I often get the question: how much do solar panels cost? On the surface, it seems like a pretty straightforward question, with an answer that is easily attainable. However, the concept of “cost” includes much more than the sticker price of a few solar panels. When considering any alternative energy project, you need to consider the materials cost, the installation cost, maintenance cost, and energy savings. You should also think about the added value to your home or building.
In short, there is no direct, simple answer.
Turning first to materials cost, plan on an investment of about $6-9 per watt of solar energy (the higher end, if you are paying for installation). The size of your house is largely irrelevant, but you’ll need to look at your recent electric bills and decide how much energy you use in a given month (on average) and how much direct sunlight you get. A rough range for upfront costs, including installation, for solar panels, inverter box, wiring, etc., is approximately $30-40,000 for a single family house, if you are looking to entire replace grid-based electricity with solar energy. Your particular needs may range higher or lower. You could also experiment with a do-it-yourself solar panel system, which is explored in another post. Be sure to shop around to get the best bids for a solar panel system, if you are buying from a retailer.
The initial cost does not take into consideration any tax rebates or other incentives, which can save you up to 80% of the overall cost. Even with an 80% discount, many people might still believe that spending $5000-10,000 on solar panels is too rich for their blood. So let’s turn now to maintenance cost and energy savings. Taking these into consideration, along with the increased value of a building with solar panels vs. one without, your investment could be recouped in about 5-8 years. Stay in your house longer than that, and you’re paying yourself:
Buy installing solar panels, you guard against energy rate increases in years ahead. You also have the security of an energy source during times that the grid is down. When you consider that your savings in electricity bills will pay for your system in less than 10 years, you’ll recoup your investment about 3 times over during the solar panels’ lifetime.
The added value to your home as a result of installing solar panels is fairly easy to calculate, using an appraisal tool that has been reliable for the past 30 years. The Appraisal Journal states that, in the United States, value rises about $20 for every $1 decrease in energy costs. Thus, if your utility bills run you $500 a year (and you save that much), your home is increased in value by about $10,000. All of a sudden, the question of how much do solar panels cost becomes a lot less daunting.
Of course, for those that are interested in more than just saving energy, you can hardly put a price on the positive feelings associated with environmental stewardship. Doing your part to reduce your carbon footprint is a benefit that you can pass onto the next generation – with or without your home.
So next time you find yourself wondering how much solar panels cost, be sure to take into account the number of positive benefits that go beyond the price tag. You’ll be seeing the light soon!