Solar payback period

What is the payback period of solar panels?

The financial benefits of going solar are clear: solar panel systems function as investments with strong rates of return, and homeowners generating solar electricity can avoid paying increased utility rates by eliminating their electricity bills. Multiple studies show that installing a home solar system can even increase your property’s value! If you’re reviewing multiple quotes, there are plenty of metrics that can help you make a decision about which solar option is best for you, but most solar shoppers rely on one metric in particular: the solar panel payback period or break-even point.


Key takeaways: solar payback periods


  • Your “solar payback period” is the time it takes to make back your initial solar investment.
  • For most solar shoppers on EnergySage, you’ll break even in about 9.1 years.
  • You can calculate your solar payback period by dividing the combined costs for your system by your annual benefits.
  • Start comparing solar quotes on the EnergySage Marketplace for maximum savings.

What you’ll learn in this article

What’s the average payback period for solar panels?

The solar panel payback period is a calculation that estimates how long it will take for you to “break even” on your solar energy investment. Increased utility electricity rates and lower equipment costs are making it easier and less expensive for homeowners to own, rather than lease, their solar panel systems. Comparing the payback period of various quotes from solar installers is an easy way to comprehend the financial merits of each option, and identify the point in time at which your solar investment will start to earn you money. To find the payback period in years for your solar photovoltaic, or PV system, simply divide the cost of installing your system by the annual amount you will save.

The average solar payback period on EnergySage is just about 9.1 years. If your cost of installing solar is $20,020 and your system is going to save you $2,200 a year on foregone energy bills, your solar panel payback or “break-even point” will be 9.1 years ($20,020/$2,200 = 9.1).

Factors impacting your payback period

Both the combined costs and annual benefits of going solar will impact your solar payback period. These include:

Gross cost of solar panel system

The gross cost of installing solar on your home is dependent on the size of the system you select and the equipment that makes up that system.

Value of up-front financial incentives

Tax incentives and rebates can dramatically reduce the total cost of going solar. The federal investment tax credit (ITC) allows you to deduct 30 percent of the cost of your system from your taxes, and additional state and local solar incentives may also be available in your area.

Average monthly electricity use and cost

Your monthly energy usage is an indicator of both the size of system you need and the amount of electricity that you can offset each month with solar. Similarly, the energy costs in your area directly impact your return on investment (ROI) from your solar power system. The higher your electricity bills are, the shorter your estimated payback period will be, as you can reduce or eliminate your utility bill as soon as your panels are operational.

Estimated electricity generation

While solar installers will try to provide you with a system that matches your electricity consumption, practical constraints like the size of your roof and seasonal weather variation may impact the amount of electricity that you can produce on-site.

Additional financial incentives

In some areas of the country, you may be able to earn additional incentives in the form of solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) or net metering programs that give you a per kilowatt-hour credit for the electricity that your solar panels generate and send to the grid. Depending on the size of your solar energy system, these can represent a significant monetary benefit.

How to calculate the solar panel payback period

To calculate your solar payback period, you’ll need to take the following steps:

  1. Determine combined costs: subtract the value of up-front incentives and rebates from the gross cost of your solar panel system.
  2. Determine annual benefits: add up your annual financial benefits, including avoided electricity costs and any additional incentives.
  3. Divide your combined costs by your annual financial benefits: the result will be the number of years it will take for you to achieve payback. Every month of bill savings after that point in time should be counted as a financial gain!

Calculating your solar payback period: a step-by-step guide

Let’s walk through an example to help you calculate your solar payback period:

Combined costs

First, we’ll determine your combined costs. you’ll need to know the gross cost of your solar panel system. Let’s assume your gross system cost is $28,600 (the average cost of a 10 kW system on EnergySage). Now, we need to understand the upfront incentives available to you, including the solar tax credit and local rebates or incentives. Given that the federal tax credit is currently set at 30 percent, with a $28,600 solar system, you’ll be eligible for $8,580. Now, let’s also assume you can take advantage of an additional $1,000 in local rebates – this brings your upfront incentives to $9,580 and your combined installation costs to just $19,020.

Gross cost ($28,600) – upfront incentives ($9,580) = combined costs ($19,020)

Annual benefits

To calculate your annual benefits, you’ll need to know how much you’re saving each year on electricity costs. Let’s assume your monthly electricity bill is about $140 (about average across the U.S.) – annually, that amounts to $1,680 in energy savings assuming your system’s energy production covers 100% of your electricity needs. You’ll also need to know how much you’ll receive from other incentives each year, like SRECs. In our example, we’ll assume you’re earning $400 annually from selling SRECs – this means you’ll receive $2,080 in annual benefits.

Avoided annual electricity costs ($1,680) – annual incentives ($400) = annual benefits ($2,080)

Final calculation

Now, to calculate your solar payback period, you just need to divide your combined costs by your annual benefits!

Combined costs ($19,020) / annual benefits ($2,080) = solar payback period (9.1 years)

In our example, your payback time would be 9.1 years – the average we see on EnergySage!

Frequently asked questions about solar payback periods

Does solar really pay off?

Yes, solar really does pay off! The average EnergySage shopper sees a solar payback period of 9.1 years – so given that the lifespan of most solar systems is about 25-30 years, you can definitely expect your solar system to be worth the investment.

Will I still have an electricity bill with solar panels?

While you may not owe anything on your electricity bill, you’ll still receive an electricity bill from your utility company as long as you’re still connected to the grid.

How much does solar save you each month?

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average electricity consumption of a U.S. household is 886 kWh. Data from the EIA show that the average cost of electricity as of October 2022 is 16.09 cents in the U.S. Thus, assuming that your system covers 100% of your electricity needs, you’ll save $142 each month on avoided electricity costs, on average.

Compare solar quotes on EnergySage

If you’re looking to go solar and power your home with clean energy, start your journey on the EnergySage Marketplace! For any homeowner in the early stages of shopping for solar, try our Solar Calculator to receive upfront cost and long-term savings estimates based on your location and roof type. For those looking to get quotes from local contractors today, check out our quote comparison platform.

This post originally appeared on Mother Earth News.


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About Vikram Aggarwal

As the founder and CEO of EnergySage, Vikram is an authority on all things renewable and solar. His thought leadership on renewable energy is published with Bloomberg, Consumer Reports, The Energy Gang, Forbes, Kiplinger, The New York Times, and more. He also regularly appears on podcasts such as NPR’s Here and Now and speaks at major industry conferences such as RE+ to share clean energy data and insights on policy, incentives, and savings. Vikram has an MBA from Northeastern University and is a CFA charterholder.