Solar payback period: How soon will they pay off?

The average EnergySage solar shopper breaks even in about eight to nine years.

Edited by: Alix Langone
Updated Jun 3, 2024
6 min read

There are plenty of factors that can help you decide whether installing solar panels is a smart financial move, but there’s one metric solar shoppers should focus on in particular: the solar payback period, or breakeven point.

The solar payback period represents the amount of time it takes to recoup the cost of installing your solar system. Depending on your installer, the number of solar panels you install, and how you pay for your system, the length of your solar payback period will vary. The average solar payback period for EnergySage customers is under nine years.

Here's what you need to know about how long it's likely to take you to break even on your solar energy investment.

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Solar payback period

Key takeaways

  • Your solar payback period is the time it takes to break even on your initial solar investment.

  • The average EnergySage solar shopper breaks even in about eight to nine years.

  • You can calculate your breakeven point by dividing the total cost of your system by your annual savings.

  • Your electricity use and cost, the cost of solar, and your access to solar incentives all impact your solar payback period.

To calculate your solar payback period, you simply divide the cost of installing your system by the amount of money you’ll save each year.

For example, if your solar installation costs $20,000 and your system saves you $2,300 a year on your electric bill, your breakeven point is 8.7 years ($20,000/$2,300 = 8.7).

That means at the end of those 8.7 years, your solar panels will have saved you enough money on your electric bill to cover the upfront cost of your system. Year nine in the example is when you technically start saving money, having finally broken even on your investment.

Comparing the different payback periods of multiple solar installation quotes is one of the simplest ways to understand each option's financial benefits and understand what year your solar investment will start to save you money.

Solar payback period by state

State
Payback period (years)
Combined costs
Annual savings

Arkansas

11.55

$25,171

$10,787

Arizona

10.82

$18,715

$8,021

California

5.93

$15,235

$6,530

Colorado

11.44

$20,012

$8,576

Connecticut

6.68

$23,299

$9,985

Washington D.C.

3.89

$20,826

$8,926

Delaware

9.43

$21,617

$9,264

Florida

11.55

$22,023

$9,439

Georgia

13.27

$23,214

$9,949

Iowa

13.03

$27,274

$11,689

Idaho

13.07

$23,382

$10,021

Illinois

4.85

$25,040

$10,731

Indiana

15.18

$28,060

$12,026

Kansas

11.84

$24,917

$10,679

Kentucky

14.3

$29,725

$12,739

Louisiana

14.5

$25,529

$10,941

Maryland

8.36

$25,577

$10,961

Maine

13.2

$24,908

$10,675

Michigan

12.75

$22,107

$9,474

Minnesota

11.52

$24,757

$10,610

Missouri

11.44

$24,368

$10,443

North Carolina

11.96

$23,831

$10,213

New Hampshire

8.31

$22,903

$9,816

New Jersey

6.96

$22,646

$9,705

New Mexico

10.86

$19,207

$8,231

Nevada

7.1

$22,337

$9,573

New York

8.52

$23,745

$10,176

Ohio

8.15

$22,031

$9,442

Oklahoma

9.91

$23,909

$10,247

Oregon

9.78

$22,355

$9,581

Pennsylvania

7.7

$24,715

$10,592

Rhode Island

6.65

$22,060

$9,454

South Carolina

7.93

$22,776

$9,761

Tennessee

13.29

$26,118

$11,193

Texas

6.74

$21,932

$9,399

Utah

17.42

$19,331

$8,285

Virginia

9.01

$26,433

$11,328

Vermont

10.32

$21,143

$9,061

Washington

15.38

$25,120

$10,766

Wisconsin

10.29

$23,818

$10,208

West Virginia

10.41

$29,490

$12,639

To calculate your solar payback period, you'll need to take the following steps:

  1. Determine your combined costs: Subtract the value of up-front incentives and rebates from the total price of your solar panel system.

  2. Calculate your annual savings: Add up your annual financial benefits, including eliminated electricity costs and any additional incentives like the federal solar tax credit.

  3. Divide your combined costs by your annual financial savings: The result will be the number of years it will take for you to break even. You can count every month afterwards that you don't pay a bill as savings.

Let's walk through an example to help you calculate your solar payback period:

Combined costs

To determine your combined costs, you'll need to know the total price of your solar panel system before tax credits and incentives. Let's assume your total system cost is $31,285 (the average cost of a 10 kW system on the EnergySage Marketplace). We need to understand the tax incentives available to you, including the federal solar tax credit (ITC) and local rebates or incentives. Given that the federal tax credit is currently 30%, with a $31,285 solar system, you'll be eligible for a $9,385 credit. Now, let's also assume you can take advantage of an additional $1,200 in local rebates: This brings your tax incentives to $10,585 and your combined installation costs to just $20,700.

Total cost ($31,285) - tax incentives ($10,585) = combined costs ($20,700)

Annual savings

To calculate your annual savings, you'll need to know how much you'll save each year on electricity costs. Let's assume your monthly electric bill is about $145. Eliminating that cost by going solar amounts to about $1,740 in energy savings, assuming your system's energy production covers 100% of your electricity needs. You'll also need to know how much you'll receive from other annual incentives, like solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs). In this example, we'll assume you're earning $600 annually from selling SRECs, which means you'll receive $2,340 in annual benefits.

Eliminated annual electricity costs ($1,740) + annual incentives ($600) = annual savings ($2,340)

Final calculation

To calculate your solar payback period, divide your combined costs by your annual savings.

Combined costs ($20,700) / annual savings ($2,340) = solar payback period (8.8 years)

In this example, your payback time would be 8.8 years, which is the average solar payback period for most EnergySage customers.

Average monthly electricity use and cost

Your monthly energy usage determines the size of the solar system you need as well as the amount of electricity you’ll need to offset each month. Specific energy costs in your area also directly impact your return on investment (ROI) from your solar power system. The higher your monthly electricity bill, the more quickly you tend to recoup your investment because it shortens your payback period.

Solar installers will try to provide you with a system that matches 100% of your electricity consumption, but practical constraints like the size of your roof and seasonal weather variation may impact the amount of electricity you can produce on your property.

Value of tax incentives

Tax incentives and rebates can dramatically reduce the total cost of going solar. The ITC provides a credit worth 30% of your entire system costs on your federal tax bill. Additional state and local solar incentives may further lower your expenses, depending on where you live.

Additional financial incentives

In some areas of the country, you can earn extra incentives through SRECs or net metering programs that give you a per kilowatt-hour credit for any extra electricity your solar panels generate and send to your local electric grid. Depending on the size of your solar energy system, these credits can represent a significant monetary benefit.

Does solar pay off?

Installing a solar system pays off because it can save you anywhere from $20,000 to $97,000 over the lifetime of your solar panels, which is usually about 25 years. A home solar system costs on average around $20,000 - $30,000, and most homeowners who install one tend to break even on their investment in about eight to nine years.

Will I still have an electric bill with solar panels?

You can typically expect to have no electric bill. In some cases, you may still have a minimal monthly bill if your solar panel system doesn’t cover 100% of your energy costs, which is sometimes the case if your roof is shaded or isn’t large enough to accommodate as many solar panels as you need to offset 100% of your electricity costs. Unless you choose to go completely off the grid, you’ll likely need to pay a small monthly fee – often as little as $10 – to remain connected to your local electric grid for times when you may need additional power, like at night or when it’s cloudy outside. If you live in a state where net metering is available, staying connected to the grid allows you to earn utility bill credits if you send any excess electricity your solar panels produce back to your local utility company, further reducing any minimal monthly bill you might have.

How much does solar save you each month?

A typical homeowner saves about $130 a month on average after going solar. How much you save varies depending on factors such as where you live and what percent of your energy needs are covered by your solar system panel.

A version of this article originally appeared on Mother Earth News.

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