Let’s talk about solar power. It’s often a mystifying topic: Installing solar panels can seem daunting and bureaucratic, and, conceptually speaking, using energy from a faraway star to power everything in your home sounds like a utopian fantasy.
But now is the perfect time to consider solar panels for your home: Prices have plunged 70% in the past decade, and solar tech is steadily improving. Moreover, federal and local incentives are keeping solar panel costs affordable, while sustainable forms of energy are more appealing than ever in the popular discourse. Most compelling of all, solar panels are actually profitable.
We’ve all heard that solar energy “pays off in the long run.” But the sentiment applies tenfold when you cover the cost of the system yourself, rather than opting for a zero-down lease on solar panels, like so many companies offer.
In addition to slashing your electricity bill, buying your own system means that you reap the benefits of net metering, a billing system that credits you for excess energy that you return to the power grid. These credits can be used when your system is unable to generate power — for instance, at night. (Zero-down solar does reduce your electricity bills, but the solar companies earn these credits — which have monetary value — since they own the panels on your home.)
The upfront price tag of installing your own system is offset by a 30% federal tax credit, plus additional local subsidies and incentives, depending on where you live. With electricity rates expected to rise next year, going solar makes more and more financial sense.
Using Solar Estimate, we compiled rough costs and savings for installing private solar systems in homes across the country. These estimates, which are based on the average cost of recent installations in each area, were calculated according to similarly sized single-family homes, taking into consideration the states’ respective average utility bills.
In every city we looked into, total savings were significant, with more than one exceeding $35K. Pay-back time is remarkably short in some areas, including, surprisingly, New York’s Nassau County, on Long Island. You can use Solar Estimate to calculate your own costs and savings based on where you live, your monthly utility bill, and local subsidies. On my own apartment in Brooklyn, which I rent with three roommates, the pay-back time is less than two years (!) thanks to numerous local incentives and tax credits. Shut up and take my money!
All that said, no major investment should be made sans research. Vet the reputations of the installers who will be walking around your roof, and vet the quality of the panels themselves. You can use Solar Reviews to find the most reputable local installers, the highest-reviewed solar panels, and the cheapest installations in your area. Be sure to shop around for the best choice before you relax and soak up the rays.
Angela Wang is a Senior Writer for Studio@Gizmodo.