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When analyzing proposals for an installed residential solar panel system, my understanding is that the most relevant metric is $/watt. But which watt? Is it the system size, or is it the estimated annual production number?

One of the challenges when researching solar PV systems is that prices have changed drastically in the past few years, and so articles written in 2011 or 2012 might not be relevant today. Even worse, a lot of articles don't even have a time-stamp or put the figures in context time-wise.

I'm not sure where I pulled these two quotes - could have been in this forum, could have been an online article, but are these comments are still accurate today (June 2014):

"When it comes to pricing, the bottom line is this: You should never be paying more than $3.00 per watt for a standard tile or composition rooftop installation before incentives."

And...

"...again, referencing the latest US Solar Market Insight report, the average installed cost of a residential solar panel system was $4.72/watt. However, prices vary tremendously by region. “Common residential system prices ranged from less than $3.00/W to just above $7.00/W,” the Solar Energy Industries Association writes. The total price of a system, of course, varies tremendously based on the size of your roof and your electricity needs."
 

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SO it all depends! :D Most installs these days around here are $1 for panels, $1 for inverters (plus or minus) and $1 for racking, wire and installation. They go by panel rating. 10,000 watts of panels should not cost more than $30,000 installed minus the 30% Federal tax credit.
 

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When analyzing proposals for an installed residential solar panel system, my understanding is that the most relevant metric is $/watt. But which watt? Is it the system size, or is it the estimated annual production number?
The cost reference should always be against the DC name plate of the system size. How optimal you can design and place this system to give you the best annual production varies in all individual cases, so that's not a useful metric for price comparison. It's only useful to see what your payback time is.
I'm not sure where I pulled these two quotes - could have been in this forum, could have been an online article, but are these comments are still accurate today (June 2014):

"When it comes to pricing, the bottom line is this: You should never be paying more than $3.00 per watt for a standard tile or composition rooftop installation before incentives."

And...

"...again, referencing the latest US Solar Market Insight report, the average installed cost of a residential solar panel system was $4.72/watt. However, prices vary tremendously by region. “Common residential system prices ranged from less than $3.00/W to just above $7.00/W,” the Solar Energy Industries Association writes. The total price of a system, of course, varies tremendously based on the size of your roof and your electricity needs."
Prices seem to vary tremendously by region from my observation as a member of the Solar Panel Talk forum, too. Here in Phoenix, I was able to get $2.50/W last summer, which I think tends to be the low end of the price range. But if you look at CA or Hawaii, $4-$5 dollars seems to be the normal range. Elsewhere in the country, $3-$4.

It also depends on the brand name panel you use. Lots of people seems to like Sunpower, and they seem to be one of the most expensive out there. But they do have great warranty and very high efficiency, both in term of PTC/STC ratio as well as area efficiency. However, if you have plenty of roof space, area efficiency is not an important consideration anymore.
 

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$3/Watt is for larger systems, say 5KW or larger.
But the lower the price the more "deeply engrained" you are to Chinese components. There are multiple tiers of products out there. From lower price to higher quality. The range is sometimes worth $1/Watt from cheaper Chinese to better US-made.

I cared enough when I bought my system to buy US-made parts so I went with US-made modules and inverters along with racking. The only thing I can think of that is made offshore is the roof rails on half of the modules I have (other have is on ground mount rails).

Solar is really more of a feel good investment than a true money saver if your grid-based power is under $.14/kWh now. Without both federal and state incentives, the return on investment if you had to pay even $3/W is nearly 10 years or more. You can do far better investing in the stock market in an average high yield bond than going solar (in my opinion). But, one thing you do get to participate in is at-home "fueling" of an EV. Knowing your power during a mid-day charging is only coming from your roof is pretty cool. Again, part of the feel-good aspect of going solar.

My current-day "me" would probably talk myself out of going solar in 2010 when I started looking into it and December 2012 when I finally put it in. The system has put out 17 MWh so far. Not bad but only a very small blip on the overall power produced on the grid. When I charge the Volt overnight, my solar array does not really do much for that. But during the day if I am not charging, it is helping the local community a little bit with the outflow.
 

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What I observed with the last few quotes I got, is that Installers tends to overcharge on the panels/inverters.

One way to keep an eye on what is a reasonable cost for the panels, is to check sites that sell Panels and rack kits like the one below.

http://www.dmsolar.com/solar-gridtie-system.html

keeping in mind the above is the mid tier panels, so also look at the higher end like their offering for Canadian Solar panels which is one of the supposedly good brands.

http://www.dmsolar.com/cosopokiwi23.html

Then make sure you ask the installer for a quote that details the costs for:

  • Panels and Inverters (or micro inverters or power optimizers) and electrical. Ask for brand & models.
  • Mounting HW
  • Permits
  • Labor
Like that you can keep an eye on where they may be overcharging.

Another interesting site to educate yourself so your can level the playing filed with installers is this very detail DIY site below.

https://sites.google.com/site/sitechsolar/home

And a site that lets you compute the production of your installation.
http://pvwatts.nrel.gov/
 

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The price of energy is rapidly increasing and the price of panels has been rapidly decreasing .

If this trend continues , which I believe it will , it will eventually be cheaper to run solar than purchase from the grid . According to Ed Wallace on Inside Automotive , " this could happen in as little as two years from now ".

Not sure about the two year theory , but it does look like good news and offers independence from the Obama plan of rising utilities .
 

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I can't speak for getting someone else to do the work, but I installed my own system. The only tax break I qualified for was the 30% federal tax credit (no state or utility rebates). I also had to do a site prep which was enormous since I live between two mountains by removing a bunch of trees. Getting the light in between those two mountains was a real challenge. I still never get the early morning sun nor late evening sun. Anyway, after the Federal tax credit, and counting all costs including the trees being removed, I did my own install for 1.77 per watt (without the tree removal it would have been about 1.40 per watt). I also did what Bonaire did and I bought U.S. made panels and racking. I did go with the Enphase inverters. They are made in China, designed in USA. My best guess would be with someone else doing all the work, a realistic price would be around $3 per watt total cost. But again, I can really only quote what it cost me.
 

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What I observed with the last few quotes I got, is that Installers tends to overcharge on the panels/inverters.

One way to keep an eye on what is a reasonable cost for the panels, is to check sites that sell Panels and rack kits like the one below.

http://www.dmsolar.com/solar-gridtie-system.html

keeping in mind the above is the mid tier panels, so also look at the higher end like their offering for Canadian Solar panels which is one of the supposedly good brands.

http://www.dmsolar.com/cosopokiwi23.html

Then make sure you ask the installer for a quote that details the costs for:

  • Panels and Inverters (or micro inverters or power optimizers) and electrical. Ask for brand & models.
  • Mounting HW
  • Permits
  • Labor
Like that you can keep an eye on where they may be overcharging.

Another interesting site to educate yourself so your can level the playing filed with installers is this very detail DIY site below.

https://sites.google.com/site/sitechsolar/home

And a site that lets you compute the production of your installation.
http://pvwatts.nrel.gov/


Good info. One cost element you need to include is overhead/margin. Many times cheap turns out expensive.

Look for an installer that's NABCEP certified.
 

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If tentative alternative minimum tax bit me on getting the 30% fed EVSE tax credit, will it also bite me in attempting to get a tax credit on solar, or is that in a different part of the tax calculation? I need the math to work out before jumping in, and it sounds like it might be a feel good thing at the moment, especially since my state has inexpensive power compared to others. I held off buying a volt until the math worked out in my favor and will do the same with solar.
 

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If tentative alternative minimum tax bit me on getting the 30% fed EVSE tax credit, will it also bite me in attempting to get a tax credit on solar, or is that in a different part of the tax calculation? I need the math to work out before jumping in, and it sounds like it might be a feel good thing at the moment, especially since my state has inexpensive power compared to others. I held off buying a volt until the math worked out in my favor and will do the same with solar.

I am not 100% for sure on the tax credit, but I am pretty sure the tax credit for solar works just like the tax credit for the Volt.

On the pay back, simply do the math. I calculated it would take me about a little over 7 years to recoup my costs for solar. For me, that was a no brainer. Pay for 7 years of electricity upfront to no longer pay for electricity. Easy peasy, but again, I did install my own system which saved lots of money. My advice, if doing solar, size it to eliminate your electric bill. Not partially off set it, let it be gone.

It is for sure a feel good thing. Every time my electric bill comes in, I feel real good about it :)
 

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I am not 100% for sure on the tax credit, but I am pretty sure the tax credit for solar works just like the tax credit for the Volt.

On the pay back, simply do the math. I calculated it would take me about a little over 7 years to recoup my costs for solar. For me, that was a no brainer. Pay for 7 years of electricity upfront to no longer pay for electricity. Easy peasy, but again, I did install my own system which saved lots of money. My advice, if doing solar, size it to eliminate your electric bill. Not partially off set it, let it be gone.

It is for sure a feel good thing. Every time my electric bill comes in, I feel real good about it :)
I have the ability to build it myself (live on a farm, pretty handy, overhaul tractor engines, built my a garage, roofed my house several times). I'm also wondering if it makes sense to take a plunge and do this all at once, or do it in stages (add some panels now, some more later, even more even later) to spread out the costs and take advantage of changes in solar tech.
 

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Solar is really more of a feel good investment than a true money saver if your grid-based power is under $.14/kWh now. Without both federal and state incentives, the return on investment if you had to pay even $3/W is nearly 10 years or more. You can do far better investing in the stock market in an average high yield bond than going solar (in my opinion). But, one thing you do get to participate in is at-home "fueling" of an EV. Knowing your power during a mid-day charging is only coming from your roof is pretty cool. Again, part of the feel-good aspect of going solar.

My current-day "me" would probably talk myself out of going solar in 2010 when I started looking into it and December 2012 when I finally put it in. The system has put out 17 MWh so far. Not bad but only a very small blip on the overall power produced on the grid. When I charge the Volt overnight, my solar array does not really do much for that. But during the day if I am not charging, it is helping the local community a little bit with the outflow.
Much appreciated comments. Thank you. I like the thought of the "feel good investment" but would rather place my money where it does the most good.

If tentative alternative minimum tax bit me on getting the 30% fed EVSE tax credit, will it also bite me in attempting to get a tax credit on solar, or is that in a different part of the tax calculation? I need the math to work out before jumping in, and it sounds like it might be a feel good thing at the moment, especially since my state has inexpensive power compared to others. I held off buying a volt until the math worked out in my favor and will do the same with solar.
The cost of our electricity (Illinois) and the use of Power Smart Pricing, I cannot seem to make the math work in my favor either.
 

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Prices seem to vary tremendously by region from my observation as a member of the Solar Panel Talk forum, too. Here in Phoenix, I was able to get $2.50/W last summer, which I think tends to be the low end of the price range. But if you look at CA or Hawaii, $4-$5 dollars seems to be the normal range. Elsewhere in the country, $3-$4.
Just to give a recent price point: We committed to a 4.25kW (DC) system last week, here in SF Bay Area. We're going with domestically made panels and the installed cost before the Federal rebate will be $4.36/watt (DC). We had three different vendors quote and this was the most reasonable, using American made panels. Chinese panels change the cost to $4.12/watt.
 

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OFF GRID? I live in a part of VA that is truly not friendly to solar. Appalachian Power at the moment sees no need to participate. 5 miles away in NC it is a different story. I have an old fork-lift battery. Has anyone installed a solar system for off-grid, EV use. Very feel good and the battery need not be great at holding the charge for days since it will be dumped at night.
 

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While the cost-per-Watt is a good comparison point, the hardware being installed is well worth looking at as well, and could easily make a higher cost-per-Watt installation price much better than a lower one.

For example, a 10kWh system with standard Chinese black-on-silver panels using a string inverter(s) and so-so monitoring capabilities will probably have an enticingly low cost per Watt compared to a system comprised of made in the USA, all-black panels for better aesthetics, using micro-inverters for better shading performance and much more detailed monitoring.

With all hardware being equal, the cost per kWh is a good way to compare, but if the bids are using different hardware or system designs, a lot will depend on your own preferences for the system.

As a reference, here in St. Louis I paid $3.80 per Watt (before rebates) for the following:

12.740 kWh system
49 Suniva all-black 260W panels
49 Enphase micro-inverters
Installer paid all additional costs for permitting and meter changes by the electric company.
Paid the initiation fee for the 'no interest for 1-year' loan.



 

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Those black panels really look good against the grey roof.

But it didn't pass the wife test (my wife) here. She was walking by the computer as I brought this thread on-screen and commented on the picture.

But what does she know? She places form before function.

To me, it looks great!
 

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Hey, Norm, tell your wife that Black is the new Green :) However, I do remember you telling me that mine passed the wife test !!
 

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Those black panels really look good against the grey roof.

But it didn't pass the wife test (my wife) here. She was walking by the computer as I brought this thread on-screen and commented on the picture.

But what does she know? She places form before function.

To me, it looks great!
Those were the darkest shingles available and were put on the roof 3 weeks before we had the panels installed. Actually, with the reflection of light from the sky, the panels are pretty much always lighter looking than the roof. Unfortunately, when the panels have to go on the front of the house, they don't really 'blend in' no matter how hard you try. :cool:
 

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Hey, Norm, tell your wife that Black is the new Green :) However, I do remember you telling me that mine passed the wife test !!
Hey, you tell her! I have to live here.:cool:
[Shout out] Hey honey, this guy on the Internet has something he wants to tell you. [/Shout out]

It helps that we're 12' above street grade. You can barely see the panels unless you're looking for them or you drive around to the south side.

Our front door is @ 66* (ENE) facing the array at 156*. The Oak to the right of the driveway shades a little morning sun from an upper corner of the south array and a couple of panels of the north array along with the Mesquite tree to the left shading a little of the south array in the mornings for an hour or so. But the Crepe Myrtles up on the fence line clip about 3% of my morning sun before ~10 AM. That and the structural engineer's complaints about roof loading led to 4 panels that would have been nearest them being moved to risers on the north roof.

I planted the Crepes myself when they were only stalks of about two fingers thick, so they're my babies - not to be touched by any mean-old solar installer.:p We only have 3-5" of top soil any place you dig in the yard before you hit caliche, then harder rock. I spent 2 hours/hole with a pickaxe to prepare for each of them. They're about 30' tall now.

Our lifetime numbers are @ 95% of predicted (including the shading,) so we're happy.

Street View.jpg
 
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