Are Solar Panels Worth the Cost?

The most frequent questions home owners ask about installing solar panels in their home is if they are worth the investment.

People want to know about:

  • Experiences with solar panels (from those who have them)
  • The cost vs savings of installing solar panels
  • Maintenance
  • Finding a trustworthy installation Company
  • Buying vs leasing

If you have the same questions, we have the answers in this article. Take your time reading it because we cover a lot here and all of these replies come from real people who have Solar Panels installed in their home already.

Here we go.

I did a lot of research before going with SunRun. We chose to do a 20-year lease (which is essentially the same as buying it outright) but they are responsible for the equipment, pulling permits, navigating the process with DWP (Department of Water and Power), and provide online monitoring as well as monitoring the output (which is guaranteed) on the customer’s behalf. The panels have produced more power than anticipated almost 10% more than predicted. So we will have this ‘paid off’ in probably 6-7 years as opposed to the 10 we were told. Just love getting electric bills that read $0. Incentives and rebates brought the entire cost to around $10,000, and we have a fairly large home. The one thing I would caution, is make sure your roof has a long life span… you don’t want to re-roof once you have your panels installed! We re-roofed prior to installing the panels. But you’d have to deal with your roof at some point in time in any case, so we just bit the bullet and did it all. By the way, leasing can be much cheaper than what we chose to do… so instead of paying DWP you pay SunRun for a very reduced electric bill! We are really happy with it, in case that’s not clear!

Per above – I don’t know about other companies, but with SunRun you have a choice whether to buy outright or to pre-pay-lease. And the cost is essentially the same. Of course, if you don’t have the money for a total upfront lease, you can go with a lower down payment and monthly fee to the company for electric. Still cheaper than DWP whose prices will continue to rise, while your contracted rate for power would be fixed. Of course that way the company itself makes more money on you, but in the end, still less money out of your pocket. The additional advantage to leasing is that the company does all the work in getting the system up and running (which is a prodigious task for a working person) and they monitor the system, take care of all maintenance, any mechanical issues down the road as well as insuring it for the life of the lease, etc. Plus, the energy produced is guaranteed. (And as mentioned we are exceeding that minimum every month.) We had such a great experience with SunRun that I feel confident about recommending them. When we learned that at the end of the least they essentially give you the equipment (it’s more expensive for them to take it down then for you to keep it…). Be happy to walk you through the process.

One caution, get quotes from multiple companies as well from companies that don’t push leases. When leasing there is the temptation to only push what they get the maximum return on. I know several people who were discouraged by this.

We are very happy with our PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) through Solar City. With a PPA, you pay for the power that is generated off the panels over 20 years at a reduced kilowatt rate (10 cents vs 14 cents at the time of our agreement). That lower rate is locked in even though electricity costs are expected to rise. Solar City owns the panels – and thus maintains, insures, etc. Our system, if we purchased it outright, would have cost $15K. The PPA (power purchase agreement) was $7K… and we financed that through I paid my final installment on the $7K today… so now we’re looking forward to 18 years of free electricity.

Hi, I have Solar City. I did not want to spend any money but I wanted to go solar, so I called them and they installed the panels at no cost is a 20 year lease. They take care of everything. You will save half your bill and it will never go up at least not for the next 20 years. If anything goes wrong they will take care of it! Remember it is their equipment.

I did the lease with Solar City and have been very happy. For me, the lease was the perfect option: no money down and flat payments for the life of the contract. It’s coming up on the 5-year anniversary!

We’ve installed and used Verengo Solar for about 4 years now. The billing is thru Sunrun at about $200.00 a month for the lease of the panels and our Southern California Edison bill is less than $10.00 a month on the least sunniest month of the year. Maintenance is included in the lease and they installed our panels in less than 4 hours, cleaned up and did a great job for us. It has save us a considerable amount of money over the time with them. They provide free evaluations and estimates of savings and cost of lease.  Feel free to contact me direct if you so desire. Good luck and happy savings.

What I would suggest is have SolarCity, SunRun and maybe a 3rd choice come and give you their pitch. They will look at your current bill to determine what kind of usage you have, whether it’s worth it for you to go solar (and if it’s not worth it for you a reputable company will tell you that upfront). You’ll get a much better idea of your options, costs, time frames, etc. We had 3 such meetings before we made our decision. Remember to consider the condition of your roof… and again, a reputable company will offer to check the roof first before asking you to make a commitment.

Make Sure Any Remodels Are Permitted

Real story: My friend Joe (made up name) contacted SolarCity to get a system installed. He recently bought an old 1953 house and was not aware the previous owner had remodeled the back and enclosed a patio/deck area without pulling permits. These kinds of modifications are done quite often in LA. Joe can save $40 a month on the electrical bill, with solar panels. After signed the 20 year lease contract, Joe got the system installed on the roof, by SolarCity. The city inspector came to check & approve the work and activate the PV system. The inspector, pointed out there was addition to the house that was unpermitted, and not part of the original house layout. He did not approve the system as some of the panels are on the roof of the addition. He cited Joe with a monthly penalty of $650 until the room is being dismantled and brought to original conditions of outdoor wood deck. He demanded to clear the room and closed it off with seals, this is Joe’s home office. In the end Joe lost the use of the home office, is paying Solar City for the lease of the panels which are not active, he is paying the penalty and he needs to come up with $5000 to demolish the addition and have to relocate the panels.

Quite a disaster!

It could be said that “Joe” can apply to the city to see if he can legitimize the previous owner’s remodel but in his situation it’s too late as he got caught. He could have presented the case to the city as “previous owner upgrade” and apply for permits to comply, but not knowing all this. These Solar Companies have no scruples in pushing customers in getting a system. They only care to sell or lease you the system. I am sure they are well aware of potential risks and consequences but they rather do not tell. So my advice is always to have an independent home inspector to check the place before, calling the solar panels companies. It could save you thousands of dollars.

Note: This is an important heads up about permits.

Your SolarCity Rep Matters

It may be dependent upon the person you work with. We had a great experience with SolarCity. They asked us a lot of questions about our property, upgrades we had made/looking to make, age/health of the roof, electric panel, etc.

We contracted with Solar City. They did an excellent job. We bought the panels outright, as for us it was a better financial option. They still handled all the permitting requirements. DWP just came today and we’re live! Remember, whichever company you choose, make sure you follow up to see that all hand-offs with DWP (Department of Water and Power) are made. Once the installer is paid, they have no motivation to follow through, whether you lease or buy the system!

Solar City is a part of TESLA group and pretty soon will start to sell the TESLA Batteries for Home which will make integration simpler.

We have Sungevity solar panels and we are very happy with them. I believe they have a deal right now that you get $750 off and they donate $1,000 to the Sierra Club. We got quotes from a few companies but we really liked Sungevity and we still do, years later.

Solar Planet has the best deals for panels because they are partners with the contractors who install. Solar Planet also sells Tesla batteries. They have the lowest quotes because their sales agents do not make commission as an additional cost like other companies do. They offer a year of free energy as well- also the Panels are higher quality, they are American Made by Solar World. Everyone should go Solar! 105 gallons of water per kw of energy is wasted through a regular utility company!! Plus each kw of extra energy your panels produce the government pays you because the energy is recycled back into the grid.

Sungevity Reviews

I have also used Sungevity and they are very professional. One glitch in the installation and they were prompt in coming up with a solution. I did a lease and paid the entire lease up front. No maintenance issues so far for over three years. The savings will pay off the cost in another year or so.

That is exactly my experience with Sungevity. They called us once and said the system is not working properly, came out, and fixed it right away. They also donate a portion to the Sierra Club from time to time when one signs up

We went with Sungevity and their Solar Lease program and they were wonderful! The process takes a while now in Los Angeles, but they came in replaced our old outdated Electrical Panel for free. Its worth taking a look at them! The work was done professionally and the equipment has really worked flawlessly.

We leased with fixed cost with Sun Run. It has been 3+ years of service. We have been very happy with the experience. We are saving about $65+ plus per month from our original utility costs. That savings is after adding an electric car to the monthly cost of the electricity.

The maintenance is included in a Sun Run lease. We have had no issues in 3+ years, but if we did, Sun Run would send out a tech guy at no cost to us. We used them once at start up to check the electricity production, and he switched the box functions and it worked perfectly from then on.

The advantage of Sun Run and other larger Solar companies are the warranty and guarantees.

During the install they made roof repairs at Sun Run costs so the system and roof would have no issues after 20 year lease.

We will get to purchase after 20 years for 1 cent. Our monthly lease is fixed, so no increases in monthly cost (except for any Edison increases). Our Edison bill is $10 a month.

I would recommend Sun Run.

The installation takes time, especially getting Edison to hook up. But once up and running it is smooth process.

I personally would only hire a Solar company that is:

  1. well funded to last 20 years (if leased)
  2. has a maintenance included in the contract
  3. is acting more like a utility (ie. lease with net metering to the benefit of the homeowner).

NOTE: Utilities are pushing for solar farms and discouraging roof top because the energy is less money for the utilities to purchase. So Utilities are trying to increase the revenue or fees for roof top energy and push more for corporate solar farms contracts. However, roof top solar is a positive influence on the environment, and each homeowners’ pocket book, etc. because the Utilities are not passing the savings of the Solar Farms to homeowners. The net metering is actually saving each homeowner money now, while helping the environment.

We have had solar since 2008. We purchased and it paid for itself in 7 years – and prices were much higher then. Many installers will push you to lease as they have higher margins with a lease. I highly recommend getting comps on purchasing and comparing a 10 year ROI.

I really like Constant Solar. They did many systems in Los Angeles. They have participated in many Los Angeles Green Committee events. They are privately owned.

Buy American made panels. They are the highest quality.

Utilities are pushing for utility-scale PV, solar thermal, and wind because (1) it is far easier for them to control the safety and reliability of the grid – rooftop solar has a high flicker rate which is really horrible for grid maintenance and will cause grid collapse if more than 30-50% of the power is generated this way, and (2) it fits better into the regulations for clean energy that they’re required to meet by federal and state regulators.

Rooftop solar actually costs them far less – it nets out what they would normally charge you for electricity which is mostly generated by coal and costs 2 to 4 cents per KWh. Utility scale green energy costs 10 to 20 cents per KWh, though it’s coming down quickly. However, the utility essentially gets reimbursed by the rate payers for whatever it costs them to procure the electricity, so the higher cost / better quality power is preferred.

We have provided you with many home owner’s opinions about their solar panel experience; cost savings; installation costs; provider recommendations; etc. Please be sure to think about your own home and electric bill situation carefully as you choose the right option for yourself. We recommend getting multiple quotes prior to choosing an installation provider.