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Are solar panels worth the up front cost for a house?

  1. Rambler1 profile image60
    Rambler1posted 5 years ago

    I have considered converting my house to solar power. My question is it worth it and how long is the payback

    1. John Holden profile image60
      John Holdenposted 5 years agoin reply to this

      And how long is a piece of string?

      It all depends on the cost of the system, the demand on the system and how much sun light you get.

      Most people with them reckon they are worthwhile.

      1. kerryg profile image88
        kerrygposted 5 years agoin reply to this

        Yup, this. If you're in the US, a lot of states have tax incentives that can help offset the upfront cost, and there's group buying programs in some communities that will do the same.

        However, there are too many details you didn't mention for a bunch of strangers and non-experts in a forum to make a judgement call on whether it's worth it for your particular situation. If you live in Arizona, for example, it almost certainly is. Maine - maybe or maybe not.

    2. ackman1465 profile image61
      ackman1465posted 5 years agoin reply to this

      While using "solar" to generate electricity may not be very successful, it IS a great way to heat water, in places that have lots of warm sunshine.

      Here in Florida, I use solar panels to heat the water in my pool.   At the cost of less than $2000 (for equipment and installation) I have (7) panels on my roof, and they keep my pool water at no less than 80 degress, all winter.   I expect that I would have had to pay NO LESS than $1500 each year in costs for fuel and/or electricity if I had used a propane heater or an electric heater....

  2. profile image71
    win-winresourcesposted 5 years ago

    Good morning Rambler1-

    In deciding on whether solar panels (photovoltaic) are "worth it", you have to state your goals up front.  For example, solar PV systems bring both financial and environmental benefits.  The financial, of course, is the offset of the retail electricity bought from the native utility, the rebates, the renewable energy credits (REC), federal investment tax credit (ITC) and depreciation.  Envrionmental benefits include:  reduced pollution (air, water, soil), conservation of natural resources (including mining and transportation), independence from foreign oil, and improvement of the electric grid from distributed generation.

    The costs for panels and labor are still falling.  (Sadly, most of the panels are still made outside the US.)

    Simply put, if you  can qualify for all of the financial benefits (which means you must have tax appetitie to make use of the ITC and depreciation), and the rebates and RECs are reasonable, a solar installation can see full payback in 2-3 years.  Systems are typically warranted for 15-20 years.  So, after you get your investment paid back, you still get the generation for 18+ more years, depreciation for 2-3 more years (MACRS acellerated depreciation), and the RECs (if they weren't all collected at the begining).

    The systems are essentially inert.  The part likely to wear out is the inverter, usually at 15 years. 

    These systems also raise the value of your home - not dollar for dollar, but they do have long term value.  They must be insured - typically about a $50 a year adder to your homeowners insurance.

    As a note, you should never install more than about 80% of your regular load.  There is absolutely no reason to use your money to provide the native utility cheap power if you generate too much.  (Utilities buy back over production at a fraction of the retail cost.)  Consider 4-5 KW for most houses.

    If you are driven by the environmentals, then you must assign a value to those.

    The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden Colorado has free software (PVWatts) that calculates the output for an array built nearly anywhere.   As KerryG
    noted, the amount of sun is a key factor.  Denver Colorado is better than Seattle WA for solar generation.

    I put mine on in 2008 and already have full pay back.  No maintenance or problems.  I love not paying the utility for most of my electricity.  As the Director of Utilities for a large western city, until my retirement a few years ago, I also put a lot of solar on government buildings and lands.

    Once your goals are stated, the rest is just math.


  3. WriteAngled profile image86
    WriteAngledposted 5 years ago

    I've just put six panels on my roof. Unfortunately, there was not space for more.

    Here in the UK, I get paid for all the electricity I generate, regardless of whether I use it or whether it is fed into the national grid.

    The combined savings on fuel and payments received should bring me a annual return of at least 7% on my investment, and possibly well more. Sitting in the bank, it gets 0.1% interest! Also, the payments are index-linked, and electricity will surely go up in future. I therefore see solar panels as making better use of that money rather than having it lose value sitting in the bank. 

    The panels were installed on 6th February. My electricity bill this month is 30% lower than what it has been since the price last went up.

  4. Rambler1 profile image60
    Rambler1posted 5 years ago

    Win-win thanks for the details. Right now just considering. I live in coastal North Carolina. I figured up it would take about 7 years to pay the cost back. The only thing I am worried about is hurricane damage, but didn't know about the insurance thing.

    1. Druid Dude profile image61
      Druid Dudeposted 5 years agoin reply to this

      ONE WORD: Taxbreaks! If the system is enough to produce more electricity than you need, Federal law requires that the local utility company buy it from you. Other considerations are that when the local power grid goes down...you don't!

      1. profile image71
        win-winresourcesposted 5 years agoin reply to this


        The tax breaks are certainly a critical component and make a huge contribution to the financial payback.

        Unfortunately any extra electricity generated by a private system is purchased (net metered) by the utility at less than avoided cost - not retail.  It is not to a homeowners advantage to over build.

        Lastly, very few solar applications are independent of the grid.  In order to sell back to the utility you must be grid-tied.  If you are grid tied, your system must be designed to automatically go off line if the grid does.  (It is dangerous to have electricity being generated and entering the grid while the utility folks are trying to fix an outage.)


    2. profile image71
      win-winresourcesposted 5 years agoin reply to this


      Your solar array will be insured against peril (including hurricane)  just as the rest of your house is.

      If you have the tax appetite to use the ITC and depreciation, a payback of 2-3 years is absolutely reasonable.

      Be certain to negotiate hard with potential installers as the prices can be very competitive.  Try letting a bid and get multiple bidders.

      Good luck.


      1. profile image71
        win-winresourcesposted 5 years agoin reply to this


        One additional comment.  According to PVWatts a 5 KW south facing 34 degree tilt system in Wilmington NC will generate about 6502 KWh per year.