You’ve probably heard about how solar energy can reduce your electricity bills, but how much do solar panels really cost? The easiest way to calculate the average cost of solar panels is to look at its price in dollars per watt, which is relatively consistent across the United States.
How much do solar panels cost?
As of early 2017, most U.S homeowners are paying $3 to $4 per watt to install a solar panel system, and the average cost per watt in the U.S. is $3.36 per watt. Using the national average for PV system size at 5 kW (or 5000 watts), the average cost of solar: $11,760 (after the Federal ITC discount).
That’s nine percent lower than it was a year ago, and solar panel system costs are continuing to fall. However, to really understand what a single solar panel will cost and what a complete solar system will cost, it’s important to compare prices quoted to homeowners in your area – total costs can vary depending on the state that you live in.
Average cost of solar panels based on system size
Knowing the average cost per watt is helpful, but what does $3.57/watt actually mean for you? The cost of installing solar on your home or business depends on how much electricity you want to generate – a bigger system will cost more, because you’ll need to buy more equipment and more labor will be needed to install it.
The average solar energy system size in the U.S is approximately 5 kilowatts (kW). Based on the average price of $3.57/watt, a 5kW system would cost $12,500 after tax credits. Below are some average 2015 quotes for other solar energy systems by size:
- 6kW solar energy system cost: $15,000
- 8kW solar energy system cost: $20,000
- 10kW solar energy system cost: $25,000
These prices reflect the cost of a solar energy system after deducting the federal solar tax credit, which reduces your solar system cost by 30 percent. Some states, local governments, and utilities also offer rebates and other tax incentives that can further reduce the solar system costs in your quotes from solar installers.
The price of solar panels will also vary from state to state. EnergySage analyzed quote data from the EnergySage Solar Marketplace to develop a range of solar panel system prices for top solar states:
|State||Solar system price range (6 kW)||Solar system price range (10 kW)|
|Arizona||$10,900 – $16,300||$18,100 – $27,100|
|California||$13,700 – $17,500||$22,800 – $29,200|
|Colorado||$12,800 – $16,500||$21,400 – $27,500|
|Connecticut||$14,100 – $18,400||$23,500 – $30,700|
|Florida||$10,800 – $15,200||$18,100 – $25,300|
|Illinois||$13,200 – $17,200||$21,900 – $28,700|
|Maryland||$12,600 – $15,500||$21,000 – $25,800|
|Massachusetts||$14,500 – $18,600||$24,200 – $31,000|
|New Hampshire||$14,500 – $17,500||$24,200 – $29,200|
|New Jersey||$12,700 – $13,400||$21,200 – $27,300|
|New York||$13,500 – $19,200||$22,400 – $32,000|
|North Carolina||$12,900 – $16,300||$21,400 – $27,100|
|Ohio||$11,900 – $16,000||$19,900 – $26,600|
|Oregon||$13,200 – $17,000||$22,000 – $28,300|
|Pennsylvania||$12,400 – $16,600||$20,600 – $27,700|
|Rhode Island||$14,500 – $18,100||$24,200 – $30,200|
|South Carolina||$13,300 – $16,200||$22,100 – $27,000|
|Texas||$11,800 – $15,300||$19,700 – $25,600|
|Virginia||$13,100 – $17,400||$21,900 – $29,000|
|Washington||$15,100 – $19,700||$25,100 – $32,800|
NOTE: These ranges are system prices after the 30 percent federal tax credit for solar.
Remember, while bigger systems may cost more, they also should result in more savings. If you need to install a 10kW solar energy system to cover all of your electricity use, you might have to pay more out of pocket, but you’ll be cutting a significant monthly expense – your utility bill – and saving more money as a result. $0-down, low-interest solar loans are becoming increasingly common, making it even easier to buy a solar panel system and maximize your solar savings. For more information about the average cost to go solar in both these and other states, you can compare prices and installers across the country for 3.5kW, 4.5kW, 5kW, 6kW, 7 kW, 8 kW and 10kW solar systems.
Solar energy installation cost by state (dollars per watt)
As interesting as it is to look at average solar panel cost in the United States, it’s also very helpful to understand what solar will cost in each state. Prices can vary significantly depending on where you live. A number of factors impact this variation – one of the most influential is the cost of electricity. That’s one reason for why Florida’s average solar cost is so much lower than the cost of solar in Massachusetts – electricity costs in the Northeast are high when compared to the rest of the U.S. Take a look at the table below, which contains average prices by state in 2015. (Note that, as mentioned above, the average national price is $0.13 lower in 2016.)
EnergySage data. Source: Solar Electric Power Association, 2015 Market Snapshot | PV System Price Quotes from Selected States
The biggest takeaway from this data isn’t that some states are “better” than others when it comes to solar prices: it’s that solar panel cost is low and affordable across the board. Almost every state falls within a $0.40 cent margin of the $3.70 national average for 2015. An additional takeaway is that many of the top 10 solar states in the U.S. for installed capacity are higher than the national average for cost per watt (including the nation’s leader California). Clearly, solar isn’t only worth it in the regions of the United States where costs are extremely low – there is a healthy trend of adoption across the states without direct correlation to lowest cost per watt.
How much does a single solar panel cost?
Many homeowners are wondering how much a single solar panel costs as a way to understand the overall breakdown of their system or to calculate estimates for DIY solar projects. The simple answer is that it depends on the amount of leverage a buyer has, the type of panel, and the size of the system. For example, because solar installers have direct relationships with distributors and can buy in bulk, they can often purchase solar panels at a rate much lower than the average consumer. Solar companies can typically get a single solar panel at a price of $0.75 per watt. Therefore, if the solar panel output is 250 watts, that single panel might cost you $187.50. However, if a homeowner is trying to buy one or two panels on their own for a small DIY project, they will likely pay closer to $1 per watt. That means the same solar panel could cost closer to $250.
For those looking for a range for the cost of solar panels, the cost will run from as low as $0.85 per watt to $1.25 per watt with output ranging from 150W to 350W for a typical solar panel. If those numbers seem low, remember that an installation has added costs thanks to the inverters, solar batteries and other additional equipment needed for a complete solar energy system. Overall, there’s no question that the equipment will be significantly cheaper when working with a solar installer rather than trying to find a deal online as a consumer.
Factors that impact the cost of solar panel installation
A home solar quote contains the all-in price that you’ll be expected to pay when you install a solar energy system on your roof. As you start to explore solar offers for your home, you’ll notice that there are pricing variations between installers – what are the factors that make up the cost of your solar energy system?
First, there’s the equipment. Not all solar panels (or inverters) are created equal, and more efficient equipment comes with a higher price tag. More efficient, higher-quality equipment comes with benefits that may be worth the added cost, however: better hardware can produce more electricity with the same amount of sunlight, and often comes with a more comprehensive warranty, too.
While equipment costs make up a significant portion of your solar energy system quote, the cost of permits and labor are also a factor. Typically, you will have to pay a fee to get your solar energy system connected to the grid. Additionally, there’s a significant amount of manpower required to take your solar idea to a reality – designing a system, coordinating a site visit, filing permits, and installing the solar panels all take time and cost money.
The characteristics of your home can also play a part in your total costs. If you have a south-facing roof that slopes at a 30-degree angle, installing solar on your home will be very easy, because there are no additional accommodations to be made. Conversely, if your roof has multiple levels, dormers, or skylights, the additional effort to finish the installation may bring (slight) additional costs.
Another factor that can increase the cost of your solar energy system is marketing and sales spending. Solar installers spend money trying to attract customers, whether through phone calls, door-to-door salespeople, flyers, or other forms of direct advertising. Luckily, this is a cost you can control: by using an online comparison-shopping platform like the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can lower the costs your installer would otherwise incur by trying to market to you.
How much can you save with solar?
So how much are your neighbors actually saving over 20 years as a result of installing a solar energy system? As you might expect, this depends on where you live. For example, homeowners will save about $38,000 on average in Boston when they go solar. In Los Angeles, homeowners will save nearly $22,000 on average, and in Portland, homeowners can save a whopping $43,000 over 20 years.
Top cities for 20-year solar savings in 2015
Your solar panel payback period will also depend on where you live. The average U.S. household can break even on their solar energy system in just 7.5 years, but in many cities that number is even lower – Portland, Seattle, Washington DC, and Boston all have payback periods of four years or less.
Many factors impact how much you’ll pay out of pocket for your solar panel system and how much you’ll save. The best way to quickly understand how much a solar panel installation will cost for you is to use a Solar Calculator – this tool uses your electricity consumption and real-time market prices to develop an instant solar estimate. Once ready, get quotes from multiple providers to compare all of your options and determine which one is best for you.
More information about solar panel costs & savings
- PVWatts Calculator: Estimate how much electricity your home can produce with solar.
- Tax Tips for Energy Savers: Learn more about the tax credits available for solar panels and other renewable energy systems.
- Solar PV Technology Basics: The Department of Energy’s guide to solar energy system components.