Last updated 6/9/2021
While the cost of solar has declined significantly over the last decade, it is still a significant investment for home and business owners looking to lower their electricity bills. In order to encourage the greater adoption of solar, the federal government, state and local governments, and even some utilities offer incentives to help make solar more affordable and accessible. These incentives typically take the form of rebates, tax benefits and/or performance based incentives, and can reduce the cost you pay for solar from anywhere to 26 to 50 percent!
All of the financial benefits listed below accrue to the owner of the solar panel system. If you buy your system upfront or with a solar loan, you’re eligible to receive the tax credits, rebates, and SRECs for the system. However, if you lease your system, the third-party owner will receive all of the solar incentives.
Major solar incentives
Investment tax credit for solar
The federal investment tax credit (ITC) is far and away the best solar incentive. The ITC gives back 26 percent of what you paid for solar on your taxes. Instead of a deduction, which reduces your taxable income (as would happen with any charitable donations you make in a year), a tax credit directly offsets what you would otherwise owe in taxes. In other words, instead of just being taxed on a lower income, the federal ITC offsets what you actually owe in taxes, and can even come back to you as a refund.
State tax credits
Some states offer additional tax credits for installing a solar panel system, functioning much the same way as the federal ITC does but for your state taxes. These amounts vary significantly by state, but, when paired with the federal ITC, can really add up!
Some states, municipalities, and utility companies offer up-front rebates for installing a solar panel system. Rebates are generally only available for a limited time and disappear once a certain amount of solar has been installed in your region. These rebates typically further reduce your system costs by 10 to 20 percent.
Solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs)
Many states now have renewable portfolio standards, which require utilities to procure or generate a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable resources, including solar power. If you live in one of these states, your solar panels will create solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) for the amount of electricity produced by your solar panel systems. Utilities buy your SRECs as a form of compliance with state-level renewable energy requirements, given that each SREC is representative of the environmental attributes of your solar generation. Selling your SRECs can result in hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars more per year in income, depending on the SREC market in your state.
Performance-based incentives (PBIs)
Another common form of solar incentive is the performance-based incentive, or PBI, which pays you a per kilowatt-hour credit for the electricity that your system produces. PBI programs are slightly different from SREC programs in one key way: while SRECs represent the environmental attributes of solar generation (i.e., emission reductions), PBI programs provide an incentive for the electricity produced itself (i.e., the kilowatt-hours of production). Unlike SRECs, PBIs don’t have to be sold through a market, and incentive rates are determined when the system is installed. PBIs can both replace or exist alongside net metering policies.
Other incentives for solar to be aware of
Solar incentives for businesses: accelerated and bonus depreciation
If you’re a business owner looking to install solar, this is the incentive for you! Thanks to accelerated depreciation, businesses can write off the value of their solar energy system through the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS), which reduces businesses’ tax burden and accelerates the return on investment you’ll see from solar. Qualified solar energy equipment is eligible for a cost recovery period of five years. Accelerated depreciation can reduce net system cost by an additional 30 percent.
Importantly, some states also offer their own MACRS tax benefit to businesses purchasing solar, which can further reduce your tax burden and decrease your payback period.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that the federal 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act allows for 100 percent bonus depreciation in year one, which often provides an even better benefit for federal taxes than MACRS. However, unless it’s extended, this benefit will disappear at the end of 2022.
You may be eligible to finance your solar panel system purchase using a subsidized solar loan with a reduced interest rate. These loans may be offered by your state, a non-government organization, or your utility company, but are usually only available for a limited time.
Some states and municipalities do not include the value of solar panel systems in property taxes assessments. This means that, even though the value of your property has increased by the addition of a solar power system (by 4 percent on average!), your property tax bill won’t increase – it will remain the same.
In addition, your solar panel system may be exempt from state sales taxes, which can result in significant additional savings depending on your state’s sales tax rate.
Solar rebates and incentives by state
No matter where you live, you can take advantage of federal solar programs like the Investment Tax Credit. However, states often have unique incentives only available to their residents. If you’re curious as to what your state offers to help offset the cost of going solar, check out our state rebates and incentives pages.
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