Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
Whether you're interested in solar panels because you want to fulfill your carbon-footprint-shrinking, sustainable-living dreams or simply because you envy solar users who can brag about their diminishing electrical expenses, an important place to start is to learn about the price of solar.
The Price of Solar
With its many benefits, it is clear to see why so many people are choosing to install solar panels right now. What is less talked about, however, is how people should make specific financial decisions to get panels on their roof.
In this article, we're going to be looking at what goes into the price of solar systems and how prices should be analyzed in the first place as you are researching companies and receiving quotes.
What is Price Per Watt (PPW)?
With solar, it is essential to take things one step at a time, so when it comes to price, we need to break down the grand total and start with price per watt (PPW).
Often, those in the market for solar focus on the total price of a system. To an extent, this makes sense, because a total price is important for planning. It can be helpful to see how a company’s offer compares to how much you’re willing and able to pay.
However, when you're solely zoned in on solar's overall price, you've skipped several necessary steps that are going to empower you to make a wise financial decision.
Even analyzing a panel's wattage is an inferior metric to PPW because it doesn't factor in price. PPW is simply the cost of the solar system divided by the total wattage.
Although most solar companies claim to be "affordable," they don't emphasize (and often neglect to share) their average PPW. For many companies, PPW is incredibly variable and overpriced since solar salespeople are typically incentivized by commissions to charge as much as possible as long as they stay under what a customer is paying for utilities.
These abusive sales strategies are at the root of the confusion and lack of transparency that has created distrust between the solar industry and consumers.
Why PPW is Useful
Keeping this context in mind, it is important to remember PPW. No matter the size of your system, PPW will be an accurate and helpful metric to use for comparison.
You can think of PPW as an equalizer—a way to analyze the value of systems built with different equipment. For example, a system with higher wattage may seem like a better option, but when looking at PPW, you can discern that lower wattage panels could be the more cost-effective choice (if you have room for more panels).
Price of Materials
Now that we have covered the importance of PPW, we're going to look at specific parts of a solar system and their prices so that you can understand what contributes to your PPW.
The Price of Panels
Up until now, perhaps solar panels have all seemed pretty similar. Here, we'll go through some of the differences between panels (such as the technology used, aesthetic, build quality, warranty, and wattage) which influence their pricing.
There are two main types of solar panel technology—monocrystalline and polycrystalline.
Monocrystalline panels are generally more expensive and more efficient than polycrystalline panels. By more efficient, we mean that there is more energy for a given surface area.
High-efficiency panels come in many different styles, whether they are all black, have a blue tint, or have a white diamond grid.
Polycrystalline panels are typically a blue-ish hue while monocrystalline are more commonly black--we recommend monocrystalline panels, as they're generally more efficient.
Generally, all-black panels are preferred when it comes to appearance, and they can be more expensive, especially when sourcing by yourself without large volume discounts. At Project Solar, however, this preferred aesthetic is our default panel.
Although panels can cost a pretty penny, when they are Tier 1 quality, they will have a 25-year product and performance warranties, which will guarantee over 80% of the original wattage value by year 25 (and cover any material defects). Most panels continue to function well after the 25-year mark, which is also a plus.
It is important to consider warranty when looking at price because cheaper panels will usually have shorter warranties, but you won't regret a solid 25-year guarantee even if it comes at a slightly higher price.
You can't go wrong with a respected and established brand that will supply quality materials and be around long enough to live up to its warranties. Some brands who live up to their excellent reputations include Q Cells, Jinko, Aptos, Silfab, LG, and Canadian Solar.
All of these manufacturers have high-quality builds rated to IEC 61215, the industry gold standard. With these ratings, you can rest easy knowing that your panels should be able to withstand wind, snow, and rain without issue.
All panels are given a watt rating which tells you how much energy your panel will generate in an hour of direct sunlight. For residential solar, most panels are in the range of 290-450 watts.
Watt ratings can be converted into a metric that shows the efficiency of the panel by taking into consideration the total size of the panel and the watt rating. Most panels are somewhere between 15-21% efficient. However, given that the majority of residential roof panels are the same size, the wattage is an easier metric to compare.
Wattage and efficiency, because of their connection, are often interchanged when comparing the production output of the panel.
Panels With Project Solar
Currently, Project Solar's default panels are around 400W. The quote that you receive through our solar quote calculator reflects the cost of these panels (and other necessary equipment). You can view our full pricing model here.
The Price of Racking
A solar racking system is needed to securely fix solar panels to a roof. The cost of racking only makes up a small percentage of a solar system's total cost. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), solar racking should cost approximately $0.10 per Watt (W).
Project Solar uses Iron Ridge Flush Mount Systems in their solar builds.
|Name: Iron Ridge Flush Mount System
|Rating: UL 2703
|Warranty: 25 years
|Engineering documents: YES
|Roof Type: Shingle & Tile
|Wind rating: 90-120*
|Snow: 0-40 PSF*
The Price of Batteries
To buy a battery or not to buy a battery? That is the question.
Energy storage options for solar are excellent examples of why it is important to think through price.
Batteries appeal to buyers because homeowners naturally want to be able to store and ultimately use the power their panels are producing.
When the sun is shining, the panels produce electricity that can be directly used by the home. However, when the sun isn't shining, homeowners are often using more energy than during peak hours of sunlight because of how people typically schedule their day's activities.
Batteries are a solution to this issue because they can store unused energy collected during the day and then allow you to use it at night.
However, battery options are not cheap.
If you want to generally estimate how much battery capacity you will need, keep in mind that for every 5 kW of solar, you need about 10 kWh of storage. This number may be affected by other factors like amp load of heavy-duty equipment, especially on single 10 kWh battery systems.
At Project Solar, we offer Enphase IQ 5P batteries or the Tesla Powerwall 2 with the following pricing:
DIY Pricing (Before Any Incentives)
Full-Service Install Pricing (Before Any Incentives
First Enphase IQ 5P Battery + 1 System Controller (Backup Configuration)
Each Additional IQ 5P Battery (Backup Configuration)
First Enphase IQ 5P Battery (Consumption Offset Configuration)*
Each Additional IQ 5P Battery (Consumption Offset Configuration)*
First Tesla Powerwall 2
Each Additional Tesla Powerwall 2
Enphase's IQ 5P has a maximum power rating of 3.84kW and a 5.0kWh capacity. You can install up to 16 IQ 5P batteries, and they include an industry-leading 15-year/6,000-cycle warranty.
The Powerwall 2 has a maximum power rating of 5 kW and 13.5 kWh of usable capacity. It is modular, so if you want more storage, you can simply purchase multiple units. It also comes with a 10-year warranty.
Before you put money down to include batteries in your system, look into your location’s net metering rates. Net metering is another solution to the nighttime power problem; even though you wouldn't be able to store your panels’ unused energy (the way you would with a battery), the excess energy is sent to the utility company or “the grid."
In return for this excess generation, you can receive a credit from your utility company. This credit will help offset the times you need to pull from the grid because your panels aren't producing electricity.
If you’re still curious about storage options, check out Project Solar's article on solar batteries.
The Cost of Inverters
Alongside the panels and storage possibilities, we'll now look at price differences between inverters for your solar system.
If you’re new to solar, you may be wondering what role an inverter plays in a system.
The sunlight’s energy is converted to DC (direct current) electrical energy when it hits a solar panel. That DC energy is then converted to AC (alternating current) so that your home can use the energy being collected.
Inverters convert the sun’s energy into usable energy, track the panels’ stats, and are paired with the brains of the system. The two most common types of inverters offered by companies are string inverters and microinverters.
The types (or type) of inverters that a company offers is important to consider because string inverters may initially come at a lower price, but microinverters can help systems function more efficiently.
If you’ve heard complaints of malfunctioning or low-performing systems, it is likely that a string inverter was at the root of those problems. Solar systems typically used string inverters in the past, and companies like Tesla continue to use them.
However, a string inverter hooks up all panels to a single point of control, so like a string of Christmas lights, if there is a single problem with one of the system’s parts, it will affect the performance of the whole system.
These finicky inverters typically only come with 10–12 year warranties which can leave buyers out of luck and frustrated less than halfway through their panels’ warranty.
Microinverters, on the other hand, are generally preferred when considering performance and warranty. Although they come at a higher price, many solar users find microinverters worth the cost since it saves them from dealing with a low-performing system or purchasing replacements down the road.
Unlike string inverters, microinverter systems have an inverter on each panel, so if one panel is shaded or malfunctioning, the rest of the system can effectively operate regardless.
Microinverters give panel-level visibility and functionality. Enphase systems are paired with a combiner box and an Envoy system (the brain of the solar system).
Top microinverter manufacturers, such as Enphase, offer clients full refunds or replacements on their inverters for 25 years. With such a solid warranty, quality microinverters can relieve anxiety and ultimately enhance the performance of an entire solar system.
Enphase is widely regarded as the best of the best when it comes to microinverters, so this is what Project Solar offers its customers.
When it comes to price, microinverters are typically $1,000 or so more expensive than a string inverter on a standard 5kW residential solar installation. Fortunately, Project Solar already has the lowest price in solar, due to our no-commission sales model, which offsets this.
Maintenance and Warranties
Once you have paid for your panels and they're installed, there aren't many costs that are going to surprise you down the road.
As mentioned previously, your panels will most likely have a production warranty--Project Solar's production warranty guarantees modules will produce at more than 80% of their life after 25 years.
If there are any issues within that time frame, you should be able to have them taken care of free of charge.
If there is an issue with the installation of the panels, most installers offer warranties. Project Solar, for example, requires their installers to offer 10-year warranties.
To sum it up, once you're installed, you will usually just start to benefit and save money from your panels—the big costs are out of the way.
There are a few exceptions. For example, if you plan on repairing your roof at any point while you have panels up, you would have to remove and reinstall the panels or pay to have that done.
Once panels have reached the end of their 25-year warranty production warranty, they can continue to function for several years, but when you want to replace your system, you will receive a new warranty from your installers and manufacturing company.
For microinverters, Enphase provides 25-year warranties (double the projected lifespan of string inverters, including those of Tesla, which have 12.5-year warranties) and fantastic customer support. To review Enphase warranty information further, click here.
In the event of a microinverter issue within the first 10 years, a new one will be installed at no cost for full-service Project Solar customers through the partnered installer. After 10 years, you can either swap the warrantied part yourself or hire a handyman.
For more information on warranties with Project Solar, check out our blog post.
Where to Go From Here
We understand that choosing solar panels is a process. While you want to use quality equipment, you also want to get the best bang for your buck by saving money when you can.
As you make decisions, remember to use PPW as the metric for comparison. Also, consider the options you have when it comes to panels, inverters, and energy storage/net metering so that you can confidently take on your search for solar, knowing what you want and the costs that'll come.
With this in mind, you'll be able to get the solar you want on your roof for a price that makes sense.