Getting home solar panels in 2023: The complete buyer's guide

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

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Edited by: Rich Brown
10 min read
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Rooftop solar panels used to be luxury items–but that's no longer the case. Whether you want to save thousands on electric bills, lower your carbon footprint, or fully electrify your home, 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 your home, 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.

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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 $1,697 annually on electricity, according to electricity cost and consumption data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Over 25 years, that adds up to $52,800 (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 a 10 kW system to fully cover their electricity usage. In 2023, a 10 kW solar panel system costs $21,070 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.

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 aren't right for everyone. They're most worth it if:

  1. You own your property: If you're a renter or part of an HOA, you must check with the property owner or homeowners association before making concrete plans for your solar system.

  2. You pay a lot for electricity: The higher your monthly electricity bill, the faster you'll save money with your new solar system. 

  3. Your roof is the ideal setup: You don't need to live somewhere where the sun is always shining for solar to be worth it – but you do need a suitable roof. The ideal roof for solar is south-facing, has a tilt between 30 and 45 degrees, has plenty of open space, experiences minimal shading throughout the day, and is in good condition. If you have an east or west-facing roof, you can still go solar and expect to save thousands, you might just lose some production. 

  4. You can take advantage of incentives: The cost of solar panels largely depends on the value of incentives available, which varies based on where you live and your tax liability. If you live in a state with net metering and have enough tax liability to take advantage of the solar tax credit (more on this below), you'll break even on your solar investment sooner.

If you meet these criteria, solar will probably work for your home, but 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 subscription

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! 

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

  1. You save on electric bills: The average homeowner will save between $20,000 and $90,000 over the life of their solar panel system in avoided electricity costs. If you electrify home appliances, like your heating & cooling system, car, or cooktop, you can often lower your other energy bills with solar. 

  2. Your home value could increase: Studies show that having a solar panel system increases home value by an average of 4%.

  3. You lower your carbon footprint: Unlike fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, solar doesn't directly release carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere (which contribute to climate change). 

If you've been shopping for solar panels for a while, you've probably heard advertisements for "free solar panels." While this may sound enticing, it's pretty misleading. There's no such thing as free solar panels. These types of claims typically refer to solar leases and power purchase agreements in which you won't owe anything upfront but won't own your system. 

While you can't get free solar panels, 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: 

The federal investment tax credit (ITC) is today's best solar incentive. Unlike a tax deduction (which reduces your taxable income), the ITC allows you to apply 30% of your solar system's upfront cost as a credit toward your federal tax bill. If you've overpaid your taxes during the year, you can even receive the ITC as a refund, as long as it doesn't exceed your total tax liability. If it does exceed your tax liability, the remaining credit will roll over to the following year. 

One key thing to understand as you learn about solar incentives is that your eligibility often hinges on your system ownership. If you finance your system with a solar lease or a power purchase agreement (PPA), you'll miss out on some of the best incentives available, including the ITC and state tax credits, rebates, or SRECs. 

With that in mind, here are the three main ways to pay for your solar panel system

Paying for your solar system with cash is the best way to maximize your long-term savings: You won't owe anything in interest or be subject to origination, dealer, or closing costs (which can add up!). However, many homeowners lack the cash to purchase their solar panel systems upfront. It typically takes about 8-9 years to recover the total cost in electric bill savings. 

The best solar panels for you might not be the best solar panels for your neighbor – but some key factors can help you compare your options:

You might have heard or seen the terms monocrystalline or polycrystalline in your solar panel research. Monocrystalline solar panels have cells made of a single silicon crystal. They're typically black in color and more efficient. Polycrystalline solar panels have cells made of multiple silicon crystals melted together. They're generally blue in color and more affordable. 

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 output400-410 W420-440 W400-430 W
Temperature coefficient-0.26%/°C-0.29%/°C-0.26%/°C
Warranty92% output at year 2592% output at year 25, 88.25% output at year 4092% output at year 25
Cost per watt (includes installation costs)$2.61-$3.45/W$3.48-$4.10/W$2.50-$3.46/W
Visit our Solar Panel Equipment Guide to browse and compare different brands.

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. When selecting a solar inverter, there are three main categories: string inverters, microinverters, and optimized string inverters. 

Many homeowners choose string or central inverters due to their low cost, durability, and easy maintenance. In a system with a string inverter, each panel is wired into a "string," and multiple strings (typically up to 3) connect to the inverter. All of the electricity on that string is converted at once, meaning that a drop in the performance of an individual solar panel (like from shading) will impact the output of all the panels on that string. String inverters are typically located on the side of your house, making them reasonably easy to repair and maintain. Depending on the size of your solar power system, you could require just one or a couple of string inverters.

Generally, string inverters are best for homeowners with uncomplicated roofs with minimal shading. SMA America offers one of the most popular string inverters on EnergySage.

Check out our Solar Inverter Equipment Guide

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

The best way to get a great deal on your solar panel system is to compare quotes based on cost, equipment, and installer reputation. Historically, many solar shoppers only received one solar quote from a door-to-door salesperson or a cold call. But how can you feel confident in your solar decision if you only see one quote?

Fortunately, the free EnergySage Marketplace makes this easy by gathering up to seven custom solar quotes for you from our network of pre-screened installers. The best part? On average, solar shoppers who receive quotes on EnergySage pay 20% less for their solar systems than those who don't.

Going solar can feel overwhelming, but EnergySage is here to simplify it. Get free quotes through the EnergySage Marketplace, and compare quotes from only vetted, reputable solar installers. If you have any questions, we'll provide tools and resources and free access to an Energy Advisor who can walk you through the process so you can confidently go solar.

Find out what solar panels cost in your area in 2023
Please enter a five-digit zip code.
Your information is safe with us. Privacy Policy
Find out what solar panels cost in your area in 2023
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
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