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Estimating the Cost of a Solar Installation

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Just because solar panels are made in a uniform rectangle shape, doesn’t mean there’s a uniform formula for designing a solar array. In fact, it’s kind of red flag if they do that without asking some specific questions first. Because every home is different, and every family generates a unique set of specific needs, installing a solar energy system to meet those needs reliably throughout the year calls for a completely custom design.

If we’re talking about cost, the one simplistic statement we can honestly make is that cost is a function of system size. Period. And size depends on too many factors to generalize. So, the first factor we consider in every custom design proposal we create is how much energy you consume.

Your Energy Usage

We start the design estimate conversation with your utility bills beginning with your most recent and going back at least six months to a year. The more information we can assemble about household energy consumption the easier it is for us to accurately estimate the size of the solar panel array you need.

Then, we look at a few other factors to determine panel placement and quantity.


Calculating Optimum Production

Since the cost of installing a solar array on your roof is a function of the size of the array, then it makes the most sense for us to design a system that provides all the energy you need with as few panels as possible. But, to find the ideal minimum number of solar panels, again, we first consider a few factors.

Facing straight toward the sun is ideal but not required.

In North America, mounting solar panels facing due south—or as close to it as possible is optimal. Southern exposure gives the panels the most time in the sun. On some homes it’s only possible to mount panels more east or west facing. That works fine, but it could contribute to increasing the number of panels needed.

Direct sunlight is ideal but not required.

Having a house surrounded by trees that shade your roof doesn’t disqualify you from getting solar. It may force you into a decision though. In a lot of cases where roofs are heavily shaded by surrounding trees, we can still design a solar array to produce the right amount of energy. It just takes more solar panels to do it. Sometimes homeowners accept the cost increase. Other times they elect to trim the trees back or even cut them down. It just depends on what’s more important to each particular homeowner.

Tilted 45 degrees is ideal but not required.

Since solar panels get mounted directly to the roof, the pitch of the roof becomes the tilt angle of the panels too. Solar panels work best when tilted at 45 degrees, which equals a 12/12 pitch—that is, 12 inches of rise and 12 inches of run per linear foot. Homes with a 45-degree roof pitch aren’t all that common.  Also, this angle in relation to your latitude is important in determining production. (There are complex calculations for this, and they vary greatly in the US, whether you are in Portland, Oregon or Raleigh, North Carolina)

Mild yet sunny climate is ideal but not required.

Since solar panels produce energy most efficiently when they aren’t too hot, the ideal climate is one that is both sunny and mild. Since there aren’t many places with dominant weather patterns like that, we look for the best way to strike a balance with the specific climate conditions in each location.

Average Costs

The National Average Size of Residential Solar Arrays

Nationally, the average output of typical rooftop solar arrays we install is 6kW. Just remember, the output is another determiner of size. That is to say, we install solar panels with a maximum output of 300 W per panel. So, a 6kW system equals 20 panels. The panels we install measure about 65″ X 39″ or about 16.5 square feet. So, we’re looking for about 330 square feet of available rooftop space.

What You’re Paying for When You Invest in Solar

If you’re looking to own your solar energy system, as opposed to leasing one—which is what we recommend—then you’re paying for the hardware and the cost of labor to install it, nothing else. What a lot of people don’t realize is that owning a rooftop solar array doesn’t require a lot of cash up front. In fact, our solar financing option, BluePower Plus+calls for $0 down. We handle the paperwork on all the tax benefits and cash rebates and apply them directly to your solar loan, so it gets paid off quicker.

Why Owning is Better Than Leasing

Owning your solar array means you pocket the tax benefits, the monthly energy savings, and the net-metering energy credits as well as the state, city, or utility company cash rebates, which tend to be pretty lucrative. Owning your solar array increases your home equity in an amount roughly equal to your annual energy savings multiplied by 20. Plus, if you live in a state with a market for Renewable Energy Credits, you own those too.

Why it’s Better to Have a Loan Payment Instead of a Utility Bill

We find that most of our customers care more about having favorable monthly payments than minimizing the overall cost. That’s another place where getting solar financing pays dividends over time. Utility bills can fluctuate from one month to the next, but energy prices pretty much everywhere trend upward from one year to the next. With a solar loan, you end up with a monthly bill that stays low and fixed for the life of the loan. Plus, once the loan is paid off, you get the benefit of producing clean energy for free from that day forward.

How TAX INCENTIVES Help You Pay Off Your Loan Faster

Right now, the federal government lets you deduct 30 percent of the cost of installing a rooftop solar-electric generator, including the cost of any necessary remodeling or retrofitting work associated with the solar installation from your federal income taxes. Plus, because of Renewable Portfolio Standards, many states offer their own income tax credit.

It’s also common for utility companies to offer additional cash incentives. If you decide to go with Blue Raven Solar, we handle the red tape and paperwork on all the tax benefits and cash rebates and apply them directly to your solar loan, so you walk away with lower monthly payments and an earlier payoff date.

Don’t Settle for Average Cost, Get A Proposal

Why Customer Proposals are Better Than Average Costs

While most construction contractors can create ballpark estimates based on a general pricing model like cost per square foot, with solar there’s just too much variation to do it accurately. That said, all it takes to start zooming in on hard numbers about your average monthly energy consumption and a little bit of information about the structure of your house. After submitting both to Blue Raven Solar, we can sit down and show you how much you can expect to pay each month for your own solar power system and what financing options are available to you to make it easy to go solar with no upfront costs. And to sweeten the incentives even more, our systems come with a production guarantee just in case the original estimate misses the mark.

The Blue Raven Solar Production Guarantee

After one year, we check in with our customers to audit the production of their solar array, and then again two years after installation. If any of our solar energy systems are found to produce less than 50 percent of original estimates over any three-month period or less than 85 percent of original estimates over an 18-month period, we upgrade the system with more panels free of charge.

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