Last updated on October 22nd, 2019
I installed my own Solar power system in 1998 at a time when there was no one to help you. Not even the local electric utility had heard of solar power for the home.
You can read all the gruesome details of my 1998 install by clicking here.
I am going to tell you exactly how to get your solar power system for 1/2 to 1/4 the going rate. A no you do not have to supply the labor yourself. You will be hiring licensed contractors to do the work.
For the moment I am going to assume you want a 4000 watt system but the pricing works for larger systems too.
Additionally, I assuming here that you do not want batteries. If you want a system with batteries read this article too.
All-in 4000 watt solar power system
(Assumes you have a normal composite shingle roof or other simple roof)
$5465 4000 watts of solar panels & Inverter $1000 roof mount rail system $4000 design, paperwork, installation $500 shipping -$3290 federal rebate (available in 2018) ------ $7,675
Wow, did you just pay $7,675 rather than $17,500 or $35,000? Indeed you did.
Also keep in mind the design & install part is a very rough estimate, you will likely pay less unless your local municipalities charges high fees for permits.
Make sure the company you buy from is good for a 20 year warranty
If you are being offered a 20 year warranty you had better hope the company that makes the parts will be around in 20 years.
I suggest Kyocera solar panels. Kyocera, a Japanese company, has been in the business of making solar panels for 20+ years.
I suggest SMA Sunnyboy inverters. SMA, a German company, has been in the business of making inverters for 20+ years.
Much lower labor costs today
Back in 1998 installing a home solar power system required a lot of labor. However today you drill a few holes and the systems are snap together including the electrical components. It is almost entirely plug and play.
It generally takes 2 or 3 people one day (8 hours) to install the panels on the roof and connect the panels together. Wiring the inverter into the electrical panel of your house generally takes 2 to 4 hours.
That is really as complicated as it is.
Except for one thing. You must work with the local power utility and maybe your local planning commission to get a permit to connect your solar power system to the power panel of your house. And sometimes you need a permit to add the panels to your roof.
Most cities, towns, and counties have streamlined these processes and it is usually pretty easy.
click here for the step by step process of what you need to do.
What if I need a bigger system?
As long as you have the space on your roof (or the ground) and an appropriate view of the sun the pricing is pretty consistent
before rebate: after rebate 4000 watt system & install : $11,000 : $7,675 6000 watt system & install : $15,000 : $10,500 8000 watt system & install : $20,000 : $14,000
What size system do I need?
For a low cost system you do not need to generate 100% of your power. It is generally cheaper to generate most of your power and rely on the local power company for the rest.
Here is a rough way to calculate your solar system size.
Find out your average monthly power usage in kilo Watt hours (kWh).
Let us assume it is 900 kWh per month.
Thus you want your home solar power system to generate 900 or so kWh per month.
Roughly speaking (depends on the weather and the latitude at which you live)
theoretical maximum power out: 4000 watt system: 720 kWh / month 6000 watt system: 1080 kWh / month 8000 watt system: 1440 kWh / month
What if I want to finance my system?
The lowest cost way to finance your system is for you to get a home equity loan.
Just go to your local bank and tell them what you want to do.
If you have at least some equity in your home you should have no trouble arranging a no down payment loan or equity line at a low interest rate.
I would suggest a 3 to 5 year term for the loan. You might arrange the loan to match your current average monthly electrical bill payment.
$225 per month will pay off a $8000 after rebate system in about 40 months. $133 per month will pay off a $8000 after rebate system in about 68 months.
Doesn’t it take 11 years to break even on a home power system?
Only if you pay way too much for your system.
Your break even on the systems described above is probably in the 2 to 5 year range.
What about paying for power (PPA) or other financing deals?
If you can read your way through the terms, generally 10 to 20 pages of small print, you will find these “creative” terms are in the end just expensive financing deals.
Get a home equity loan yourself. You will pay less.
Do I get a 30% tax credit from the government?
Generally yes, though it depends on your exact tax situation.
The various tax credit and rebate programs vary year to year.
In 2018 & 2019 you can get a 30% tax credit from the federal government on the cost of your system including parts and labor.
Your state may provide additional rebates or tax credits.
The federal tax credit allows you to deduct the credit from your federal taxes due. If you do not owe enough federal tax in one year you can roll over the credit from year to year until you have recovered the full amount of the credit.
A big part of solar energy production in the home is Net Metering
Some times your solar electric system generates too much power and some times too little.
In those cases you use the local electrical utility like a giant battery. When you produce too much it is delivered to the local utility and when you do not produce enough the local utility delivers the needed electricity to you.
In most states, you only pay the utility for electricity if over a year you use more from the utility than you produce.
Over one year you produce 10,000 kWh but consume 11,000 kWh. In this case you will pay the utility for 1,000 kWh.
On the other hand, if you produce 10,000 kWh but consume 9,000 kWh you pay nothing to the utility and sadly in most states the utility pays nothing for the extra 1,000 kWh you delivered to them. I know it is not fair, but it the way it works in many states. Though your state may be different.
Generally the day your solar power system goes online is the day you and your power company reconcile your power generation verses your power consumption.
Some utilities bill for overages monthly but still ultimately reconcile on the anniversary of your power on date.
This leads to a single complication with many utilities.
This only applies if you generate less than 100% of your own energy.
If you generate excess power you generally have the greatest “credit” near the end of the summer and the least “credit” or a “debt” near the end of winter.
Often you lose the excess energy you have with the utility on your anniversary date.
This is purely an administrative loss imposed by the utility. You can think of it as a cost of doing business with them. Not all utilities do this, but some do.
If this concerns you you can minimize this cost by arranging for your power on date to be in late summer or early fall. This means you will have to wait to have the final connection done until then.
So what do I do now?
Click here for a step by step guide.