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The Hidden Cost of Rooftop Solar

What are the Costs of Rooftop Solar?

As the cost of solar panels continues to decrease, millions of homeowners across the country might be considering investing in rooftop solar arrays to provide their own electricity. While rooftop solar panels do offer an opportunity to make the transition to a renewable energy option, there are also some hidden costs and challenges that homeowners should take into consideration. 

First and foremost, it is worth noting that around 43 percent of all households in the United States rent the homes they live in. For those households, rooftop solar panels are not an option. Furthermore, not all roofs are adequate or suitable for rooftop solar panels. Roofs with steep pitches, that are covered by long hours of shade, or are not properly oriented are also usually not recommended for rooftop solar installation. 

One recent study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) titled “Rooftop Solar Technical Potential for Low-to-Moderate Income Households in the United States” found that a little bit over half of all residential homes and buildings in the United States were adequate for rooftop solar. Even if your home’s roof is suitable for a rooftop solar array, there are hidden costs that should be taken into account.

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Expected End of Residential Renewable Energy Credit

For the past several years, the cost of purchasing and installing solar panels has been reduced thanks to the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which is also known as the federal solar tax credit. With this credit, homeowners could deduct 30 percent of the cost of solar energy systems for their homes. Unfortunately, this credit is set to end in for residential property owners in 2021, and by next year the tax credit will be reduced to 26 percent. This means that in the near future, the cost of solar panel purchase and installation will be significantly more expensive.

Installation Costs

Despite the fact that the cost of solar energy continues to decrease, a full-sized solar array for a household residence is still considerably high. Currently, the average price of an installed residential solar system is anywhere between $7 and $9 per watt, depending on where you live and the type of roof that is covering your home. Since most households in the United States use around 11,000 kWh of energy per year, a home that is seeking to supply at least 75 percent of their energy with solar panels would need a 5 kW solar panel system for a total cost of around $25,000 to $30,000. 

The cost of electricity varies by state, but as an example, if you paid .13 per $/kWh and you had a 6 kWh system that produced 7788 annually, your rooftop solar system would be generating a savings of around $84 per month in electricity costs. This means that it would take at least 26 years to completely pay off the investment. Solar panels should have an expected life span of around 25 years, meaning that in some cases, and especially if the 30% solar tax credit is revoked, families might not pay off their initial investment by the time they need to replace their solar panel system. Along with costs, it’s important to understand how solar panels work for a residential solar system.

Households that want the benefits that come with solar energy without the extra installation costs might do well to consider investing in a Community Solar energy program. Because solar farms are built at scale, subscribers are able to realize savings faster, and with Clearway’s program, savings is guaranteed in most territories.

More Hidden Costs

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Ties You to a Place

Another potential financial setback that comes with rooftop solar panels is that it can make it more difficult to sell your home. The average American moves at least 11 times during their lifetime. Investing in a $30,000 rooftop solar panel system should theoretically increase the value of your home. However, it can certainly make it more difficult to sell your home, since not every potential home buyer will be interested or willing to pay a premium price for the huge investment of a residential rooftop solar panel system.

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Potential Roof Damage and Insurance Premiums

Solar panels need to be firmly attached to your roof to stay protected from wind, rain, snow, and other natural elements. The installation process usually requires bolting the mounting rack to your roof and requires the installation team to open holes in your roof. When not done properly, the installation of rooftop solar panels can lead to a loss of energy efficiency in the home through compromising the insulation and thermal performance of your home. Ironically, a compromised roof through reduced installation and/or air leaks, might require more energy to keep your home warm during the winter, thus increasing your overall electricity requirements. 

Furthermore, while most rooftop solar panel systems are eligible to be covered by a standard homeowner insurance policy, homeowners will most likely need to boost the amount of coverage they put on their home due to the increased cost that comes with the solar panel system. This may raise the premium, which is another hidden cost of rooftop solar panels that many homeowners fail to take into consideration.

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Maintenance Costs

Lastly, it is important to mention that rooftop solar panel systems will require significant amounts of maintenance. For families looking to go completely off-grid, they will also need to invest in a powerful (and expensive) battery system. At some point during the lifespan of a home solar panel system, off-grid systems will need to repurchase an expensive battery storage system. 

Furthermore, solar panel systems will most likely require some sort of maintenance during their lifetime. In the case of utility-supplied electricity, homeowners have long understood that problems in the electrical grid would be fixed, maintained and updated by the utility company. For grid-tied rooftop solar systems, however, the solar panels are part of your property and you will be required to care for them. 

An average annual inspection of a rooftop solar panel system should cost you around $150 per year.  To maintain your solar panels dust, dirt, and debris-free, you will also probably want an annual clearing, which could cost you $20 per panel, unless you want to venture up onto your roof by yourself. For a home with an 8 kW system that contains 36 panels, you are looking at an additional $800 dollars in annual cleaning costs.

Is it Worth it?

All of these hidden costs of rooftop solar panels certainly add up and should be taken into consideration when calculating potential pay-back periods. For homeowners who want the benefits that come with solar energy, without acquiring all of these hidden costs, community solar projects are continuing to grow and offer a viable alternative. 

Clearway Community Solar offers community solar projects in five different states across the country. Our active solar farms have produced over 70 million kWh of clean solar power to date, and support over 15,000 subscribers. By signing up for a Community Solar Project, homeowners can avoid the potential setbacks and obstacles that routinely come with rooftop solar PV systems, avoid the hassles that often come with installation of the panels themselves, and see economic rewards more immediately.

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