What does an average solar electric system cost?

After rebates and tax incentives are applied, most residential solar PV systems cost between $6,000 to $15,000 depending on project size and type. This estimate includes the cost of materials, installation, freight, and permit fees. You can also go solar for little to no out of pocket expense with SunPower Financing options.

In order to provide a cost estimate, we will analyze your recent utility bills to determine how much electricity you consume on an annual basis. Additionally, we factor in specific issues that are unique to your home or business, such as available roof area and shading from trees or other buildings. We will then provide an estimate of the investment required to produce anywhere from 10-100% of your electrical power needs.

Can you determine the cost of a solar system based on home square footage?

Electricity consumption is much more dependent on the number and type of home appliances, number of people living in the house, and usage habits than square footage. At CST, we custom-design all of our systems based on each individual customer’s specific site and energy needs.

What is the size of an average solar electric system?

Sizing a solar PV system involves careful consideration of three main factors: budget, electricity consumption, and available space. Our solar professionals will consider all of these factors when we personally come to your home or business to take measurements for the estimate.

What modifications would be necessary for my house to run on solar electricity?

Very few modifications, if any, need to be made for solar installation. Solar panels are relatively lightweight so there are rarely any structural modifications required. Conduit and wire must be installed from the solar panels to the electrical service panel, but this can be accomplished easily.

Would I need to rewire my house before installing a solar system?

No. Grid-tied systems simply feed into a breaker or directly into the feeder of your main service panel. Adding back-up power capability requires the installation of a sub-panel to isolate your emergency loads (refrigerator, well pump, furnace blower, etc.), but this work is easily completed.

Would I need to use different appliances? Do I need to use DC appliances if the solar panels only produce DC electricity?

No, the solar panels feed DC electricity to a device called an inverter. The inverter changes the solar electricity into utility-grade AC electricity so that it can be used by your home or fed back into the grid.

Do I need batteries in my solar electric system?

Batteries are only necessary if you are either living “off-the-grid”, or living in an area with a high occurrence of power outages. Most solar electric power systems in urban areas, where grid connections already exist, forgo batteries and effectively use the utility grid as a battery. Not having batteries in a system reduces the overall cost of the project and virtually eliminates maintenance.

But if I don’t have batteries, how will I get electricity during the night or when the sun isn’t shining?

If you’re tied to the grid, then you simply take electricity from the utility company. This happens whenever you are consuming more electricity than your solar system is producing, such as at night or during cloudy weather. When the sun is shining, however, and you are producing more power than you’re consuming, the solar system will feed the excess electricity back into the grid. Each month, your utility meter may spin backward and forward on a daily basis, but your monthly utility bill will only show the “net” usage that occurred.

If you produce more power than you use each month, the credits will carry over for later use for up to 12 months. Thereafter, if you still have credit left over, the utility may pay you for the excess power you produced, or you may elect to carry credits forward indefinitely for future usage. (Refer to “What is net-metering?”)

What happens if it’s cloudy or rainy for several days in a row?

In inclement weather, your solar electric system will produce less electricity, but you will not notice the difference inside your home. Grid-tied solar systems never “run out” of electricity. Although solar panels only produce their maximum output in full, unobstructed sunlight, they will still produce power on cloudy or rainy days – albeit less than normal.

During these times, you end up buying more power from the utility company to make up the deficit. When we design systems, we take into account regional weather patterns and can accurately estimate monthly and annual solar electricity production.

Can I heat my home with a solar electric system?

It is possible, but it’s usually not the most cost effective method for heating your home. In general, using electricity to generate heat requires a huge amount of electrical power. A better investment would be to minimize your home’s need for heat by installing additional insulation, high quality windows and window coverings, and possibly a solar thermal heating system.

How much do solar electric systems weigh?

In general, solar electric systems weigh less than four pounds per square foot, which is comparable to the weight of a layer of asphalt shingles. Almost all roof structures can accommodate the additional weight of a solar system.

Will I have to pay more for or make any changes to my homeowner’s insurance policy?

We recommend that you contact your insurance agent to determine if additional coverage is needed to insure the solar electric system. Typically any increase in premium is put in place to cover the replacement cost of the system rather than the system being viewed as a liability by the insurance company.

How durable are solar panels? Can the panels withstand hail during a storm?

Solar electric panels are built with high-impact tempered glass. The solar industry standard dictates that panels should be able to withstand 3/4” hail at 60 mph. Our panels generally far exceed that minimal requirement. If your solar panels do suffer any hail damage, you may be able to claim the damage via your homeowner’s insurance policy.

How long do solar panels last?

Solar panels carry 20 to 25 year warranties, with life expectancies of more than 40 years.

How efficient are solar panels?

Typical solar panels have efficiencies ranging from 13% to 15% and produce about 10-13 watts per square foot. High-efficiency panels such as those made by SunPower reach up to 22% efficiency and produce about 17 watts per square foot. Some panels can reach up to 30% or more, but the cost of the equipment required for that level of efficiency is usually prohibitive for all but military or space applications.

How are solar panel prices expected to change in the near future?

Starting in early 2005, the rapid growth of the PV and semiconductor industries began to outpace the global capacity to refine silicon, leading to the first price increases in the PV industry in decades. 

Solar panel prices increased by 15-20% from 2005-2007 and then leveled off in 2008. Fortunately, the silicon shortage ended in late 2008, and solar panel prices decreased as much as 33% in 2009 largely due to decreased demand resulting from the global economic crisis. We always stay informed on the latest trends in solar panel supply, demand, and pricing and will be happy to discuss the most current information with you when designing your system.

How can I maximize my solar energy investment?

Use your electricity as efficiently as possible. Appliance upgrades to EnergyStar-rated models can make a huge impact. An EnergyStar refrigerator or washing machine purchased today will use half the energy of a standard model that’s just five years old. Improvements to your home’s lighting, insulation, windows, appliances, etc., can all reduce your electrical demand with relatively small investments.

Not only are energy efficiency improvements the “low hanging fruit,” they are also the most effective way to make a difference from both an economic and environmental perspective. When you are ready to install a solar electric system, it will be able to offset a larger percentage or all of your home’s electricity consumption.

We also install energy monitoring systems, which give you 24-hour access to view your home energy usage and solar production.

What is “net-metering”?

For solar electric systems installed on a home or business that are connected to the grid (i.e.“grid-tied”), net-metering allows you to have one electric meter, which can spin forward or backward. When the sun is shining, your solar system is producing electricity that can be directly used by your home or business, thereby offsetting the amount of electricity being purchased from the utility company. But if the electricity is not immediately used, where does it go?

Many homes are empty during the day while everyone is away at work or school. During these times, the electricity that you’re producing but not using is sent back to the utility company. This causes your electric meter to spin backwards, which gives you retail credit. Your electric meter may spin backward and forward on a daily basis, but you’ll only be billed according to the “net” reading on your meter at the end of each month.

In this way, net-metering allows you to take advantage of, and get retail credit for, every unit of electricity that your solar electric system produces. If you produce more power than you use each month, the credits will carry over for later use for up to 12 months. If you still have a credit left over at the end of the year, the utility may pay you for the excess power you produced, or you may elect to carry credits forward indefinitely for future usage.


"The sales person was very informative. He knew the product well and explained everything in detail. He answered all of our questions thoroughly and completely. We love our CST Solar and think the investment was well worth the cost."
- Linnea Peterson, 2016