The first thing on most folks’ minds about solar (or a new suit, home, car, loaf of bread) is the price.

The cost of a solar installation is defined in dollars per DC-rated watts produced by the panels.  An average home of 3 bedrooms, 2 baths might be able to hold a solar system that contains 20 panels with a total rating of about 6000 watts.    (the DC rating of 1 panel might be 300 watts, so 20 panels x 300watts = 6000 watts)

In the Seattle area, solar installations of that size are being installed for between $3.00 and $4.00 per watt.  If you take the middle of that range as being $3.50 per watt, you would have an average cost of $21,000 plus tax, for putting solar on that average Seattle home.

Given all the variables that increase or decrease the actual price, shopping for solar isn’t much like pricing a can of soup in grocery stores.

Here are some variables that can make a significant price difference:

Solar panels:  Expensive Washington-made, or commodity priced globally sourced panels.  Is one better than the other?

Power electronics:  Simple string inverter or advanced inverting system with internet reporting and other advanced features?

AC power system of building:  Will the existing electrical system be able to handle the extra solar power surging through it, or will a new distribution panel need to be added?

Roof space:  Is there sufficient roof space?  How many panels can be placed in a given roof plane?  Simple or complex roof? 

Roof height:   More than 15 feet from the ground can add cost to a solar installation.

Residential or Commercial:  Commercial solar projects require additional permitting and engineering costs.

Battery storage systems:  In Washington state, if you plan to stay on the grid, this cool technology, at today’s prices, may be an expensive green toy.

As you can see there is a big list of variables–and that’s just for the initial purchase price!

The picture gets even murkier when we consider things like payback time and investment value, system longevity, life expectancy of power electronics, etc.

To help you decide if a solar purchase really makes sense for you, a good solar contractor can be very valuable.  When talking to a contractor ask to see the math behind claims for financial performance of any kind.  Ask for an explanation you can clearly understand.

At InvestSolar, we’ll always give you a clear, professional analysis.  If a solar project on your property isn’t a good deal, we’ll tell you up front.

Be wary of buying more gear than is necessary–and always keep in mind, the best and cheapest way to save on electricity is by first reducing your power consumption.  And that’s a story for another day!


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