How to go solar in 2024

Interested in solar and not sure where to start? We've got you covered.

Updated May 1, 2024
8 min read
Steps of going solar

Getting solar panels installed on your roof can feel intimidating. Which panels should you choose? Do you need to replace your roof first? Where can you find a reputable solar installer? How should you pay for it?

Taking the process step by step is the best way to get a quality solar panel system installed–without getting overwhelmed. And we're here help you every step of the way.

Here's our quick guide to going solar.

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Key takeaways

  • First, determine if you're a good fit based on your energy costs, home and roof setup, and location.

  • Compare multiple quotes when going solar to find the right system at a competitive price.

  • Most rooftop solar installers will conduct a site visit after you sign a contract to cut their overhead costs and your installation costs.

  • Three main solar financing options are paying upfront with cash, a solar lease or PPA, and a solar loan.

  • Even if you're not a homeowner, you can still go solar by subscribing to a community solar program.

Before going solar, you want to ensure you're a good fit. There are five key questions to consider to determine if solar is right for you:

  1. How much do you spend on electricity? The higher your electricity bills, the more you'll save with solar. Solar might not be your best financial decision if your energy bills are low, but you'll still lower your carbon footprint by powering your home with clean energy. 

  2. What type of home do you live in, and do you own it? It will be easiest to go solar if you live in a single-family house that you own. If you live in a condo, you may need approval from your HOA before installing solar on your property unless you have explicit roof rights. Similarly, your landlord must provide authorization before you go solar in an apartment.

  3. Is your roof suitable for solar? The best 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. East and west-facing roofs work just fine, too.

  4. Can you take advantage of tax incentives and rebates? Some states offer better solar incentives than others. You can probably save a lot with solar if you live in a state with net metering, a Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) market, rebates, and state tax incentives. The Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) also lowers the upfront cost of your solar installation by 30%, as long as you have a big enough federal tax bill.

  5. How much do solar panels cost in your region? The cost of solar varies based on where you live. For example, according to our latest Solar & Storage Marketplace Report, before incentives, solar costs about $3.55/watt (W) in Indiana, while in Arizona, it's only $2.30/W. For a 10 kilowatt (kW) system, that's a $12,500 difference in cost!

Think you're a good fit based on your answers to these questions? Read on to learn how to go solar in five steps.

Once you know you're a good fit for solar, the first step is to gather and compare competing quotes for solar. Historically, most solar shoppers only saw a single solar quote from a company going door-to-door selling solar in their neighborhood. But how can you ensure you pay a fair price for the right system without gathering multiple quotes to compare? 

When you register for an account on EnergySage, we gather up to seven custom quotes for solar from our network of vetted, experienced installers in your area. On average, solar shoppers who receive quotes on EnergySage pay 20% less for solar than those who don't.

You've received multiple quotes to compare. Now it's time to pick the installer and solar panel system that suits your needs. You'll want to compare your quotes based on details like the quality and type of solar equipment included in your quote, the installer's ratings and reviews, and the systems' comparative prices. Our expert Energy Advisors can walk you through your quotes (even if you didn't get them through EnergySage) and provide free, unbiased advice on these factors to help you feel confident in your decision.

Once you've selected your installer, you'll need to review your contract, paying close attention to details on costs, incentives, equipment, cancellation terms, and clauses, and sign it when you're ready!

Once you sign your contract, your installer will conduct a site visit as a final check to ensure the solar power system you're purchasing is suitable for your home. Typically, installers won't perform this step until after you've signed your contract because it lowers the number of sites where they send sales reps and engineers, cutting their overhead costs and ultimately lowering the price of your installation. However, after the visit, they will make any necessary adjustments to your contract. They will typically let you out of the contract or only charge a minimal penalty if you don't want to proceed based on their findings.

During the site visit, an engineer (not a salesperson) will check your roof and electrical panel to decide if they need any updates before you go solar. They may come to your house or conduct your site visit virtually. Learn more about how to prepare for a virtual site visit.

Equally crucial as deciding which installer to go with and which solar panel system to install is deciding how you will pay for your solar installation. There are three main ways to pay for solar: upfront, with a lease or power purchase agreement (PPA), or with a solar loan. There are pros and cons to each solar financing method. 

  • With an upfront payment, you'll see the most significant financial savings over the lifetime of your solar panel system. But, you'll have to spend a lot upfront, meaning it will take a few years to realize savings.

  • With a lease, someone else owns the solar panels on your roof, and you purchase the electricity from them each month at a discounted rate compared to what you typically pay for electricity. Still, you won’t save as much over time and won't receive all of the solar incentives, like the federal tax credit.

  • A solar loan falls somewhere between the other two options: You own the solar panel system but pay for it monthly, as opposed to all at once. Your monthly loan payments may even be lower than you pay for electricity, allowing you to start saving on day one.

Once you've signed a contract and decided how to pay for your solar panel system, your hard work is done! Time to sit back, relax, and watch your solar company install the panels on your roof. Before installation day, your installer will begin submitting the paperwork required for installation and interconnection to the grid and for applicable incentives.

On the day of your installation, you can expect 5-10 employees of your solar company to be onsite, ranging from certified electricians who do all of the electrical work to the solar panel installers who are up on your roof attaching the panels and installing other equipment like your solar inverters. Most home installations take just 1-3 days to complete. 

After your installation, you'll need approval for any incentives and permission to operate (PTO) from your utility before your installer can turn on your system. PTO can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months; typically, your utility company will send a representative to your house to examine your system and install or update your meter so they can track the solar energy you send to the grid. Once they've completed PTO, you'll receive official documentation that you can officially turn your solar panel system on for electricity generation!

That's it. You have solar panels and are ready to enjoy decades of free, solar-powered electricity!

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