A Guide to Solar Panels in the US: Installation, Cost, and Efficiency
Short version? Solar panels absorb clean sunlight energy, which is then converted into electrical energy. The process is, however, a little more complex.
A solar panel is made up of many solar cells, a metal frame, a glass casing surrounded by a special film, and wiring. Each layer has unique electronic features that energize when exposed to photons from sunlight.
Light particles or solar photons from the sun knock electrons from the cell atoms and set them in motion producing an electric field. This is what creates the current required to generate energy.
During the day, solar panels convert the sun’s energy to produce electricity by absorbing sunlight to generate electrical current--a process referred to as the “photovoltaic effect.”
Millions of Americans are choosing solar energy in their homes. Making the switch to solar energy generation is an investment that brings savings, energy independence, economic opportunities, grid resilience, and a safer environment.
US Data/Statistics on Household Savings Estimates
According to the Department of Energy, solar energy is one of the fastest-growing clean energy sources in the US. Here are some solar power-related statistics in the US:
As of 2023, the average cost of solar per watt is $2.86/W in the US. The actual price depends on the system size and your location. Most states offer solar system owners incentives, making owners enjoy great returns on solar investments.
Some reasons why you should go solar.
You can take charge of your energy usage and cut costs by installing a solar panel system. Homes with solar panels draw their electricity directly from the sun, reducing their reliance on the grid. Solar panels allow homeowners to offset their energy use and lower their energy costs.
Going solar means that you choose your energy source and reduce your carbon footprint. Electricity from state grids comes from a mix of energy generation sources. Depending on where you live, it could be from coal, natural gas, or nuclear.
Solar energy is clean and renewable. More importantly, unlike fossil fuels that produce harmful carbon emissions and other greenhouse gasses, it doesn't contribute negatively to climate change.
Energy bills contribute a large part of monthly expenses. Since 1970, electricity rates have increased by over 3% every year. It rose over 70% between 2013 and 2023. The steady rise in electricity rates makes it difficult to budget for electricity every year. Going solar solves this problem.
Solar systems come at a fixed price. But once your installation is complete, you do not need to worry about electricity rates. You can produce free electricity for your system’s total 25+ year lifespan.
If you decide not to produce all of the electricity you use from your solar system, the system still lowers your utility bills and, in effect, helps you save.
Stable and predictable electricity rates mean a more predictable budget.
Solar systems are considered home upgrades. Hence, buying a solar system increases your home’s value. A study showed that, on average, a solar system increases the value of a home by around $15,000.
Other market factors, such as electricity rates and system size, can still affect this value. A building with a solar system has a higher market value than a building without. Also, homes with solar systems appeal more to buyers and sell faster than those without solar systems.
If you have a solar system with a good storage system, you can keep your appliances and home running on stable electricity when there are power outages.
A solar system in your home is a great investment. They have a payback period of 5-10 years and a lifespan of 25+ years. This means you have enjoyed the benefits of your investment for over 15 years straight.
The cost of solar panels is determined by many factors, mainly system size, and location. As of 2023, the average cost per watt is $2.86/W.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, the average American home uses 6 to 10 kilowatts (kW). As of April 2023, the average cost of a 6kW solar system is $17,160 before the 30% Federal Solar Tax Credit. After this federal solar tax credit, the average cost is $12,012. This does not involve related costs, such as installation fees.
Below is a table breaking down the average cost of solar panels in all states of the US and Washington DC:
|State||Average cost per watt ($/W)||Cost of a 6kW system||Cost after 30% federal solar tax credit|
Homeowners who wish to install a solar energy system have two major financing options: direct cash purchase or lease. These options have advantages, and you should pick the option that fits your financial situation.
Direct cash purchase means that you are paying the total cost of the solar system upfront. The cost of the solar system depends mainly on the size of the system, the brand, and your location. There are many advantages of this financing option, including the following:
You will be eligible for solar incentives, credits, and rebates. Direct cash purchase means you are the owner of your system. Solar system owners qualify for all public and private cash solar incentives.
These incentives lower the cost of installing your solar system. For example, you will qualify for the federal solar tax credit, which can take up to 30% off your solar system purchase. There are also state and municipal incentives.
Private companies may offer rebates to customers.
Long-term savings: If you buy your solar system through direct cash, you enjoy the benefits of owning a system. You are not worried about lease-related payments. You will save money on monthly utility bills. The solar system has a payback period of 5-10 years and a lifespan of 25+ years. Hence, you will enjoy the benefits of your investment for over 15 years straight.
Adds value to your property: Your solar system adds value to the worth of your property. Accordingly, if you want to sell your house, it will go for a higher price and can be sold faster too.
Overall, direct cash purchase offers the best value if you have the money for the solar system. While the initial investment in solar panels is substantial, they will ultimately “pay for themselves” —usually in less than ten years.
The energy savings can increase after this. You will enjoy the benefits of long-term savings and qualify for applicable solar incentives.
Leasing solar panels is an option for persons that need more cash reserves for the upfront investment in solar panels. Leasing a solar system means that you do not own the system. The system is owned by a third party, most likely the person or entity financing the purchase.
Leasing solar panels cost between $50 and $250 monthly. This cost is determined by many variables, including the energy you use, the company, your location, and your credit score. Furthermore, some solar companies require a down payment, whereas others enable you to lease with no money down.
These expenses should be weighed when deciding whether to lease a solar panel system. Some lease agreements allow the lessor to purchase the solar system at the end of the agreement.
Leasing a solar system has benefits such as:
Low or no upfront costs: Leases allow you to get solar panels in your house with little or no down payments. While making payments throughout the lease term, you will also be saving money on your monthly utility bills.
No maintenance costs or efforts required: Solar panels are low-maintenance but not maintenance-free. If you have a solar lease, your third-party owner handles the maintenance of the system.
Generally, leasing is best if you want to enjoy the benefits of using a solar system but need more cash to purchase the system. You enjoy the benefits of lower utility bills and no maintenance costs.
Solar panels have a lifespan of 25-30 years. But the lifespan does not imply that the panels will stop generating electricity after 25 years. It means their electricity generating capacity will drop by what is considered optimal to meet your energy needs.
Solar manufacturers often back up the long lifespan of their products with warranties.
Solar panels continue to work for many decades as long as they are not damaged by extreme weather, wind, debris, or other external elements.
Some of the factors that may impact the lifespan of your solar panel include
The better the quality of your solar panel, the lesser the degradation rate. Hence, choosing high-quality brands when buying your solar system would be best. Also, these high-quality products have better warranty terms and higher efficiency rates.
You should engage a skilled and experienced solar installer to ensure your system is correctly installed. Any installation issues can be detrimental to the functionality of your system in the long run.
Solar panels are low-maintenance, not maintenance-free. You should properly maintain them against elements that affect their functioning capacity. These elements include snow, dirt, dust, and other particles. Schedule a periodic cleaning of your solar panels to maintain their efficiency.
extreme weather conditions can affect your solar panel’s lifespan. It would be best to learn more about solar panel lifespan from solar installers that know the weather conditions in your area.
Type of Solar Panel
Different types of solar panels have different lifespans. Monocrystalline solar panels, the most common residential solar panels, have the longest life.
Determining how many solar panels you need depends on the energy needs of your home. Every home has its unique energy needs. Therefore, you may need to calculate the particular solar panels to meet your home’s energy needs.
You can talk to a licensed professional to assist you in determining the number of solar panels you need for your home. You can also find the answer by considering the following factors:
Your electricity usage/needs
Examine your previous electricity bills to determine the average electricity consumption in your house. It will assist you in determining how much electricity you need to produce to reach that average, which will determine how many solar panels you will require to generate that amount of electricity.
To determine how many solar panels you need, multiply your hourly energy consumption by your area’s peak sunlight hours and divide by the wattage of each panel. Low-wattage solar panels produce 150W per hour, whereas high-wattage panels produce 370W per hour.
Your current electricity use in watts
You can assess your present energy consumption by reviewing your electricity bill for average usage. Look for “kilowatt hours (or kWh) used” or something similar, as well as the time represented (usually 30 days).
Some bills do not include the number of kilowatt hours consumed. For cases like that, check the beginning and ending meter readings and subtract the prior reading from the current one.
You require information on your daily and hourly usage. If your bill does not include daily average information, divide the monthly or yearly average by 30 or 365 days accordingly. Divide the result by 24 to get your weekly average.
These figures assist you in estimating how much electricity you will use and how much electricity your solar panels will need to produce.
Note: Solar cells do not operate at peak efficiency all day. Their activities are restricted during cloudy and rainy weather and at night. As a result, you will need to purchase a solar energy battery storage system to reserve energy for those times, or you may qualify for energy from the grid via net metering.
The climate and peak sunlight hours in your area
The amount of energy your solar system can produce is affected by the climate and peak sunlight hours in your region. For example, if you reside in an area with more peak sunlight hours than someone who lives in an area with fewer peak sunlight hours, you may require fewer panels. You can use the Renewable Resource Data Center to discover information about sunlight in your state and possibly your city.
To convert your hourly consumption to watts, multiply your hourly usage by 1,000. Then divide this average hourly wattage by the number of peak sunlight hours in your region per day. Every hour, you will receive the electricity that your panels require.
Choose the solar panels that will meet your energy needs
Once you have determined your average electricity use and current electricity use in watts, you will have an idea of how much electricity you need your solar system to generate daily. You need to consider certain factors when choosing solar panels.
First, you have to consider the quality and efficiency of the panels. There are many kinds of solar panels with different energy production levels.
They typically range from 150 to 370 watts, depending on the panel size, efficiency, and cell technology. Once you determine the solar panel you want and know its energy production level. Calculate your daily electricity in watts and use it to determine how many panels you need.
You should also consider the size and weight of your solar panels because of your roof. For example, if you have a tiny or irregularly shaped roof, you must ensure that your solar panels can operate on such a roof. Homeowners with a big roof area usually have no problems with panel size and weight.
To sum up, having the answers to the aforementioned questions will help you determine how many solar panels you require or provide you with a reasonable range. Following that, a professional installer must assess your roof construction, sun angle, and other parameters to determine whether and how you can physically arrange the proper number of panels on your roof to reach your daily energy production goals.
It is best to consider net metering when calculating how much money you will save and earn from your solar system if available in your location.
You can get credits from your utility provider when your system produces excess and transmit it to the grid. You can rely on those credits when your system is in off-peak hours to access power.
Solar panels generate the same type of energy (direct current), but in different amounts. The wattage rating of solar panels has a significant impact on energy generation. Higher-wattage solar panels produce more electricity than lower-wattage panels under the same conditions.
The number of solar panels needed to power a house in the US depends on a mix of factors, namely:
Generally, the average three-bedroom house in the US uses 14 solar panels, while the average four-bedroom house uses 18 solar panels.
You can run a house solely on solar panels in the US. Modern technology has significantly improved the production of highly efficient solar energy systems and storage devices. You should consider the following factors before you decide to run your house solely on solar panels:
The amount of energy needed to run your house solely on solar panels
First, you need to figure out how much energy you need to run your house solely on solar panels. This can be done by calculating your average monthly electricity usage. Your solar contractor or installer will use this information to calculate the electricity you need to produce to power your home exclusively on solar energy monthly.
Note: Monthly electricity consumption may differ for each month because of different weather conditions and peak sunlight periods. Accordingly, you may need to purchase a storage system to ensure steady power in your home.
Evaluate your locality’s climate and solar energy production capacity
The amount of solar energy you can estimate to generate to power your entire house is determined by the weather and climate where you live. If you live in a cold and cloudy area, operating your house entirely on solar may be difficult because you may only see direct sunlight for a short period.
The weather conditions and climate of where you live determine the solar energy estimate you can expect to generate to power your whole house.
Assess your environment for impediments to your system’s function
It is best to assess the number and proximity of large trees growing in your vicinity and the heights of houses and other important structures that can affect solar energy production in your environment. These structures can block your panels’ access to sunlight or throw heavy shadows across your roof, reducing the efficiency of your solar energy system.
In general, licensed and experienced solar energy professionals can help you determine how many solar panels you need to operate your house entirely on solar energy.
There are three main types of solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin film. They all have their benefits and drawbacks. Your decision depends on your budget, the panel’s location, and the surrounding environment.
Monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels are similar in structure because they are made with silicon wafers. Silicon wafers are the cells that convert sunlight into electricity. The primary difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels is how the cells are manufactured.
A single piece of silicon crystal is used to make monocrystalline cells. They are the most efficient and high-performing type. However, their high efficiency comes with the disadvantage of high cost.
Polycrystalline solar panels are formed by molding together several silicon crystals to create a wafer. Polycrystalline panels are significantly less expensive than monocrystalline panels but are not as efficient as monocrystalline panels.
Thin-film solar cells are unique. They can be made of many materials, but cadmium telluride (CdTe) is the most prevalent. This makes them very thin and flexible, perfect for areas with limited space or weight capacity. Nonetheless, they fall short in performance compared to monocrystalline solar panels in terms of energy production efficiency.
Overall, monocrystalline panels are the most efficient but cost more.
You should consider the following factors if you want to know the size of your solar system should be if you intend to go off-grid in the US:
Solar panels come in various qualities, forms, and sizes. The number of solar panels required to go off-grid is decided by two factors: your energy needs and the performance output of each panel.
Also, you must have a place to store excess solar energy produced by your solar panels to maintain a long-term off-grid lifestyle. You should consider investing in high-capacity solar battery storage. Because while solar panels are the most cost-effective and efficient way to produce electricity, a solar storage system is the best for storing your off-grid solar energy.
Solar panels and energy storage systems allow you to go off-grid.
When your solar batteries are charged at full capacity, the charge controller will stop charging them, except for a small float charge to keep them completely charged.
When your batteries are fully charged, power will be supplied to the home instantly; that is, power will be supplied as and when required. What happens if there is excess energy depends on whether you are on or off the grid.
If you are connected to the grid in your state and participate in net metering, any energy generated by your system after your batteries have been completely charged will be transmitted to the grid, and you will receive credits.
However, if you live off-grid, excess solar energy is wasted because it does not move anywhere.
If your solar panels produce more power than you use, the result depends on whether you are connected to the grid or your system is operated off the grid. If you are off-grid, excess electricity generated by your panels will be stored in your solar storage, and once it is full, the excess energy does not go anywhere.
Excess energy from your panels can be transmitted to the grid if you are connected to the grid, and you will receive credits through net metering.
Net metering is an electricity billing system that allows solar system owners to sell excess energy produced by their system to their local utility company through the grid in exchange for credit. The credit is applied to lower their monthly utility bill.
Thus, when their system does not perform optimally because of a lack of sunlight, they can get electricity from the grid, which will be paid for with the credits from the excess electricity sold.
Most solar systems produce more energy than is required for immediate consumption during peak sunlight periods. The excess energy can be stored in an onsite battery or sent back into the grid to reduce future utility costs. A bi-directional meter is installed in the solar system to monitor the amount of energy used and sent to the grid:
After each billing cycle, solar customers are solely responsible for the “net” difference between the quantity of electricity they consumed and generated. In other words, the net energy is equivalent to the sum of the energy generated and the energy used.
Net metering helps you save and speeds up the payback period of your solar system. It also offers a reliable monthly supply of credits. It should be noted that net metering is only available in some states or locations. You should confirm with your solar installer or utility provider about net metering.
Most battery manufacturers say that their batteries at full capacity can power a home for 12 to 18 hours. However, the length of time a battery can power a house depends on the energy consumption of the house vis-a-vis the capacity and efficiency of the battery storage. You should note the following:
There are different types of batteries with different capacities and efficiency levels. Lithium-ion batteries are the most common batteries for solar storage in residential properties because they have large power-holding capacities.
A solar battery may not last up to 12 hours if it is used to power many appliances simultaneously. Reducing your energy use during a power outage or off-peak periods of your solar panels will help your battery power your house longer. Large energy-consuming appliances will drain the battery faster. Hence, it would be best to consider limiting your large energy use to the peak hours of your solar panels.
The number of batteries needed to power your house depends on the battery’s capacity and your house’s energy needs. Generally, you can use two or three batteries or batteries having the equivalent capacity of your energy needs when your solar panels are not producing electricity.
Solar battery controllers help improve the longevity of solar batteries.
Yes. The quality and effectiveness of solar panels vary. Solar panels of high quality and efficiency perform better and produce more energy than low-quality ones. They are also more expensive than low-quality solar cells.
The most effective solar panels on the market now have efficiency ratings of up to 22.8%, but the vast majority of panels have ratings of 16 to 18%.
Monocrystalline panels have the highest efficiency and capacity of any panel variety. Although polycrystalline solar panels often reach efficiencies of 15 to 17%, monocrystalline solar panels can achieve efficiencies of more than 20%.
Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels are made from silicon wafers. Monocrystalline panels are more efficient and costly compared to polycrystalline panels. The primary visual difference is the color: monocrystalline panels are usually black, whereas polycrystalline panels appear blue.
Solar panels generate direct electricity by converting photons from the sun, thus powering your home. This electricity then enters your inverter. Following that, your inverter converts direct current to alternating current and sends it to your electric box, which powers your house. Your solar energy system is a cost-effective and efficient way to own your electricity rather than rent it from the grid.
Solar panels do not work at night. Solar panels need light, particularly sunlight, to produce electricity, and this is not available at night. Although solar panels can generate some energy from light sources like street lights and the moon, your solar panels will produce very low output using these sources because they are very dark. This is why solar panels are usually inactive or do not work at night.
Despite your solar panels not being able to function at night, you can still electricity:
Solar panels work on cloudy and rainy days. However, they do not produce to their full capacity during these periods, unlike during sunny periods. This is because solar panels require sunlight, not heat, to generate electricity.
Solar panels generate 10 to 25% of their usual power output on cloudy and rainy days, depending on the cloudiness of the day.
Rainfall can make your solar panels work effectively by washing dirt and dust away so that your solar panels can absorb sunlight better.
Overall, you should note the average sunshine hours in your state to enable you to prepare for cloudy or rainy periods adequately. Here is a table of the average annual sunlight for each state in the US in kilojoules per square meter (kJ/m^2):
|Rank||State||average Sunlight (kJ/m^2)|
Yes. A solar energy installation helps you save. To determine how much money you will save on electric bills, you must determine how much you spend on energy annually and compare it to the price of installing a solar panel system.
The average US residential utility consumer uses 10,632 kWh a year. If you multiply this by the average US residential electricity rate ($0.18/kWh), you will see that the average US household spends around $1,913 annually on electricity alone.
In 25 years (the warranty period of a solar panel system), that will be $47,825. In comparison, as of 2022, the average cost of a 6kW solar system in the US is $12,012 after the 30% federal solar tax credit.
This means there is an average 25-year savings of $35,813 for solar panel systems in the US.
You should calculate your payback period and consider other financial considerations before investing in solar panels. The time it will take to recoup your original investment in solar panels is known as the payback period. Generally, a solar energy investment reduces your long-term power costs enough to cover the initial cost of solar panels. Your payback period is unique and based on these factors:
Purchasing and installing solar panels in your home is generally advantageous, particularly if your average monthly electricity cost is high and you reside in an area with high energy prices. It is great for the environment and your bank account. It would be best if you wanted solar cells for any of the following reasons:
First, you must determine how much energy you use each day to determine whether installing a solar panel system in the US will result in greater savings. To calculate the actual cost per kilowatt-hour for each option, you must also compare your current monthly electric bill with the solar system you intend to install.
The total number of kilowatt-hours consumed during the billing period must first be divided by the number of days in the month. For an even more accurate estimate, add up your monthly kilowatt-hours for the entire year and divide that number by 365. By doing this, you can be sure to account for the times of the year when you use more energy.
You should also be aware that the solar system determines energy output differently from your local power provider. The amount of energy that can be generated is based on the maximum kilowatts the system can generate in an hour.
A typical solar panel setup produces 2 kWh per hour. If your system is only exposed to sunlight for five hours per day, the maximum energy that can be generated is 10 kWh. If your home draws and consumes an average of 30 kWh per day, you might only generate one-third of the energy your family requires daily. Before you implement your system, ensure it will give you enough electricity each month.
The next step is to determine the price per kilowatt-hour. At this point, you should be aware of the system’s minimum daily output. Multiply the system’s daily production by 365 to get the system’s annual output. You can determine the output of the system’s life by dividing the yearly production by 25, which is the average lifespan of a solar energy system. Subtract the system’s cost from the total energy produced over its lifespan. Compare that sum to the cost per kilowatt-hour your electric provider is charging you. This allows you to calculate the amount of money you are saving on your electricity expenses.
Other factors to consider include the following:
In general, a number of variables make it difficult to predict how much money you will save over time by using solar energy. These variables include your environment, weather conditions, laws, incentives, and other elements that could impact the effectiveness of your solar panels. You can minimize avoidable damage to your system by adhering to the manufacturer’s guide. If you encounter any problems that you are unable to resolve, you should contact the manufacturer. Your warranty may cover it.
Additionally, if you convert to solar energy, you will not see any changes in the projected rise in electricity prices.