Admit it, you have contemplated going solar at least once in the last year alone – and you have pondered over its cost for a good while. In the long term, solar panels make an excellent case – both environmentally and financially. However, their upfront cost still remains the top decisive factor for most buyers.
But are solar panels really so expensive, especially for a typical, 1,500 sq. ft. house? Let’s find out.
Cost of Solar Panels for an Average House
Homes in Canada vary in size, but most of them lie around the 1,500 sq. ft. mark. Therefore, an extremely common question we are asked is the cost of solar panels for a 1,500 sq. ft. house. The most straightforward answer to that is “Well, it depends”, followed by an apologetic shrug.
However, we decided to dig deeper into this question and give you an answer anyway – one that considers a standard house, a standard design, and a standard set of equipment used.
Based on the average annual electricity consumption of a 1,500 sq. ft. house, the size of a solar system required would be about 6 kW. Considering the average cost of solar in Canada, every watt of installed capacity costs around $3.1. This means that the previously mentioned 6 kW system would cost 6,000 x 3.1 = $18,600.
Factors Affecting the Cost of Solar Panels
There is a wise saying about averages and thumb rules – “On average, nothing is average.” While the average cost in the previous section is a good starter for information on solar system costs, there’s obviously no guarantee that your system will cost $18,600. Practically, a system can cost anywhere between $15,000 and $25,000.
And therefore, we look at the factors that decide what a system’s cost looks like:
Type of Inverter
An inverter is needed with every solar power system to convert DC power from the panels into usable, AC power. Here are the types of inverters and how they affect the pricing:
As the name suggests, string inverters are devices that are attached to entire strings of solar panels. The combined electricity from all solar panels is converted to usable, alternating current (AC) and sent forward to your home’s circuit.
String inverters are cheaper than their modern counterpart – microinverters. However, a major disadvantage with string inverters is that if an inverter fails, the entire string of panels stops working. Additionally, even if one solar panel or a part of it becomes shaded, the voltage of all other panels in the string also drops. In short, string inverters are less reliable.
Although a relatively newer technology, microinverters have rapidly become popular. These are tiny inverters that can fit in your palm. Each microinverter can be attached to an individual solar panel. This means even if one inverter or panel stops working, all the other panels are unaffected by it.
Microinverters are also immune to string shading problems. They even have a longer lifespan, and allow easy system expansion.
Since they are connected to each panel, panels with microinverters are often also called AC modules, suggesting that the panel itself is an AC power-producing device. Despite the plummeted costs of microinverters in recent years, they are still more expensive than string inverters.
For example, a traditional, string inverter for a 6 kW system will cost somewhere between $1,500 and $2,000. A microinverter system, on the other hand, may cost up to $3,000. In terms of cost per watt, using microinverters for your system raises the average system cost to about $3.7/W. This means the typical 6 kW system mentioned above would now cost 6,000 x 3.7 = $22,200.
The city you live in has a specific solar power generation potential. This means your house will generate a certain number of kWh for every kW of solar power installed. Your solar consultant initially calculates your solar power system based on this metric. For example, in Ontario, every kW of solar generates an average of 1166 kWh in a year.
However, this is based on the assumption that your solar panels can receive direct sunlight falling on them at a 90-degree angle, or as close to that as possible. In the northern hemisphere, the sun is usually positioned in the south, and you need a south-facing roof to receive direct sunlight.
Unfortunately, not all homes have a perfect, south-facing roof. Solar panels can still be installed on the east or west slope of a roof, and in some cases, even flat. This means the sunrays fall at an inclined angle, and the power generated is lower. In other words, to generate a specifically required kWh, you will need a higher number of solar panels, resulting in a higher cost.
Installing solar panels flat is usually the last resort. Not only do the panels generate less power than sloping panels, they also cost more to install flat. Typically, this adds about $70 to each module. So if you are installing a 6 kW system that has 20 modules, you would be spending about $1,400 more.
In some cases, customers also opt for ground-mounting of solar panels. This offers several benefits such as perfect orientation and easier installation and maintenance. However, unlike rooftop systems, which use the roof as the weight-bearing structure, ground-mounted panels need a new structure to bear their weight. This requires more complex racking with a proper concrete foundation.
Obviously, ground-mounted panels cost higher than roof-mounted ones. Typically, each module requires an extra $150 when ground mounting. Considering again our average 6 kW system with 20 modules, you would be spending about $3,000 extra for ground-mounting.
Aside from the inverter type and roof orientation, two other factors that may increase the system cost in a few cases are batteries and custom needs. Let’s take a look.
- Battery Backup: Unless you live alternatingly on the North Pole and the South Pole, you will have to go through day and night cycles, like the majority of humans. Naturally, your solar system is going to produce zero watts after the sun has set.
Thankfully, net-metering has made it possible to use grid power at such times and send excess solar power back into the grid during the day. However, net metering may be of no use if you live away from the grid.
In this case, you will have to opt for batteries. Even for grid-connected, net-metered systems, batteries can be a great option to add resilience, given the frequency of power cuts and our crumbling grid. Adding batteries can add another 50-100% to your system’s cost.
Typically, an average-sized home having a 6 kW system may need a battery bank that costs around $15,000.
- Custom Requirements:
As we mentioned before, the $3.1/W pricing is for a standard system. In many cases, customers may have custom requirements for their systems. For example, the use of bifacial panels for patios and pergolas will cost significantly higher, since bifacial panels are more expensive.
In cases like these, your system is no longer an average system, and hence the average pricing will not apply to it.
Incentives and Rebates
As the global climate warms up rapidly, governing authorities worldwide are finding ways to promote eco-friendly technologies. As such, solar power claims the top spot in such technologies and enjoys incentives and rebates nearly everywhere.
In Canada, you can benefit from a number of incentives. For example, the Canada Greener Homes Grant is a grant available nationwide and can save you up to $5,000 on your solar power system.
Besides the Greener Homes Grant, several provinces offer their own provincial incentives and rebates, which can further lower the price of your solar purchases.
Summing it Up
The costs of solar panels have fallen down by 80% in the past decade alone. In its entire history, this is the absolute best time to go solar. And yet, anything that lasts three decades will have a cost that reflects its life and utility value. A number of homeowners are curious about how much a solar power system will cost for an average home.
Although there is a multitude of factors that will affect the final price, a standard house with standard power consumption patterns will usually require a 6 kW system, which will be priced at around $18,600.
But the price tag of a system is just one element in understanding its value. For instance, the resulting savings is an equally important number to know. Check out our solar savings calculator to figure out how much you can save by going solar.
Another great option is to get in touch with our expert consultants, where you can get the right information and a free quote with no obligation to purchase.