Renewable Energy
All things energy, from solar and wind power to efficiency and off-grid living.

How Much Does an Average Solar-Panel System Cost?

5kw solar panel system cost

If you’re shopping for a solar energy system, one of your first questions is probably, “how much will it cost?” Prices depend on the size of your system, the type of equipment you choose, and the state that you live in, but reviewing prices for a 5 kilowatt (kW) system is a great place to start – that’s the average system size in the United States. Learn more about how much a 5kW solar system costs, how much electricity a 5kW system will produce, and the smartest way to shop for solar.

What are solar shoppers paying in your state?

We looked at data from the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, the leading comparison-shopping platform for homeowners who are considering home solar panel systems, to find out just how much solar shoppers are paying for 5kW solar energy systems in different states across the U.S.  

The prices listed below have already had the 30 percent federal tax credit for solar deducted. Depending on where you live, you might have additional state or local solar incentives and rebates that reduce the price even more. You may even be able to earn extra income by selling your system’s solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs)

Even if there are no other incentives where you live, comparing multiple offers from solar companies is important to ensure that you’re finding the best deal. Homeowners who register their property on EnergySage save up to 20 percent just by shopping around for the right option for their home. 

5 kW solar system price map

How much does a 5kW solar system cost in my state?


5 kW solar system price range (2015)


$10,360 – $14,070


$11,865 – $14,875


$11,025 – $14,245


$11,872 – $15,095

District of Columbia (Washington, DC)

$10,386 – $14,583


$8,505 – $11,305


$11,074 – $14,687


$12,460 – $16,240


$10,150 – $13,230

New Jersey

$10,325 – $14,455

New York

$11,270 – $16,030

North Carolina

$10,531 – $14,801


$9,898 – $13,720


$9,835 – $12,705


$12,880 – 16,310

Remember, the cost of solar depends on a lot of factors, so these numbers are just meant to be a starting point. In most cases, you should be able to find a 5kW solar system in this price range – if you receive offers from solar companies that are much higher or lower, be sure to ask follow up questions. 

How much electricity will a 5kW solar system produce?

The amount of electricity your solar panels produce depends on many factors, including the direction and angle of your roof. The most important one is how sunny it is where you live – for example, a 5kW system in Las Vegas makes about 30 percent more electricity in a year than one in Philadelphia. That being said, you don’t have to live in the Southwest for solar to make sense for you. The cost of electricity where you live is the biggest determinant of your solar savings.

The table below shows average estimated electricity production numbers for 5kW solar energy systems in cities across the U.S. By comparison, the average household in the U.S. uses 911 kilowatt-hours (kWh) a month, which equals 10,932 kWh per year. We estimated these numbers using PV Watts, a tool developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Solar electricity output of a 5kW solar panel system in U.S. cities 


Average daily kWh

Average monthly kWh

Average annual kWh

Austin, TX




Boston, MA




Charlotte, NC




Chicago, IL




Cleveland, OH




Denver, CO




Hartford, CT




Las Vegas, NV




Los Angeles, CA




Miami, FL




New York City




Philadelphia, PA




Phoenix, AZ




Seattle, WA




Washington, DC




Maximize your solar savings by comparing multiple offers

Now that you know what to expect, you can ensure that you get the best deal on a 5kW solar energy system by registering your property on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace. Use the comprehensive, easy-to-understand comparison tables to evaluate all of your equipment options, financing offers, and solar company reviews. When you compare multiple solar quotes, you can feel confident that you’re making a smart investment in your home.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the option that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Energy Pros Weigh In on Future of Solar Power

Vietnamese Solar Panels At Sunset

A friend of mine participated in the Second-Annual State of the Electric Utility survey. He also shared with me the results of the 2014 survey, which tabulates the opinions of more than 500 electric-utility professionals on the subjects of demand growth, distributed generation, power supply, regulatory models, and a number of other electricity-generation, transmission, and distribution-related issues.

Distributed Energy Generation

For those of us interested in solar energy, all the issues are important, but none more so than distributed generation. This is where, for example, a community rooftop solar project provides energy close-at-hand for the community’s homes, rather than homeowners buying electricity from an investor-owned utility.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Generating power on-site, instead of buying it from Company A, results in lower costs and fewer inefficiencies, notes one energy firm.

Consumers must agree, because residential or community solar installations in the first three-quarters of 2014 totaled more than 100 megawatts — all without any state incentives!

The loss ratio mentioned above, estimated at up to 6 percent of the total electricity transmitted on average for the entire nation (2012 figures reported in 2014), seems very small, but it depends not only on the age of the lines themselves, but the distance from the generating plants(s) that the electricity has to travel.

In very extensive territories like the Midwest ISO, outliers might experience significant losses in very cold or very hot weather, or when infrastructure is old. In other words, they (and you) pay for electricity that might never reach them.

Fortunately, electricity line losses seem to have dropped across the board since 2012. Of course, so has generation, as commercial and residential energy efficiency measures lighten the electricity load for generators, and more and more homeowners install solar photovoltaic (PV) or solar thermal (hot water) to offset the cringe-making cost of electricity.

Many industry experts feel this is the perfect time to introduce distributed generation in the form of solar energy.

Not only have the cost of solar panels, and installation plummeted, but further reductions are seen for 2016 and beyond, once the numbers are in. In fact, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL – one of 12 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) labs working on energy, renewable energy, energy storage and the like — solar PV system prices fell below $0.65 per watt in 2016, compared with $0.74 per watt a year ago and $4 per watt in 2008.

Grid Parity

Bottom line? That Holy Grail of solar energy – grid parity with fossil fuels — is achieved in several of those states providing solar incentives.

Add net metering and creative financing, and solar now looks like a sure shot to reduce America’s dependency on fossil fuels, both foreign and domestic, along with all the pollution (like fracking and shale oil extraction) generated by those fuels.

Most utility executives view solar grid parity and consequent distributed generation as a mixed blessing. In public, they tout it as an opportunity. In private, they discuss the threat to the traditional utility model that it represents, and in boardrooms, that threat — among coal, oil, or even nuclear-centric utilities — becomes the 2,000-pound gorilla of energy generation.

Most agree, however, that utilities should jump on that distributed-energy bandwagon and take a direct role in supplying their ratepayers with same, either via ownership of the panels (and leaseback to customers) or by partnering with companies vested in distributed generation.

Both of these, properly managed, represent modest revenue sources to an industry that has traditionally been viewed as “slow but steady” in terms of financial gain.

Demand-Side Management

Other technologies that make utility executives nervous are demand-side management, or DSM, and energy storage.

The first, which aims to reduce power requirements through efficiency measures, “smart meters”, and customer-centric cutbacks rather than building more generating plants, has already succeeded in reducing U.S. electricity demand by 0.9 percent (from 1992 to 2006), and by 1.8 percent over all years.

Energy Storage

Energy storage, still in its infancy, has created molten salt (or oil) storage for large solar thermal facilities and lithium batteries for smaller-scale energy storage, but the DOE’s labs are busy investigating a number of options and inventions, and will likely come up with some novel advances before the decade is over.

In essence, solar energy’s future is clear, and the only way to go is up!

Photo by Flickr/Intel Free Press

Jeanne Roberts is a writer at

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Potential Health Impacts from Photovoltaics

Solar Panels On Backyard Shed

Renewable energy is reducing our dependency on fossil fuels but are there negative consequences for our health?


Can photovoltaic installations have negative health impacts? I am often asked this question by people who want to practice sound ecological citizenry and who also care about the health of their family.


Effects from Electrical Frequencies Detected


While the negative impact of some common chemicals is at last widely recognized and popular green certifications now reward or demand reduction of chemicals, there is very little discussion about the harmful effects of man-made electrical frequencies or measures that can be taken to reduce exposure.


The jury is still out in the world of industry-sponsored and independent research, but there is a fast-growing segment of the population who feels ill from our ever-increasing use of electricity and wireless frequencies.


While our government agencies, medical associations, and power companies debate the existence of this health threat, the people who are suffering seek safety and relief. Others who are not affected may be wise to employ a precautionary stance, knowing that what overtly harms some may also have negative impacts for all in the long run.

Michael Schwaebe Solar Inverters

Michael Schwaebe, PE and Building Biologist has installed Dissipative Noise Reduction filter on solar inverters to remediate dirty electricity transmissions caused by the photo voltaic installation.

Electromagnetic Radiation Issues


The Building Biology Institute (IBE) has long paid attention to electromagnetic radiation and has offered comprehensive training on the measurement and remediation of elevated frequencies. IBE has recently published a long-awaited position paper on the electromagnetic radiation issues associated with photovoltaic installations.


The following summary, written by fellow building biologist and co-author of the paper, Sonia Hoglander, outlines areas of concern. Read the full paper: Photovoltaic Electrical Systems: Electromagnetic Exposure Issues & Overview of Configurations.


Areas of Concern


Photovoltaic systems can have detrimental health effects.


• Inverters cause electrical “noise” called “dirty electricity” on house electrical circuits and appliance cords that can be irritating to sensitive people — even people who have not been conscious of sensitivity in the past could experience discomfort. People have reported symptoms of nausea, headaches, and fatigue.


• Ground current can also be introduced or be exacerbated on surrounding earth, causing magnetic fields that interfere with biological rhythms. Some common symptoms associated with manmade magnetic fields are sleep disturbance and depression.

• Wireless communication may be part of a system allowing billing and monitoring functions. Wireless communication is radiation in the microwave range of the electromagnetic spectrum. This part of the spectrum is linked to cancer. Symptoms from exposure cover a broad range including nausea, headaches, fatigue and sleep disturbance from the dirty electricity and magnetic fields, but also irritability, skin problems, dizziness, visual and hearing disruptions.

• These issues of microwave radiation from wireless signals, dirty electricity, and ground currents are complex electromagnetic factors that affect the home environment and are difficult to mitigate. Hardwired Ethernet connections from a non-wireless electric meter to the homeowner's router and filters can be helpful but the renewable energy industry does not currently design systems with biological effects in mind.


William Holland Filter Installation testing

William Holland, post filter installation, testing for SMA inverters, DNA filters above to the left.

The International Institute for Building Biology & Ecology recently published a paper that explains how solar panels affect the electromagnetic environment; causing potentially irritating dirty electricity and ground currents. In summary they state:


“Photovoltaic (PV) power generation systems as well as other alternative energy producing systems (e.g. wind generators and gas power, on-site generators) are not recommended for people who are experiencing electromagnetic sensitivity and especially for people displaying the symptoms of Electromagnetic Hyper-Sensitivity (EHS). Asymptomatic people are cautioned to evaluate all the pros and cons before moving ahead, especially as pertains to the generation of unwanted EMF radiations and effectiveness of filtration options offered by various system purveyors for dealing with these unwanted radiations.”

Paula Baker-Laporte, FAIA, is an architect, healthy building consultant, instructor for the International Institute of Building Biology and Ecology and author. She is the principle of EcoNest Architecture. She is primary author of Prescriptions for a Healthy House and co-author with husband Robert Laporte of The EcoNest Home. Connect with Paula on her website, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Solar-Power System

 solar panels on home

According to Green Tech Media (GTM) research, the U.S. is now installing one photovoltaic system every four minutes. Seeing as solar energy is a renewable resource that emits little to no global warming emissions, this is a massive step in the right direction in efforts to protect our planet and reduce greenhouse gases.

If you’ve already enlisted in the solar energy crusade or are thinking about making an investment in the near future, it’s important to do your research and evaluate how to get the most use out of your solar power system. Ensuring that your system is performing at its max is not only important to meet your electricity needs, but also to recover your upfront costs in the shortest amount of time.

Evaluate Your Usage

To optimize usage, you first need to evaluate how you and your family currently use electricity in the home. One way to do this is by having a professional come out and conduct a home energy audit.

During this process, an expert will come to your home and evaluate how efficiently energy is currently being used, as well as suggest methods for improvement. Inspections should be thorough and review the entire structure, from top to basement. The auditor should check things such as your duct blasts, HVAC system, doors, and windows. These tests will reveal problem areas and ways to improve so you don’t end up wasting the valuable solar electricity you’ll be generating.

By figuring out how much energy you currently use, you’ll also be able to better determine the size of solar system you’ll need.

Energy evaluation can help you start thinking differently about certain routines. If you want to get the most of your solar power system and offset your energy costs, start planning ahead by using big appliances during the day when your solar system is operating at its maximum capacity.

Other good practices include setting some appliances to run on timers, replacing old machines with more efficient ones, and staggering usage so you’re not running everything at once. This will take some coordination throughout your household, but giving everyone some ownership toward your energy conservation goals can be a rewarding activity and good practice for working together.

Price Shop

Solar technology has become increasingly price competitive in the past few years, making it much more affordable for homeowners to either buy systems out-right, or acquire loans for the project.

If you’ve just begun the home solar process and are looking to compare prices from local installers in your area, try using a trusted solar power marketplace to receive a number of quotes and find a solution that works best for your solar energy project. It’s the quickest way to be able to compare prices and services from companies that are experienced with your solar local programs.

Don’t be afraid to ask plenty of questions of solar installer candidates, including their experience connecting customers to the utility grid, knowledge of state incentives, and maintenance programs offered.

Solar Storage

If you’re connected to the utility grid, you can always draw upon it at night and other times your system isn’t producing the most electricity. But to cut this cost, or if you’re completely off the grid, solar storage is a great way to offset any energy shortages.

The costs of home energy storage components are starting to fall, making it a more viable option for home solar users. Many states also have beneficial net-metering programs that allow solar generators to return energy to the utility grid and get compensated for it. Rates vary by state, but it’s a great way to get the most from the energy produced and start seeing a return on that investment.


Your panels shouldn’t require much maintenance or cleaning, but it’s a good idea to give them a light cleaning every six months or so. This will help make sure that they’re receiving as much light as possible since any collected dust or dirt will just reflect the light and reduce efficiency.

Pay attention to any excessive shading on your panels from nearby greenery, as you may need to alter your landscaping. It’s also important to prevent any branches or an accumulation of leaves falling from on your panels, which can lead to damage.

By getting the best price on your solar system, watching and reducing your energy costs, and selling back your excess power, you can be sure that you’re getting the most out of your home solar system and feel good about generating clean energy.

Sarah Kezer is passionate about helping others take advantage of the power of solar energy. At 123SolarPower, Sarah assists in answering questions and providing expert information for users to explore their options when it comes to going solar. 123SolarPower connects individuals with the largest network of solar power providers in the U.S. Read all of Sarah's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How To Choose The Best Solar-Energy Equipment

grid-connected solar energy system

Installing a home solar energy system is a smart financial investment for many homeowners. As you evaluate offers from solar companies, there are many different factors to consider – the equipment that you choose for your system, your financing options, and the installer that you select all have an impact on your solar savings. This guide will help you evaluate the different solar panels and inverters available so that you can find the best equipment for your home.

There are two main components to a grid-connected solar energy system: the solar panels themselves, which create electricity from sunlight, and the inverter, which converts the electricity into a form you can use in your home. Some also include a monitoring system, which allows you to see how much power you're creating and using. And while solar batteries haven’t yet hit the mainstream, the announcement of Tesla's Powerwall battery and other technologies are making it possible for homeowners to consider incorporating a battery into their system.

What is the Best Solar Panel for You?

You can evaluate solar panels on a few main parameters: production, durability and manufacturer quality

The amount of electricity a given solar panel can produce will produce is dependent on several factors, including the power rating, power tolerance, efficiency and temperature coefficient. Taken together, these factors will tell you how much power your panel will be able to produce.

You'll also want to look at indicators of panel manufacturer quality. Start with the warranties and assurances that the manufacturer offers on their equipment. Like all things, solar panels degrade and become less efficient over time. Many manufacturers will guarantee that the power production of their panels doesn’t fall below a certain threshold over twenty-five years. In addition, many panel manufacturers have a materials warranty in case the panels simply fail.

Most solar panels are very durable, but if you live in an area that has heavy snow or high wind, you should also be sure that the panels you install are designed to withstand the conditions in your area. Look for panels that meet the IEC 61215, a reliability standard established by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). IEC 61215 uses an accelerated outdoor stress test for panels to ensure their durability. 

When you evaluate panels on production, durability and manufacturer quality you'll find they break down into categories. EnergySage’s ranking system, which takes all of these factors into account, sorts panels into three groups: premium, standard, and economy.  

While some homeowners may choose to invest in the highest quality, most efficient “premium” panels, remember that those will come with a higher price tag. Going solar is a lot like buying a car: not everyone needs a Porsche! Conversely, if you want to save by buying cheap solar panels, your system may produce less electricity over its lifetime, reducing your overall savings. Only you know what is best for your home.

What is the Best Inverter for You?

It's the job of the inverter in your solar energy system to convert the solar energy into something you can use. Solar panels take solar energy and make it into direct current (DC) power. The inverter’s job is to convert that DC power into the alternating current (AC) electricity that can be used in your home.

There are two general types of inverters: string inverters and module-level power electronics (MLPEs). Both microinverters and power optimizers are both MLPEs.

String inverters are the lowest-cost option for a solar energy system. If your system has optimal conditions for production, they are usually a good choice for your home. When your solar panel system has a string inverter, all of your panels feed all of the DC power they produce to a single inverter. The inverter then changes the DC energy to AC power, at which point your solar energy is ready to use.

MLPEs are generally more expensive, but they can also be more efficient. MLPEs are a good choice if your solar energy system may be slightly shaded or can’t be installed at the best angle. When you use microinverters, each panel has its own inverter to transform the power it creates and feed it to your house. Power optimizers, like microinverters, are also installed on every panel, but power optimizers are paired with a string inverter. The power optimizer "conditions" the energy, making it easier to convert from DC to AC, at which point it is sent to the main inverter.

How Do I Choose the Right Solar Panel Installers?

Your installer one of the most important parts of your solar energy system! When you choose a solar installer, you should review their certifications, licenses, track record and reputation in the market. A great installer, like those on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, will also use subcontractors sparingly and warranty their workmanship. Most importantly, a good installer will be an effective partner ready to help you go solar. All of the installers you meet on EnergySage have been vetted and meet our standards for all these variables. Whichever installer you use, don’t be afraid to ask questions throughout the installation process.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the option that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Remembering Renewable Energy Pioneer Dan Alway

 Dan and Aur

Dan Alway (right) and the author

Long-time Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association (GLREA) member Dan Alway passed away September 21, 2015. Dan was a renewable energy pioneer and advocate who worked tirelessly to promote renewable energy. Dan was involved in many things over the years including Kalamazoo Nature Center and a scoutmaster. Dan was honored by more than 600 of his friends and colleagues at an award presentation at The Energy Fair Networking Dinner in Custer, Wisconsin, Thursday, July 16, 2016. There was also a book present for folks to record any memories of him that they would like to write down along with displaying a photo collage.

Mark Klein, longstanding Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) Board Member, Energy Fair founder, and Co-Owner of Gimme Shelter Construction presented the award on Thursday evening.

tree at mref
The Avenue of Advocates award is a tree planted at the main entrance to the annual Energy Fair, which is dedicated to Dan Alway, longtime Energy Fair presenter and renewable energy advocate who passed away this year. The Avenue of Advocates recognizes people or organizations who have shown great leadership in advancing renewable energy and sustainable living.


I, along with long-time friend Richard Seibt accepted the award on Dan’s behalf and said a few words about Dan. Here is some of what I tried to say about Dan.

I think the first time I met Dan was at the Energy Fair in 1997, when he was throwing together a basic, off-the-grid system for some lights in the yurt at the Portage County Fairgrounds.

His energy and enthusiasm sucked me right in, and we ended up tinkering/playing with solar for many years after. His fun-loving nature made it easy to ask him to join me in doing presentations about "Living Off Grid, Really?" at the Illinois Energy Fair and the Midwest Energy Fair. He would talk about the trials and tribulations of over 20 years of living off-grid in upstate Michigan (no sun and snow), and I would talk about the same in Southern Illinois (very hot and humid).

Yurt With Solar Panels 

We would always tease each other about how crazy we were to live off-grid with so little solar. We were the Two Stooges solar act, and we had so much fun doing our stand-up/sit-down comedy solar talks. In the process, we educated thousands of people over the years about simplifying their lives.

If it wasn’t for Dan inspiring me with his wit, I don’t know if I could have ever gotten up and talked in front of people. I used to be the shyest person ever, but with Dan’s help, I tapped into the fervor of my renewable energy addiction to share and get others addicted. Dan absolutely loved educating anyone, but kids were his best students, as he figured out ways to make his education interactive and fun and, most importantly, relevant.

In a book published in 2009 about The Energy Fai,r I talked about how I kept in touch with Dan and about how he is fun and full of life.

I remember the year he was passing out fusion-powered solar dryers, which came with detailed directions on how they work. The bag consisted of the directions, 25 clothes pins, and a length of clothes line. Yes, he was selling a clothes line. People had such a hoot about them that he sold out and had to go to town to buy additional material to make more.

fusion dryer

The last time I saw Dan was at The Energy Fair in June of last year when we did our Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Presentation for more than 200 people, and we gave away a complete, off-the-grid solar system. It was a solar yard light! This was Dan’s idea of a great fun joke to give.

GLREA has started the Dan Alway Memorial Scholarship which will be awarded annually to a student entering higher education. You can donate to the Dan Memorial Scholarship fund here.

Read Dan's obituary here. I look forward everyday to the interactions I have on my Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page and hope you will join the discussion there. Stay energized.

Aur Beck has lived completely off-grid for over 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter at The Climate Reality Projecta fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous International  and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FMFind him on the Living Off Grid, Really!?!?Facebook page, and read all of Aur's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Get the Best Deal with Residential Solar Power Buying Guides

Solar Panels With Skyscrapers

The advantages of solar energy are continuing to prove themselves for homeowners in the wake of huge declines in upfront costs, proven resale value benefits, as well as national and state tax rebates. Although the benefits of generating free electricity without any harm to the environment is a no brainer, the process of acquiring the right solar system for your home can become a little confusing.

Thanks to professional resources like the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), evaluating your solar power needs and understanding the best type of solutions for your home has never been easier. SEIA has made available several consumer guides to solar power that make it simpler for homeowners to properly evaluate offers (its best to get a number solar power quotes) and fully comprehend your agreement terms.

SEIA’s most recent residential consumer guide to solar power outlines several key areas:

Solar Panel Ownership

There are several options you have when it comes to solar panel installation on your house. The first step will be deciding the type of ownership you want with your system.

If you’re looking for the biggest return on investment and have saved up the money, you can buy the system outright. Now is a good time to do so considering that upfront costs have never been lower and electricity from utility providers continue to rise. You can also achieve ownership by securing a loan.

Either option will allow you to reap all of the benefits, like tax credits, and electricity that the system generates. You may also be in charge of maintenance, although some installers offer services on purchased systems.

The second option is to lease a system for a determined period of time and benefit from the electricity generated. In this case, the solar company is responsible for the upkeep and sometimes has zero money down options.

Thirdly, you can pay for the sustainable electricity generated from a solar system without paying for a lease, with a power purchase agreement (PPA). In this case, a system is installed on your home and you purchase the electricity produced from the solar company for a set rate. This gives you the luxury of having no responsibility for the system, generate clean energy, and in most cases pay a lower cost than if you bought electricity from a utility company.

Evaluate Your Home

Think about your personal electricity usage and how it’s used in your home. You should take a look at your utility bill and how much kilowatt-hours (kWh) your household uses and how much you’re currently paying for it. This will help determine the number of panels and output you will need from the system.

You should also check out your roof and get at solar professional come out for an evaluation. They will be able to provide a consolation and calculate the amount of sunlight you’re currently getting and if its enough.

Get the Best Deal

Whether you’re purchasing, getting a loan, or leasing a system, SEIA stresses the importance of getting several quotes for your solar system. The market has become competitive, which is to the advantage of consumers, but you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of each solar power company to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

When using a marketplace like 123SolarPower, you can be assured that the companies are certified and have plenty of experience in your area. However you decide to shop, do your research on potential solar power companies and don’t be afraid to ask for references. You can also ask for their proof of licensure and check the BBB for any consumer complaints. Make sure that they are familiar with any tax credits you qualify for through the state or federal government. (Read more about the best states for solar.)

Lastly, make sure you understand the terms of your solar agreement. Contracts are legally binding so make sure you’re comfortable with what you’ll be receiving and the amount you’re paying. Ask plenty of questions and inquire about specifics within the warranty.

You can always use a solar power calculator to determine how much you could be saving each month on your electricity bill. It may seem like a lot, but its important to go with your gut and make sure you’re getting the best value for your needs to use solar panels to save the most money you can!

Photo by iStock/gyn9038

Sarah Kezer is passionate about helping others take advantage of the power of solar energy. At 123SolarPower, Sarah assists in answering questions and providing expert information for users to explore their options when it comes to going solar. 123SolarPower connects individuals with the largest network of solar power providers in the U.S. Read all of Sarah's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.