Buying solar panels in 2024: The complete guide

Tired of paying increasingly high electric bills? You've come to the right place.

Written by:
Edited by: Rich Brown
Updated Jan 31, 2024
15 min read
SunPower solar panels on a house

Rooftop solar panels used to be luxury items but that's no longer the case. Whether you want to save thousands on electric bills or lower your carbon footprint, going solar is almost always the right decision if you own your home. 

Adding solar panels is a great long-term investment. It can boost your home's value and minimize your electric bill. It's also a big purchase, so it's important to make sure it will pay off before you make a final decision. 

Below, we'll explain how to decide if solar will work for you, and how to get solar panels at the best price. It all comes down to your roof, how much you pay for electricity, and your eligibility for incentives.

Find out what solar panels cost in your area in 2024
Please enter a five-digit zip code.
  • 100% free to use, 100% online
  • Access the lowest prices from installers near you
  • Unbiased Energy Advisors ready to help

Did you know?

  • You don't need to live somewhere warm or with abundant sunshine to save with solar.

  • Most homeowners will save tens of thousands of dollars by going solar.

  • Solar panels aren't free, but they do come with great incentives.

  • The best solar equipment for you might not be the best solar equipment for your neighbors.

  • There are ways to go solar without installing a single panel on your property.

The average U.S. household spends about $1,747 annually on electricity, according to electricity cost and consumption data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Over 25 years, that adds up to $61,520 (assuming 2.45% annual inflation). You can easily lower (and sometimes even eliminate) these costs by installing a rooftop solar panel system. 

Most households need an 11 kW system to fully cover their electricity usage. In 2024, an average 11 kW solar panel system costs $22,022 upfront including installation costs and the federal solar tax credit (more on that later). This is a hefty price tag, but when you consider how much you otherwise would've spent on electricity, it's easy to understand why millions of homeowners have gone solar. 

Solar is a long-term investment. Shoppers on the EnergySage Marketplace typically break even in about eight years. Remember that your costs and savings will ultimately depend on several factors, including where you live, how much you spend on electricity, and your home setup.

We don't want to bore you with the nitty-gritty physics details, but at a high level, solar panels work by using sunlight to generate electricity through the photovoltaic effect. The process starts with solar cells, which absorb light, knocking electrons (aka carriers of electricity) loose. These electrons then flow, creating direct current (DC) electricity. Metal plates on the sides of each solar cell transfer the DC electricity to wires. At this point, inverters (more on these below) convert the DC electricity into alternating current (AC) electricity, which most common household appliances use. And voila – your solar panels have produced solar energy for your home! 

Check out this quick guide to key solar terms

You'll get the most out of this guide if you first understand your suitability for solar. Solar panels are an excellent investment for many homeowners but they're not right for everyone. Your home doesn't have to be a perfect fit for solar for you to benefit from it. Many homeowners will save money with the right installation or an alternative approach like a community solar subscriptionIf you meet the following criteria, investing in solar will probably work for you.

If you've determined that you're a good fit for solar, it's probably worth the investment. But like any major financial decision, going solar has advantages and disadvantages you should consider first. 

Here are some key factors to consider when choosing the right solar panels for your home:

So, what are the best solar panels?

While there are many great solar panel brands, a few companies stand out above the rest. Panasonic, SunPower, and REC all offer monocrystalline panels with high power output, high efficiency, low-temperature coefficient, and strong warranties. You will generally pay more for these brands, so in some cases, selecting a slightly lower-performing panel with a better price tag can be worth it. 

Best solar panels compared

(Click to sort ascending)
Power output420-440 W400-430 W400-410 W
Temperature coefficient-0.29%/°C-0.24%/°C-0.26%/°C
Warranty92% output at year 2592% output at year 2592% output at year 25
Average cost per watt (includes installation costs)$3.49/W$2.82/W$3.16/W
Check out all the best solar panels

We've mainly focused on solar panels, but another critical component of your solar power system significantly impacts its production: the inverter. Solar inverters convert the DC electricity produced by your solar panels into usable AC electricity.

Depending on where you live and how frequently you experience power outages, batteries can also be important additions to solar power systems.

How to choose a solar inverter

When you're selecting a solar inverter, there are three main categories to consider: string inverters, microinverters, and optimized string inverters. 

See our review of the best solar inverters

When to consider a solar battery

Some homeowners believe they can power their homes independently from the grid once they go solar. To go off-grid with your solar panel system or power it during an outage, you must install a solar battery or a solar generator to store excess energy when the sun isn't shining.

Batteries are a great way to increase energy independence and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. They make a lot of sense if you frequently experience power outages, don't have access to net metering, or are eligible for lucrative battery incentives. Even with a battery, most homeowners still choose to maintain their connection to the grid because adding enough solar batteries to power your home is often costly.

You've decided you're a good fit for solar and are ready to move forward. Where do you start? Going solar can feel overwhelming, so we've broken down the process into five easily actionable steps:

You can often get money back from your solar power system through government incentives. Here are some of the top solar incentives that will either reduce your cost of going solar or increase your savings over time: 

Find out what solar panels cost in your area in 2024
Please enter a five-digit zip code.
  • 100% free to use, 100% online
  • Access the lowest prices from installers near you
  • Unbiased Energy Advisors ready to help
Back to the top
Did you find this page helpful?
Discover whole-home electrification
Home solar
rooftop solar icon

Create your own clean energy with solar panels.

Community solar
community solar icon

Enjoy the benefits of solar without rooftop panels.

Heating & cooling
Heat pump icon

Explore heat pumps, the latest in clean heating & cooling technology.

See solar prices near you.

Enter your zip code to find out what typical solar installations cost in your neighborhood.

Please enter a five-digit zip code.