When you read about solar panels online, you almost always hear how much money they save. Relatively few sources document how much money they cost.
This is to be expected, however, since solar panels truly do help home and commercial building owners save money. In most cases, savings continue well into the two-decade mark and beyond. But enjoying those savings means investing now, and any astute investor wants to know the lifetime cost of an investment before dedicated resources to it.
Assessing the lifetime cost of solar panel installation and deliberately choosing low maintenance panels can help you make the right decision concerning your solar energy needs.
First – How Much Does Solar Panel Installation Cost?
Since solar panel systems vary widely in size, application, and performance, it’s impossible to give a one-size-fits-all answer. Generally, you can expect to pay between $2.87 and $3.85 per watt for installation.
This, combined with a 30% federal tax credit, solar renewable energy credits, and net metering benefits (if available in your state) can make an average-sized system cost between $10,000 and $15,000 to install. Solar panel installation rates have fallen dramatically in the past few years, and continue to do so.
Unsurprisingly, larger solar panel systems cost more, but also save homeowners more money in the long run. For some individuals, a $0-down, low-interest solar loan may produce better long-term savings by making the installation of a large, 10-kilowatt system available – especially considering that most states’ utility rates are only going to increase as time goes on.
For a sense of scale, a single 250-watt solar panel costs anywhere between $180 and $250. Installation and mounting come with their own costs, so it’s easy to see how a modest 5-kilowatt system can cost $12,000.
Maintaining Solar Panels
Fortunately, there is very little you need to do to your panels post-installation. Solar panels are low maintenance. Other than debris or other obstructions, there are not many things that can significantly reduce your new panels’ effectiveness.
Even with the lowest maintenance solar panel, however, you will have to regularly put in time to clear debris and ensure the system gets enough sunlight. This won’t cost you anything, and you don’t need to worry about clearing snow in all but the very worst weather – panels generate enough heat to melt snow on their own.
Since residential solar panels have no moving parts, they need little to no maintenance for the first decade or two of use. In fact, solar panels are the lowest maintenance energy-producing technology in the modern home today.
As the panels gradually get older, they will naturally degrade. Electrical generation will generally drop by 10-20% by the time your panel installation is 20 years old. After that, the only way to reach 10% efficiency is by replacing worn-out photovoltaic cells.
Past the 20-year mark, you may begin to have light maintenance issues – panels may start corroding, which will affect the integrity of the entire system. With older panels, be on the lookout for discoloration or thin, unusual-looking film covering the panel glass. This only happens very rarely but you must seek professional intervention if it does.
Actual lifetime maintenance costs could include occasional monitoring and wire maintenance. It’s not uncommon for wildlife to chew through wires, for instance, but these issues are generally easy to address once they occur.
Solar Panel Removal Costs
Considering that panels typically have lifetimes measured in decades, it’s not surprising that many solar panel system owners neglect to plan for eventual solar panel removal. However, if you move to a new home or wish to install panels at your place of work – where they may be more useful if you use more electricity at work than at home – then removal costs should factor into the lifetime cost equation.
Simply shipping your panels to a new location rarely costs more than a few hundred dollars. Although panels are large, they ship easily since they can be stacked atop one another.
However, depending on the way your solar panel installation company mounted your panels, you may also have to pay a roof contractor to repair your now-bare roof. If removing the panels damages your roof, you could end up paying thousands of dollars more for a roof replacement. For this reason, solar experts discourage DIY solar panel removal.
You should expect to pay a professional anywhere from $1000 to $2000 for panel removal and reinstallation. Although this may seem like a burden, the combination of potential roof damage costs and the danger of unprotected rooftop falls makes the investment well worth it.
Beyond these costs, your solar panel system will save you money by reducing your electric bill far into the foreseeable future.