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How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?

Updated for 2016: The price of solar has dropped dramatically over the last five years. The 30% US Federal Tax Credit (ITC) was just extended for 2016 through 2020!  System prices are now 50% to 60% less expensive than they were!  Go to our new GetSolar/EnergySage partnership Quote Engine to get real time pricing.

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Original Post: We all know that gasoline is priced in dollars per gallon.  We also all know about how far we'll be able to drive after shelling out 40 bucks for a tank of gas.

When it comes to solar power, however, not many of us know how the cost of solar panels is measured. Nor, for that matter, do we immediately see the relationship between the cost of solar power and the value of solar power. Unlike a tank of gas, the value of which is enjoyed (and used up) more or less immediately, solar panels deliver their value over a number of years.

With this in mind, the aim of this post is to answer two questions: (1) How much do solar panels cost? AND (2) Does the value of solar panels outweigh the cost? So, enough chit chat. Let's get started.

How much do solar panels cost? --> Try our free solar cost calculator.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels -- which turn the sun's rays into electricity -- are typically priced in dollars per watt ($/W). There are a few details related to this measure. You may sometimes hear some people talk about DC watts versus AC watts, for example, or refer to something called dollars per watt peak ($/Wp). But the main thing to remember is that, when you buy a solar energy system, you're paying for the ability -- or "capacity" -- to generate electricity now and into the future. Pretty cool, huh?

So, how much are you paying? What is the out-of-pocket cost of a solar PV system?

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Why Payback Period is an Imperfect Measure for Solar Panels

For many individuals interested in installing solar panels, question numero uno is: Does it make financial sense to do so? In response to this question, you may hear something like, "the system has a 10-year payback period." That is, after installation costs, it will take ten years of that system producing electricity before the owner will recoup the initial investment.

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The importance of energy efficiency

A lot of what we do here at GetSolar involves helping individuals and businesses answer the following question: Does solar PV make sense for me? The short answer, we usually say, is that there is no single answer -- it depends. The ROI and payback for a particular system are the product of a host of different factors, ranging from the amount of shade that hits your roof, to the types of solar incentives (beyond the 30-percent federal investment tax credit, which is available nationwide) that are offered in your area. The bottom line? In some instances, a solar PV system offers a great return on investment. In other situations, where PV can offer only modest returns, some people still choose go through with their project because they believe it's the right thing to do for the environment, and/or because they want to promote energy independence. Finally, there are scenarios in which solar PV just doesn't make financial sense. Your roof gets no sun. You're a renter. You live in Nebraska (where there are virtually no state-sponsored incentives for solar).

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