Powering your home with solar energy is a worthwhile, but significant, investment. As you vet and select the best solar energy contractor for your project, it is important to understand and discuss all the factors that affect the overall cost of your solar paneling and the return you should expect on your investment. To make sure your project is as cost-conscious as possible, learn about the latest solar energy market and policies ahead of your upcoming solar panel installation.

Jump to content:

The Solar Energy Market

The cost of solar installation has dropped more than 70 percent since 2010, according to data from Solar Energy Industries Association, a solar enterprise advocate. This should be welcome news to anyone looking to invest in a solar-powered home.

SEIA found that, as of June 2018, prices are at or close to their “lowest historical level.” It calculates the national average at $17,000 (“before incentives”) for an average-sized residential system. This average matches what homeowners have told Modernize in recent interviews, and cements a solid drop from the $40,000 average cost in 2010.

One major reason for this decrease in price is the booming demand that solar paneling for homes has seen—SEIA calculates that as of 2018, a new solar energy project is installed every 100 seconds in the U.S.

But the hardware behind solar panel systems accounts for just about a third (36 percent) of the total price you could pay for the full project. According to 2016 data from the Department of Energy, non-hardware “soft costs” make up as much as 64 percent of the price residents pay for solar energy systems. These costs range from permitting to labor to financing.

“As hardware costs have fallen, soft costs have increased as a share of total system costs,” reported SEIA.

These soft costs vary by contractor. It’s important you understand the structure and source of your contractor’s price. To ensure you avoid solar-related surprises down the road, research the cost of a long-lasting and lucrative solar installation before diving into one.

Understanding Solar Energy Policy

Adhering to local policies and taking advantage of local, regional, and federal incentives is equal to seeing the highest return on investment from your project. Just as importantly, not doing so could result in applicable fines or fees.

When it comes to powering your home with solar energy, there’s a lot to keep track of. The Department of Energy’s Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (or DSIRE), for instance, lists hundreds and hundreds of policies and incentives across the country, numbering anywhere from West Virginia’s 14 to Oregon’s 147.

According to the Department of Energy itself, “there isn’t a single process or system that businesses follow to get solar customers online.” It points out that in the U.S., there are:

  • 18,000 jurisdictions
  • 3,000 utilities
  • 50 state systems

Each one of these has its own rules and regulations regarding solar energy, which can “drive up costs and limit solar adoption”.

“As a result, customers experience a lag time between when they buy a solar system and when it actually gets installed,” the DOE reports, adding it’s “a frustrating experience that also adds costs.”

Meet with your contractor in-person, preferably at your house, to get a proper understanding of how local, state, and federal policy applies to you. Communicate with your contractor regularly for updates to rules and to discuss future needs.

The Possible (And Massive) Savings of Solar Energy Policy

When it comes to solar energy, you also want to take advantage of existing financial incentives. Your contractor should be able to explain which of these apply to you and how to best make use of them.

Chief among the incentives is the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit, which applies to up to 30 percent of your installation (that’s hard and soft costs combined).

For example, SEI reports that a typical five-kilowatt solar system installation in September 2018 would drop from $15,428 to $10,800 after the rebate is applied. While such a discount is tempting, tax incentives apply during tax season—not before. Some contractors agree to take on the full cost during installation and wait for the rebate themselves. Whatever the case, it’s important to have a clear understanding of how this and other incentives will apply to your present and future solar panel system costs.

Understandably, rebates and incentives aren’t just driving consumer interest. Contractors are stepping up their game to compete in an increasingly saturated market. According to SEIA, in fact, that’s one of the drivers behind the rise of those soft costs we mentioned above—contractors are putting more resources than before into connecting with consumers.

Data based on the following premise:
System size – 6 kilowatts;
Electricity demand – 11,000 kilowatt-hours per year;
Utility rate inflation – 2.2 percent

In a sea of noise, our tools can help you navigate so you can save the highest amount of money in the short term and see the highest return on your investment in the long-term with a switch to a solar energy-powered home.