There’s no denying that installing a solar system is a significant investment. But the payback can be great even if the installation cost is high. You’ll also be helping the environment while taking advantage of some pretty powerful tax savings.
But no matter how great the investment is in the long-term, it can be difficult to take that initial leap on a big-ticket item. That’s why we’ve assembled a list of things to consider when you’re looking to get the best deal on your solar system.
Overall, the price of your solar system is going to depend on what type of equipment you install, how large your solar system is, and what incentives are available. How long it takes to reach payback, and how much money it saves you depends on how much you’d otherwise be spending to buy electricity from your utility company.
Solar is a long-term investment, with some solar panel manufacturers guaranteeing their products to last 25 to 30 years. So when deciding whether or not to invest in solar energy, you need to take a look at what is best in the long term, not just the short term.
Our tips for getting the best price on your solar installation
Focus On How Much Energy You Need
One of the first things a solar installation company is going to do is ask to see your electricity bill. Electricity bills have information that’s essential to determine what size solar system you need.
Solar systems aren’t based on building size or roof space, although these are important factors. Solar systems are based on the amount of electricity your building uses, which varies depending on your energy consumption habits.
Your solar installer uses your bill to determine how much electricity you use on an average monthly basis. Then, they’ll talk to you about how much of that usage can be covered in a manner that makes economic sense for you. The closer you get to covering 100% of your energy usage, the less you’ll have to pay on your monthly electric bill.
However, not every solar system needs to cover 100% of a building’s energy usage in order for it to be a great investment. You may prefer to keep installation costs low and opt for a smaller system, or you may be limited in size due to the available installation area.
Either way, taking the time to determine what size system you need is essential to getting the price that is right for you.
Be Selective About the Equipment
It can be tempting to opt for the least expensive options when selecting equipment to keep your installation cost low. For some people, this may be the best option. However, you should be aware of the potential long-term implications.
Quality craftsmanship and cutting-edge technology cost money, and solar manufacturers recoup that by charging more for their products. In return, customers often get a product that’s more efficient, meaning the solar system produces more electricity, and they get a product that’s protected with better warranties.
When it comes to solar panels specifically, some high-quality brands will guarantee their products for up to 30 years and often have higher efficiency ratings. They’re more likely to have a slower degradation rate, meaning they’ll continue producing higher rates of electricity longer than budget brands.
Solar inverters, another major component of a solar system, are what convert the DC electricity generated by the solar panels into the AC electricity you can use in your home or business. The inverter is the part of the solar system that’s most likely to fail first. Mid- to high-end brands will offer inverters with warranties of up to 12 to 25 years.
So while budget brands may seem like a good deal upfront, you may end up paying more in the long run in the event you need to replace them on your dime, should the equipment and warranties not hold up. In the end, it’s about going with what you’re most comfortable with. Either option can provide great benefits for solar owners.
Get Multiple Quotes, and Evaluate Them Properly
One of the best ways to ensure you’re getting a fair price for any service is to shop around. Reach out to a few local solar installers for quotes (we suggest up to three) and see how they compare. However, it’s important to remember that it’s about overall quality, not the lowest price.
Be sure to take a look at the installer as a whole when selecting an installer. That includes examining their experience, certifications, company values, and what others who have worked with them are saying.
Not all installers will design the same system with the same parts, meaning there will likely be some price variations in the quotes you receive. So, it's important to make sure you know how to evaluate a solar quote to make sure you're comparing apples to apples.
Take Advantage of All the Grants and Incentives You Can
Grants and incentives can do wonders in reducing the price of your solar installation. Your solar installer should apply for all those available to you on your behalf. These will vary based on whether or not you pay taxes, your local government and utility, and whether or not your system is installed at a home, business, or farm.
One of the most popular and widely available is the Solar Investment Tax Credit from the federal government. If you pay federal taxes, you are eligible for a tax credit for 26% of the total cost of your solar system. If your system cost $25k, you'll be able to recoup $6.5K from the federal taxes you owe. However, that 26% will drop to 22% in 2021.
Another popular incentive is accelerated depreciation. This allows businesses to accelerate all the tax benefits from the depreciation of the solar system to year one, further front-loading the solar investment.
If you are a farm or business in a rural area, you may also qualify for a USDA REAP Grant. While highly competitive, these grants can cover up to 25% of the solar system’s cost.
Pro tip: ask the installers about their grant writing process and their success rate. Make sure to partner with a solar installer that has a track record of success.
Depending on your state or local government, there may be additional incentives you could qualify for. Some utility companies also offer incentives to make going solar less expensive.
Be Practical About Energy Storage
It may be surprising, but your grid-tied solar system won’t work during a power outage. If the electric grid goes down, your solar system is automatically shut off for safety reasons until utility workers can fix the issue and bring the grid back online.
Solar batteries offer a way around this. They give you the potential to store energy generated by your solar system off-grid, making it available at any time - even when the grid goes down, the lights go off, and you need it most.
However, for all the peace-of-mind a back-up energy system provides, it won’t make or save you money. If price is a major concern when going solar, you may want to skip or hold off on installing batteries.
Though they have come down in price in recent years and are increasing in popularity, one 9.8 kWh battery could cost around $15,000 with installation, before incentives. Unlike spending that extra money on a larger system or higher-quality equipment, a solar battery won’t do too much to help your bottom line, unless you’re looking to use them for peak demand shaving at you business.
If this additional cost isn’t practical when first installing your system, you can always go back and add an energy storage system onto your existing solar system at a later date. Just make sure your installer is aware of this goal before they provide a quote, as it could impact some of the equipment they use.
Is it Worth it to Install Solar Yourself?
Installing solar yourself may seem like a great way to just about eliminate a large portion of the cost of going solar. However, we strongly advise against this.
Even if you’re confident in your abilities and found a great how-to on the internet, installing solar requires working with live electrical wires often on the roofs of buildings. This gives installing solar the potential to be extremely dangerous for anyone who isn’t a certified, well-trained solar installation professional. And on top of being a threat to your safety, incorrectly installed panels or wirings could pose a fire risk down the road.
There’s quite a bit to think about and prepare before even beginning your installation. Doing it yourself means you’ll have to design your system and apply for all the permits and request interconnection permission from your utility company, which can be a difficult and time-consuming endeavor.
Another reason why installing solar yourself isn’t a good idea is because you could void your solar equipment warranties. If the equipment isn’t installed to the manufacturer’s specifications, you’ll be out of luck should something go wrong.
There’s no denying that going solar requires a significant upfront investment. But from choosing the right design and components to working with a company that provides good service and helps you navigate all the incentives available to you, there are ways to ensure you’re getting the best price for your solar system.
The good news is you only have to pay the installation cost once, and you’ll have 25 to 30 or more years of free electricity in return.