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Residential solar panels: what to know about solar panels for your home

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The past decade has engendered the era of solar panels for home use. Homes and businesses across the country are transitioning away from a fossil-fueled electricity grid towards a clean energy economy, necessitated by emissions reduction targets in a time of global climate change. Amidst this period of energy reform, rooftop solar panel systems for houses are taking off at a remarkable rate. It’s time to give residential solar the credit it deserves. Learn everything there is to know about the booming residential solar industry in our list of home solar FAQs.

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Everything you need to know about home solar panel systems in 10 questions

1. How much has the price of solar for residential dropped in recent years?

If you’re an optimist looking for feel-good statistics, the cost of solar electricity in the past decade is a great place to start. U.S. solar installation cost has dropped by around 70 percent over the past 10 years. In the last year alone, the residential market saw a five percent decrease in cost. There’s no question that solar has evolved from a cleantech commodity to a sensible home upgrade that millions of Americans are considering in 2020. Getting solar panels on your roof is one of the smartest decisions you can make in today’s age.

2. What is the difference between solar for business and solar for home use?

A commercial solar project might power a town or a company’s operations. As a result, they vary dramatically in terms of scale and cost. By comparison, residential solar systems tend to hold a consistent size (6 kilowatts on average). Thanks to their relatively small scale, rooftop solar panels for home are an attainable energy upgrade that can generate serious electric bill savings for homeowners at any income level. Commercial solar, on the other hand, necessitates a major investment and a collective group of investors.

3. What do residential solar panel systems typically cost?

The answer to this question depends on state and system size. However, there is data that can help you estimate what solar panels cost in 2020 in the U.S. The easiest way to calculate cost of solar electricity across different system sizes is in dollars per watt ($/W), which indicates how many dollars solar will cost per watt of available electricity production. In 2019, homeowners are paying an average of $2.91/W. To put that figure in perspective, in 2008 the average cost of solar was just over $8/W. For an average 6kW system, a price of $2.91/W means you’ll pay approximately $17,460 before tax credits and rebates in 2020.

4. Will my solar panels be connected to the grid? What is net metering?

The vast majority of home solar systems will be connected to the grid. With grid-connected solar, net-metering serves as an efficient solution to the question “how will I power my solar home at night?” Net metering is a solar incentive where you receive bill credits when your solar system overproduces electricity. During times when your panels aren’t producing enough electricity, you can use those bill credits to cover the cost of your grid electricity use.

If you are off-grid, you won’t have access to electricity from your utility. This means that, in order to build a completely off-grid project, you will need energy storage capabilities, an extra-large solar panel system, and provisions for backup power to cover you when your panels don’t get enough sun.

5. How long does a residential rooftop solar system take to install?

Once you have met with the installers and done all necessary site visits and planning, the actual installation of your home solar system will only take a few days of work. The exact time depends on a number of factors. For example, if you are setting up net metering, that process will tack on additional time until your panels are properly connected to the grid. Overall, while the decision process for solar panels can take some time, the installation timeframe is very quick and fairly simple.

6. Can you get a solar panel system for your home if your roof doesn’t qualify?

Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of the residential solar sector is the list of options for homeowners who want to go solar but do not have a suitable roof. Ground mount solar installations and community solar gardens are two common ways to access power from the sun without actually installing anything on your rooftop. Community solar involves connecting with members of a group or your neighborhood to share a solar system, while ground-mounted arrays are an easy way to own and install your own system while bypassing any roofing hurdles.

7. What are the tax credits for residential home solar systems? Who qualifies?

There are two simple ways to think about tax credits for solar panels. The major tax credit associated with solar panels for home is the federal investment tax credit (ITC), more commonly known as the solar tax credit. The ITC gives you a tax credit equal to 26 percent of the total cost of your system, as long as you buy the system. The next option will be state solar tax credits, such as New York state’s tax credit that cuts an additional 25 percent off the price of the residential system. Depending on which state you live in, the opportunity for beneficial tax breaks and solar programs could be significant. Some states and municipalities also offer other more complex options that will be case-specific – do some research into SRECs and other location-specific solar rebate programs.

8. Does solar make sense if I don’t plan on being in my home for 25 years?

A common concern for homeowners who are considering solar is, “What happens if I move after installing solar panels?” A typical solar panel system lasts for 25 to 30 years. If you don’t plan on owning their house for that long, you may wonder if solar still makes sense. The good news is that solar increases the value of your property and can actually expedite the process of selling the property when the time comes. The housing market is filled with buyers excited by the prospect of acquiring a solar home that comes with the benefit of zero utility bills. 

9. What percentage of your home can you power with solar electricity?

Ideally, the answer to this question would be 100 percent. However, although a solar panel system can theoretically offset all of your energy use, it’s not realistic to expect that level of panel production every day of the week. Leading U.S. solar manufacturer SunPower recommends that homeowners factor in a 25 percent cushion when calculating their target for solar panel offset. The main reason for this: solar panels cannot operate at maximum efficiency all the time. There will be certain days when grid connection is necessary to fully cover your power usage. However, the beauty of net-metering is that you can benefit from surplus production days and never pay anything to your utility while still relying on the grid for backup storage.

10. When will your home solar system reach the “break-even point”?

Many homeowners are very interested in calculating their solar panel payback period, which is the amount of time it will take for electric bill savings to offset the cost of solar panel installation. The expected breakeven point ranges across the country, but on average, U.S. homeowners break even on their system cost after about 8 years.

Figures like this illustrate why the residential sector might be the hottest in the solar industry. When solar panels are installed for home, the ROI is high and the payback period can be very short despite the upfront cost. If you’re looking for a personalized estimate for what solar would cost you, try our free Solar Calculator. Once you’re ready to start comparing quotes from local, pre-screened installers in your area, register your home on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace and let the bidding begin.

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21 thoughts on “Residential solar panels: what to know about solar panels for your home

  1. Subodh VASHISTH

    I am running one room office. Where I used. 1 ceiling fan, 2 tubelight and 1 laptops with printer. How much solar panels required to generate electricity for their use.
    I’m from Jabalpur Madhya Pradesh India.

  2. John mehki

    Hej boys, my house has solar. “IF,” the grid breaks down, will my house still be getting power from the panels, or will it not. John

    1. Craig

      If you’re connected to the grid, your panels won’t be able to send power anywhere, including your home’s electrical system. This is because lineworkers performing repairs could get electrocuted as your system pushes excess generation into the otherwise depowered grid.
      Exceptions are if you have battery backup system or a special inverter that offers a simple circuit you can tap in an outage while the sun is shining. You can also go “off grid” but may be sitting in the dark much of the time without some type of backup.
      People I’ve talked to say it’s cheaper and maybe better to go with a backup generator?
      In CA’s planned outages, I just use flashlights, camp stove or BBQ, and an inverter on my car battery which gives not much power, but enough to run a house fan and charge computers and phones.

  3. Robert Trostler

    Must California residential homes become Solar by a specific year?
    A solar sales person said Senate Bill 100 past and makes it mandatory for residential homes to be solar.

  4. Cassandra Willis Bowman

    With Sunpower,leasing program 4 years VERY UNHAPPY, received no tax credits, bill started at $178 per mon now. 200+ to $430. I always use rpt pymt.Emailed, and call Acct dept only. resp late is chg

  5. Guest User

    @Paul Garavito:

    You receive a credit for any energy your system produces that feeds to the grid; the power company doesn’t get it for free. That’s the whole point — you put up some $$ to generate your own solar, with the goal of reducing the amount of power you buy.


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