS: Are they really free?

Will getting solar panels increase my property taxes?

Possibly. There is no property tax exemption for solar panel installations in Pennsylvania. So, if solar panels increase the value of your home, then your property taxes could go up.

Is it cheaper if I install solar panels myself?

It’s potentially cheaper to install solar panels yourself. It’s also tricky and dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, especially for a large residential project.

» DIY solar panels: Pros and cons

How long do solar panels last in Pennsylvania?

Most solar panels installed in Pennsylvania are designed to last 25 to 30 years.

How do I choose a solar installation company?

The best solar energy companies have a few things in common: great reviews, transparent contracts, reliable equipment and comprehensive warranties. Look for companies with years of experience in Pennsylvania and good local reputations. Like in any booming industry, some salespeople want to make a quick buck and might say anything to close a sale. It’s important to read your contract carefully, especially if you finance or lease a system.

» TIPS: Get the best solar quotes

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

Pennsylvanians are increasingly embracing solar energy despite the state’s historical coal legacy. This shift is supported by policies that aim to make solar energy more accessible. As of December 2023, the state can power the equivalent of the city of Pittsburgh on solar energy. Much of that supply is rooftop solar.

For a lot of homeowners, solar panels are worth it as long as their cost savings over time outweigh the initial investment. Depending on the size of your system, what financial incentives you qualify for and other factors, a typical residential solar panel installation costs $10,229 to $29,225 in Pennsylvania.

Like most things, high-quality panels come with a more expensive price tag, but they often pay off in the long run with better performance and durability. The more efficient your panels are, the more electricity they produce and the less space they take up on your roof.

Solar costs vs. savings: Pennsylvania and nearby states

* To fully offset energy usage; ** 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, “Pennsylvania Programs.” Accessed March 10, 2024.
  2. EnergySage, “Pennsylvania solar panels: local pricing and installation data.” Accessed March 10, 2024.
  3. Solar Energy Industries Association, “Pennsylvania Solar.” Accessed March 10, 2024.
  4. SolarReviews, “How much do solar panels cost in Pennsylvania, 2024?” Accessed March 10, 2024.
  5. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, "Homeowner's Guide to the Federal Tax Credit for Solar Photovoltaics." Accessed March 10, 2024.
  6. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Solar Power Purchase Agreements.” Accessed March 10, 2024.
  7. CBS News, “Pennsylvania can now power residents in a city the size of Pittsburgh with in-state solar.” Accessed April 25, 2024.
  8. WHYY, “Solarize Philly plans to help put solar panels on hundreds more Philly roofs by 2026.” Accessed April 25, 2024.
  9. Pennsylvania Code & Bulletin, “Subchapter B. Net Metering.” Accessed April 25, 2024.
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