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 should be a red flag if a solar company offers you a price point without asking some specific questions first. Because every home is different, every state has different weather patterns, and every family has a unique set of specific needs. Installing a solar energy system to reliably meet your needs all throughout the year calls for a completely custom design.

 

If we’re talking about estimating the cost of solar systems, the one simplistic statement we can honestly make is that solar cost is a function of system size. Period. 

 

And size depends on a lot of factors: 

  • Average energy usage
  • Sun-facing rooftops
  • Risk of shade during the day
  • Rooftop layout
  • Average weather

 

So, the first factor we consider in every custom design proposal we create is how much energy you consume.


 

Your Energy Usage

 
We start every 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 must 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, which means they generate more watts per hour. 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.

Our 250-watt panels generate 250 watts/hour at peak efficiency. As an example, let’s assume a direct-facing solar system of 24 panels generates 6000 watts per hour of peak sunlight. A solar system that spans the east-west direction of your rooftop may need to run 30 panels since average efficiency at that angle drops your power generation by a certain amount. 

Our contractors can help estimate what that sort of angle change may mean for your solar system when you request an estimate.

 

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 solar installation 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.

Once your system is installed, there are also legal protections known as solar easements. These are agreements between you and surrounding landowners that you own the rights to the solar rays that power your system. That way if a property owner plants trees or a contracting company builds a high-rise that blocks your sunlight, there are ways to make up for the sudden loss to your savings.

 

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; so whether you are in Portland, Oregon or Raleigh, North Carolina matters greatly to your solar system design.)

 

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.

It might also be easy to assume that solar’s going to do you no good in the winter if you live in a particularly snowy climate. Luckily, this perception is false! Solar panels generate a certain amount of heat while they produce energy, and so they can easily melt snowfall that might obstruct them from receiving solar rays. And thanks to their durable design, they can easily survive the impact of hailstones as well.

 

 

Average Costs

 
Costs of solar come down to a variety of factors including the size of your solar system as well as how you go about installing it. But there are also a lot of ways that a solar system can save you money outside of a lower electric bill.
 
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 300W 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—which is what we recommend—as opposed to leasing one, 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 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 also 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.

 

Companies that talk you into Power Purchase Agreements or leasing agreements cut you off from all of that. With PPAs, they install the system for a fee and then sell you power at their rate instead of the power company. With leasing agreements, you pay to basically rent something bolted into your home. In both situations, they get the tax benefits.

 

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 of solar. 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. At Blue Raven Solar, we make sure your monthly bill for the installation is lower than your average power bill from before. 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 22% 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.

 

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 of solar. And to sweeten the incentives even more, our systems come with a production guarantee just in case the original estimate misses the mark.We’re here to be a partner you can rely on and trust. If you request an estimate with us, we look over your details, and it turns out that solar power won’t benefit you like it should, we’ll be the first to tell you. We want you to own your solar system and we want it to work for you.

 

 

Don’t Settle for Average Cost, Get A Proposal

 

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. Combine that with our 25-year manufacturer warranty, and your solar system is built to last.

Estimating the cost of a solar system isn’t the easiest thing to do, but at Blue Raven Solar we want it to be the easiest thing for you to do. Contact us today if you have any questions, or request an estimate and our experts will look over your situation and see about getting you started on owning your own solar system, owning your own electricity, and creating a brighter future for your home and neighborhood with this green power.

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