Author: Courtney Johnston

SolarEdge HD-Wave Review: Pros & Cons, Pricing, Specs (2019 Edition)

SolarEdge HD-Wave Review: Pros & Cons, Pricing, Specs (2019 Edition)

The SolarEdge HD-Wave is our most popular inverter. While it’s not the least expensive option on the market (a title held by the SMA Sunny Boy), the HD-Wave’s power optimizers put in a ton of legwork to ensure your system always produces at maximum efficiency.

Most people run into some hurdles and challenges during the system design process. Maybe their roof design prevents them from facing every panel in the same direction. Or they might realize that trees, chimneys or other obstructions will cast shade on the area where they plan to build their array.

In these cases, a classic string inverter won’t cut it, because production drop from a single panel translates to the entire string—meaning shade on a single panel can tank your system’s output. Power optimizers like the ones included with the HD-Wave become a necessity to isolate the affected panel and maximize the production from the rest of the panels in the string.

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This HD-Wave review will cover basic specs, pricing, and pros and cons of the product, as well as explain when you might choose the HD-Wave over other inverters to power your solar electric system.

SolarEdge HD-Wave Pricing

SolarEdge offers a range of HD-Wave models from 3.8 kW to 11.4 kW for residential grid-tie systems. Please note that the prices published here are current as of 3/14/19, but are subject to change in the future. Click the product links to view current pricing in our shop.

ModelPriceCost Per Watt
HD-Wave 3.8 kW$1,12530 cents/watt
HD-Wave 5 kW$1,39928 cents/watt
HD-Wave 6 kW$1,42524 cents/watt
HD-Wave 7.6 kW$1,57521 cents/watt
HD-Wave 10 kW$2,17521 cents/watt
HD-Wave 11.4 kW$2,37521 cents/watt

HD-Wave SE7600 Specs

  • Model: SolarEdge HD-Wave 7.6 kW
  • Wattage: 7600 watts
  • Peak Efficiency: 99.2%
  • Warranty: 12 years
  • Input voltage: 400V DC
  • Output voltage: 240V AC
  • String Inputs: 2

Ideal Application

The HD-Wave is one of three inverters we recommend with our grid-tie systems, alongside the SMA Sunny Boy and Enphase IQ7+ micro-inverters.

Both of the other options have specific use cases:

  • If your system won’t suffer shading or other production drop issues, the Sunny Boy is the most cost-effective option. Read our Sunny Boy review.
  • If you want to start small and expand your system later, or need to work around an unusual array layout with panels facing different directions, go for the IQ7+ micro-inverters. Read our IQ7+ review.

For all other systems, we turn toward the HD-Wave as our go-to recommendation. The power optimizers mitigate shade and other production drop issues better than the Sunny Boy, and it’s more cost-effective than buying IQ7+ micro-inverters for every panel (especially on a large scale).

The HD-Wave is our “one-size-fits-all” inverter that strikes a balance between budget and efficiency. The optimizers ensure you are getting as much production as possible from your panels, making it versatile enough to work with almost any system. And for systems that are 6-8 panels or larger, the HD-Wave costs less than an IQ7+ micro-inverter system.

Pros of the HD-Wave

Power Optimization

The main selling point for the HD-Wave is that the power optimizers allow the inverter to monitor and optimize the output of each panel independently.

Classic string inverters like the Sunny Boy have a major limitation: if the output of one panel in a string drops, every panel in the string drops to match the reduced output.

You may own a string of ten 330W panels, but if shade falls on one panel and drops the output to 250W, all ten panels in the string will produce 250W apiece. An issue with a single panel causes a 25% production drop across the array.

The HD-Wave’s power optimizers solve this problem.

By attaching an optimizer to each panel, your inverter will monitor each panel separately and make any adjustments necessary to keep the system producing at an optimal level.

Panels that underperform (due to factors like shade, poor orientation, or equipment malfunction) are isolated thanks to the optimizers. Reduced output from one panel doesn’t translate to the rest of the string.

In addition, the HD-Wave can call on the optimizers to boost the voltage coming from other panels to compensate for the underperforming panel. This keeps the inverter in a voltage range that allows it to operate at peak efficiency.

Safety Measures

Optimizers make the HD-Wave compliant with the rapid shutdown requirements outlined in the latest National Electric Code (NEC 2017 690.12). This is a safety measure that automatically shuts down your array in the event of a power outage.

The code is in place to ensure the safety of emergency responders—for example, firefighters would not have to worry about shutting down the array before putting out a fire on the property.

An HD-Wave with the rapid shutdown safety feature.

The HD-Wave has some other great safety features as well. The optimizers prevent your panels from producing more than 1 volt of power until everything is hooked into the inverter and the system has been tested and commissioned.

Essentially, the inverter will verify it has been wired correctly before it starts to produce power. There’s no shock risk because the wires aren’t electrified until the system runs checks to ensure it is set up properly.

This failsafe makes installation way less scary and more approachable for someone looking to DIY install.

Monitoring

SolarEdge offers a full-featured monitoring portal to help you view and manage the production from your system, as well as each individual panel.

The monitoring provides fault detection and active alerts about the health of your system. It also provides interactive charts and reports to help you visualize production and energy consumption over the life of the system.

It’s the most robust monitoring portal we’ve found, and it’s completely free for the first 25 years of system ownership (the standard warrantied life of a solar panel).

Temperature Rating

SolarEdge is in the process of rolling out product updates to the entire HD-Wave line. The newest models benefit from a wider temperature range.

Previously, the standard SolarEdge inverters were rated to -13°F / -25°C. The new models are rated for -40°F / -40°C. The increased cold tolerance will be especially useful for installations in the midwest and north-eastern United States, where temperatures can fall well below zero.

If you live in a particularly harsh, cold climate, look for the new SetApp HD-Wave inverters to help keep your system operational during winter. (We should point out that there have been mixed reactions to the new design—we will go over those changes in the Cons section.)

Access to Support

SolarEdge has a great support network available to the end user. Their products are well-documented and if you run into a problem, you’ll likely find a technical article in SolarEdge’s resource center to help you solve it.

They also have a community-driven knowledge base and even offer live support through online chat, a rarity in the industry. It’s clear SolarEdge puts a priority on their customers being well-informed and well-supported.

Cons of the HD-Wave

Won’t Work Without Optimizers

The HD-Wave was built from the ground up to monitor and control the production from each individual panel in your system.

As a result, the power optimizers are mandatory—your HD-Wave simply won’t work without them (unlike the SMA Sunny Boy, which works with or without optimizers).

Power optimizers are a mandatory part of the HD-Wave package.

This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the nature of your solar project.

If you can build your system in full sunlight and face the panels in the same direction, you won’t run into many production drop issues. That would make the HD-Wave’s mandatory power optimizers an unnecessary expense. In these cases, you’d be better off with the Sunny Boy, which can do the same job for 15-25% less money.

However, if you think you’ll encounter shading issues, the HD-Wave is the better choice. It is more efficient, has smarter power optimization tools and more detailed reports in its monitoring portal. If you know you’ll need production drop mitigation from the start, the purpose-built HD-Wave is better equipped for the job.

Frequent Design Changes

We’ve sold SolarEdge products for a while, and one thing we’ve noticed is that they make frequent updates to their product design. It seems like the form factor changes every generation, with ports being moved and internal components reorganized.

That makes their products harder to support because there’s not a lot of consistency between models. When troubleshooting, much of the advice you find becomes obsolete as the product design changes with each new product update.

Speaking of this…

Will Soon Require Smartphone to Commission & Monitor

SolarEdge has announced a major update to the HD-Wave which entirely removes the display screen from the inverter unit.

Functions that could previously be performed on the built-in display screen, like initial system setup and status checks, will now be handled through a smartphone app called SetApp instead.

New HD-Wave models will require a smartphone to commission.

The 10 kW HD-Wave has already been updated to the SetApp model. SolarEdge is in the process of upgrading every model with these features, so we expect this major change to roll out to the rest of the HD-Wave product line in short order.

We have mixed feelings about this change. The design has been streamlined, but it comes at the expense of some basic functionality. The buttons and display were helpful for quick tasks like checking production and system health at a glance.

But the real downside is that you must commission your system through the SetApp smartphone app, which means that if you don’t have a smartphone, you won’t be able to turn your system on.

Repeated for emphasis: if you do not have a smartphone you cannot install a new SetApp HD-Wave inverter.

Moving basic functionality to an app makes the HD-Wave less accessible for people who don’t own smartphones, but we can see the decision has some inherent advantages as well.

The main benefit is ease of installation. SetApp will apply firmware updates, pair optimizers to panels, and commission the system automatically. It’s a much easier interface than performing setup manually on a tiny screen.

The end result is that system setup is more streamlined for most people, but will cause headaches for those who don’t own a smartphone or have access to Wi-Fi.

SolarEdge HD-Wave Review: The Verdict

The HD-Wave inverter is our best-selling inverter for a reason. Our other recommended options only make sense in specific scenarios:

  • The Sunny Boy is a better value if you can build in full sunlight and can face your panel strings the same direction, bypassing the need for need power optimizers.
  • IQ7+ micro-inverters are more flexible if you need something that is easy to install and expand, with no restrictions on system size or array layout.

For anything else, we recommend the HD-Wave as an all-purpose inverter that’s fit to handle just about any grid-tie solar project. Even if you can’t face your panels directly South, or the array will be partially shaded, the power optimizers will keep the system running as close to its rated output as possible.

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Enphase IQ7+ Review: Pricing, Specs, Pros and Cons (2019 Edition)

Enphase IQ7+ Review: Pricing, Specs, Pros and Cons (2019 Edition)

The latest addition to Enphase’s line of micro-inverters is here: the Enphase IQ7+. The IQ7+ has been upgraded to a higher 290W output (up from 280W), which allows you to pair it with slightly larger panels than the previous model allowed.

The Enphase IQ line remains our go-to micro-inverter pick for grid-tie systems thanks to their ease of installation, shade tolerance, and flexible array design. The latest generation features an increase in capacity to the IQ7+ model and introduces the new IQ7X, which is compatible with 96-cell modules.

Keep reading for our complete Enphase IQ7+ review. We’ll go over pricing, specs, ideal application, and pros and cons of the IQ7+.

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IQ7+ Price and Specs

  • Price: $142 apiece (plus $16 apiece for mandatory Q Cable connectors, totaling $158 per unit)
  • Wattage: 290 watts
  • Peak Efficiency: 97.6%
  • Warranty: 25 years
  • Input voltage: 16-60V DC
  • Output voltage: 240V AC
  • Works with: 60-cell and 72-cell modules

Price

Please note that prices are current as of 3/5/19. Prices are subject to change; visit the Enphase IQ7+ listing in our shop for current pricing.

The IQ7+ package costs $158 per panel, which is great if you want to start small and ease your way into solar. Once you grow beyond about 10 panels, the scales start to tip in favor of SolarEdge HD-Wave systems as the more cost-effective option.

The price difference is minor for a system this size—$1.45/watt for the IQ7+ system vs. $1.42/watt for the HD-Wave system—and the ease of installation for the IQ7+s often justifies the higher price tag.

However, as systems grow in size, the price difference gets more pronounced. You don’t see too many larger systems (10kW+) built on micro-inverters because they are less cost-effective at a larger scale.

Learn more about which inverter is right for your system:

Power Output

The IQ7+ is sized to output 290 watts of power. Realistically, you can (and should) pair them with slightly larger panels, up to the 325-335W range. This is to account for natural efficiency losses in the system. As a rule of thumb, you’ll lose about 10% of the panel wattage due to inefficiencies caused by factors like temperature.

You also want to oversize panels to stay closer to 290 watts of output during sub-optimal production conditions. This could occur to shading or other obstructions, but it also keeps you closer to max wattage during off-peak times of day (when the sun isn’t directly overhead).

However, you don’t want to go too large with your panels, because you’ll waste any overhead production during peak periods. The Enphase spec sheet suggests the IQ7+ is compatible with panels up to 440W, but that’s overkill given any power generated above the 290W cap is wasted. We’ve found that 335W is a good upper limit for the rated output of the IQ7+.

Why use micro-inverters?

To answer this question, let’s look at the limitations of string inverters.

String inverters set restrictions on your panel string size—the number of panels that can be wired together and plugged into a single inverter input.

Panel strings typically contain 6-10 panels, which helps the inverter operate at peak efficiency. Too many panels (or too few) and your inverter won’t work properly.

The other major limitation is that panels in a string are linked together. When one panel in the string suffers reduced output (due to shading or technical malfunction), every panel in the string drops to match that reduced output.

You may own a string of 330W panels, but if a single panel in the string falls to 250W production, every panel in that string is going to produce 250W of power. That’s an 800W production loss over a 10-panel string.

Systems with power optimizers (like the SolarEdge HD-Wave) mitigate this issue somewhat by enabling each panel to produce independently. But the HD-Wave is still restricted by minimum string size requirements, and shading across the string can still cause it to fall below the minimum input voltage.

Micro-inverters are designed to work around these limitations.

Pairing a micro-inverter with a panel essentially creates a self-contained, single-panel solar system. It doesn’t matter how many panels you buy—each panel in the system functions independently.

Start with a single panel hooked into an IQ7+ if you want. This allows you to start small and offset a portion of your utility bill as soon as possible, then expand the system as budget allows.

Micro-inverters are also the most shade-tolerant option. Shade on one panel will never impact the rest of your system. You don’t have to worry about a group of panels meeting a minimum string voltage, because each one functions as a self-contained system.

Finally, micro-inverters are easier to install. Simply chain each Q cable from one unit to the next, with the final wire terminating in a junction box. They’re easier to install than string inverters because micro-inverters utilize common household AC wiring, which is readily available and simple to install.

Read more: Micro-Inverters vs. String Inverters

Pros of the Enphase IQ7+

No String Sizing Requirements

With micro-inverters, you don’t have to worry about how many panels you group together. This means they are less impacted by shading. They are also easier to expand. Start with one panel and one IQ7+ if you want. This allows you to offset a portion of your utility bill as soon as possible, then expand the system as budget allows.

Easy Installation

One thing we really like about the IQ7+ is how extremely easy they are to install. There’s an input for your panels and an output to chain the Q cables from unit to unit, with the last one plugging into your junction box.

From the junction box to your breaker panel, you’ll install standard household AC wiring, which is much easier and cheaper to install compared to the DC wiring used with string inverters and optimizers. This can save you a lot of time, money and hassle messing around in your attic.

It’s also dead simple to tell at a glance whether your system is functioning properly, thanks to a light on the unit that changes color based on its status:

  • Green: Everything is working.
  • Yellow: Micro-inverter works, but is not communicating with IQ Envoy monitoring system.
  • Red: Micro-inverter is not working and panel is not producing power.

The simplicity of the IQ7+ streamlines the wiring process, making it ideal for DIY installs.

Compatible with 60-cell and 72-cell panels

Standard solar panels contain either 60 or 72 cells. Since there’s no difference in performance or cost-per-watt between the two options, it’s nice to have access to both when designing your system. The IQ7+ is configured to work with both options.

The standard IQ7 only works with 60-cell panels due to its lower voltage and wattage. The IQ7X pairs with 96-cell panels on the market from the likes of Panasonic.

With the IQ7+, you can choose to work with 72-cell panels if you want. For example, this 72-cell 335W Astronergy panel and this 60-cell 310W Mission Solar panel are both compatible with the IQ7+, but the 72-cell option helps you squeeze a bit more wattage out of every panel.

Since 72-cell panels are physically larger, you’ll be installing fewer panels and micro-inverters. That means less racking material, fewer holes in the roof, and fewer connections to hook up, which makes installation quicker and easier on the whole.

25-year warranty

This is a big one. The 25-year warranty on the IQ7+ far surpasses the SMA Sunny Boy (10 years) or SolarEdge HD-Wave (12 years). That’s important because it matches the 25-year warranty that comes standard on Tier 1 solar panels in today’s market.

With string inverters, you’ll need to budget for at least one inverter replacement over the life of the system. You’ll have to choose whether to pay more up front for an extended warranty, or cover the replacement out of pocket when the time comes.

The IQ7+ comes with a standard 25-year warranty. If one of your micro-inverters ever malfunctions at any point in your system’s lifetime, you’re covered for a free replacement. No maintenance fees or hidden ownership costs to worry about.

Compliant With Rapid Shutdown Codes And Smart Inverter Regulations

In the event of an emergency at your home, first responders must be able to quickly and safely turn off your system to negate the risk of electrical shock from live DC circuits coming from the array. The IQ7+ is fully compliant with the most recent national rapid disconnect codes (NEC 2017 690.12).

It also meets the definition of a “smart inverter” under California’s Rule 21. Smart inverters interface with the utility grid to control when and how your system feeds electricity to the grid. This helps the utility smooth the demand curve and deliver more reliable power during peak usage periods.

The IQ7+ is code-compliant and cleared for installation in all 50 states (unlike the Magnum MicroGT, which cannot be used in California or Hawaii because it does not meet local code requirements).

Cons of the IQ7+

Monitoring Not Included

While we like the IQ7+’s simpler design and ease of installation compared to its predecessors, we’d like to see the monitoring system become a streamlined part of the package.

Right now, you have to buy the Enphase IQ Envoy to be able to monitor your system’s output. The IQ Envoy is a separate unit that requires extra work during installation and commissioning, which only adds more labor to the installation process.

What’s more, the SMA Sunny Boy and SolarEdge HD-Wave come with monitoring platforms built into the inverter at no additional charge. In that context, it’s hard to swallow the idea of paying an extra $500 to add functionality that comes standard with other systems.

More Parts = More Failure Points

The more parts there are in your system, the greater the chances one of them will fail. If you have 20 micro-inverters doing the job of one string inverter, it’s 20x more likely something in your system malfunctions and needs to be replaced.

Even though the IQ7+ is warrantied for 25 years, it still takes time and energy to make a claim and replace it if it fails. Most people just want their system to work without ever thinking about it.

Distributed micro-inverter systems introduce more potential failure points and a higher likelihood of maintenance somewhere down the line. It’s especially important to keep this in mind for roof-mounted systems, which are more difficult (and expensive) to access for repairs.

But the distributed nature of micro-inverters is a double-edged sword. If a string inverter fails, the entire system stops producing. A failed micro-inverter only takes a single panel out of commission.

So while micro-inverters make replacements more likely, they also isolate failure, allowing the majority of your panels to continue producing energy while you replace the defective unit.

Higher Cost Per Watt

Of all the inverter configurations, micro-inverters are the most expensive from a cost-per-watt perspective. As of the time this article was published (3/4/19), here’s how much it would cost to route 20 Mission Solar 310W panels into three different inverter setups:

For full-scale systems, string inverters are more cost-effective option. If you can build in full sunlight, the Sunny Boy costs about 20% less than a micro-inverter system.

Even the HD-Wave, with built-in monitoring and individual optimizers that give you panel-level control, costs less than an IQ7+ setup.

Enphase IQ7+: The Verdict

We recommend the IQ7+ in the following scenarios:

  • You want to start small and expand later
  • You want a system that is easier to install
  • You need a system that is highly shade-tolerant

For a more cost-effective option, especially for larger scale systems, you would be better served with the SMA Sunny Boy or the SolarEdge HD-Wave.

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Solar Panel Cost Guide | Your Complete Guide to the Cost of Solar in 2019

Solar Panel Cost Guide | Your Complete Guide to the Cost of Solar in 2019

Editor’s note: This article was updated on 1/21/2019. Solar panel prices change on a regular basis. Check our solar panels page for current pricing.

Welcome to our comprehensive solar panel cost guide, updated for 2019! Our goal with this article is to answer the first question many people have when they start their research: how much does it cost to go solar?

First, we’ll go over the factors that affect solar panel prices. Then we’ll look at individual panel prices, complete system prices, and historical pricing trends to see how the cost of solar might change in the future.

  1. How Much Do Solar Panels Cost in 2019?
  2. Complete System Pricing (Grid-Tied)
  3. Complete System Pricing (Off-Grid)
  4. Solar Panel Installation Costs
  5. Factors Affecting Solar Panel Cost
  6. Historical Pricing Trends

How Much Do Solar Panels Cost in 2019?

Let’s get right to the good stuff. Here’s how much our most popular solar panels cost in 2019.

For the sake of comparison, we will start with the standard 60-cell or 72-cell panels that we use by default in our system packages. These are the “full-sized” panels you are going to use when you build a complete system for your home or office.

ManufacturerPrice (as of 1/21/2019)Output (watts)Cost per wattMaterialMade in...
Astronergy$145280W$0.52PolyMalaysia
Astronergy$175335W$0.52PolyMalaysia
Mission Solar$199305W$0.65Mono PERCAmerica
Mission Solar$245360W$0.68Mono PERCAmerica
SolarWorld$189285W$0.66MonoAmerica
LG$495360W$1.38MonoKorea
LG$540360W$1.50MonoKorea

And here’s the picture for small panels with more limited use cases. These are the ones you’ll use on your RV/boat, industrial worksites, and other remote applications.

ManufacturerPrice (as of 10/30/18)Output (watts)Cost per wattMaterialMade in...
Solarland$324.80160W$2.03MonoChina
Solarland (Industrial Rated)$337.13150W$2.25PolyChina
Sunpower (flexible)$249100W$2.49FlexibleFrance

These panels are more expensive because they are produced in smaller quantities. They may also have extra features, like the flexibility of the Sunpower panels, or the heavy-duty Solarland panels which are certified for industrial use.

In summary: “standard” solar panels cost anywhere from 70 cents to over $1.50 per watt, depending on their output, quality, and where they are manufactured. When you look at more specialized panels that are manufactured in lower quantities, the price climbs up above $2/watt.

Related: Find the right panels with our free Solar Panel Guide »

Solar System Costs in 2019 (Grid-Tied)

Panels only represent about half of the total cost of your system. Other parts like inverters and racking also contribute a significant piece of the pie.

Let’s look at prices for complete grid-tie system packages. This chart shows the costs to buy all of the equipment for your system, but it doesn’t include costs like shipping or installation. (We’ll look at the total installed costs later in this article.)

The prices in this table come from real grid-tied systems featured on our site (prices current as of 11/7/18).

Not sure what size system you need? Grab a copy of your electric bill and look for your kilowatt hour (kWh) usage. Then input that info into our solar cost calculator, which will tell you what size system you need to cover your monthly usage.

System SizeCost Per WattCost (before tax credit)Cost (after tax credit)Monthly Output
2.88 kW$1.60$4,611$3,228398 kWh
3.6 kW$1.49$5,360$3,752498 kWh
4.32 kW$1.48$6,391$4,474598 kWh
5.4 kW$1.39$7,518$5,263747 kWh
5.76 kW$1.42$8,157$5,710797 kWh
7.2 kW$1.36$9,784$6,849996 kWh
8.64 kW$1.31$11,286$7,9001195 kWh
10.8 kW$1.32
$14,218$9,9531494 kWh
11.52 kW$1.30$14,969$10,4791594 kWh
12.96 kW$1.29$16,771$11,7401793 kWh
14.4 kW$1.34$19,135$13,3951992 kWh
18 kW$1.29$23,140$16,1982490 kWh
21.6 kW$1.29$27,861$19,5032988 kWh
28.8 kW$1.26$36,396$25,4773984 kWh

Solar System Costs in 2019 (Off-Grid)

Off-grid systems cost a lot more because you need to add batteries to store the energy you generate. Batteries are a significant expense. We estimate you might spend $8,000 to $13,000 to power a 5 kW system for the first 10 years of ownership.

The chart below shows the cost to purchase an off-grid system with an appropriately sized battery bank. While lithium batteries are much more expensive up front, the cost of ownership levels out in the long run because they last 2-3 times longer than lead-acid batteries.

We have paired the system with our least expensive battery bank – in most cases, a set of appropriately-sized Crown flooded lead-acid batteries.

Take a look at our comparison of lead-acid vs. lithium batteries to see the math on battery costs for off-grid systems.

System SizeCost Per WattCost (before tax credit)Cost (after tax credit)Daily Output (summer)Daily Output (winter)
1.22 kW$6.41$7,818$5,4735.49 kWh2.74 kWh
1.83 kW$4.79$8,759$6,1328.23 kWh4.12 kWh
2.74 kW$3.52$9,638$6,74712.35 kWh6.18 kWh
3.66 kW$3.23$11,820$8,27416.47 kWh8.23 kWh
4.57 kW$2.77$12,673$8,87120.59 kWh10.29 kWh
5.49 kW$3.13$17,196$12,03824.7 kWh12.35 kWh
7.32 kW$3.75$27,430$19,20132.94 kWh16.47 kWh
9.15 kW$3.18$29,136$20,39541.17 kWh20.59 kWh
10.98 kW$2.81$30,842$21,58949.41 kWh24.7 kWh
13.72 kW$2.82$38,727$27,10961.76 kWh30.88 kWh
16.47 kW$2.51$41286$28,90074.11 kWh37.06 kWh

Solar Panel Installation Costs

In addition to equipment costs, you’ll need to figure out a way to install your system. One option is to have a local contractor install it for you. In these cases, they may charge you anywhere from 75 cents to $1.50 per watt for the installation. $1/watt is a good benchmark to estimate installation costs.

If you want to figure out your “all-in” cost of going solar, pick a system above and find the wattage. 1 KW = 1000 watts, so for example, a 7.8KW system is 7800 watts. At $1/watt, a contractor might charge you an additional $7,800 to install your system.

There are several factors that influence how much your installation will cost, the main one being the availability of qualified contractors in your area. To learn more about installation costs, check out our article: “How to Find a Solar Installer You Can Trust.”

The other option is a do-it-yourself installation. It turns out this is easier than it sounds – it’s a matter of bolting the racking together and fitting the panels in place. Even without DIY experience, many of our customers can get their system built in a weekend and save thousands on installation costs.

Factors That Affect Solar Panel Prices

1. Technology advancements.

The first computer, the Harvard Mark I, filled an entire room and took more than 15 seconds to complete one division problem. Now, we can buy powerful computers that fit in our pockets for just a couple hundred dollars.

I bring this up because solar panels are following the same growth trajectory. Thanks to rapid technological advancements, panel prices have consistently dropped 6-8% per year.

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For example, in 2012 you could buy an Astronergy 235W panel for $275. Today, you can buy a 280W Astronergy panel for $155.

We’ll look at historical pricing trends later in this article, but this is the main factor that dictates how much solar panels cost. Advancements in technology have made panels much more affordable, and future developments will shave prices even further.

2. Market Forces (Tariffs, Subsidies, etc.)

While prices have trended steadily downward over the past few decades, we’ve also hit a few “bumps in the road” in the form of tariffs, regulations and other political influence on the solar industry.

For example, recent tariffs on materials like aluminum and steel, as well as products specific to the solar industry, caused a temporary uptick in prices earlier this year.

However, these tend to be blips on the radar rather than lasting changes. The long-term trend shows that solar panel prices are consistently falling.

3. Panel Material

There are two main types of panels: monocrystalline and polycrystalline, or mono and poly for short. Mono panels have traditionally been more efficient than poly panels.

However, new variations on panel technology (including PERC and half-cut cells) have made the distinctions less clear-cut. Today, you can find poly panels equipped with newer technology which are comparable in efficiency to traditional mono panels.

In the end, your best bet is to check the spec sheet for an efficiency rating, then go with whatever panel gives you the best bang for your buck. Take a look at our article on the best solar panels of 2019 for a side-by-side comparison.

4. American vs. Imported

American-made goods cost more to manufacture, mainly due to the high cost of labor. Solar panels are no exception: American panels cost more than those imported from places like China or Germany.

Companies like SolarWorld USA and Mission Solar make their panels in America, while Astronergy panels are a bit cheaper because they import from their manufacturing plants overseas.

5. Wattage

As technology improves and panels get more efficient, the wattage on each panel goes up. The physical size of the panel doesn’t change (most are 60 or 72 cells), but the efficiency means you can squeeze more production from each cell.

When I put solar on my home, I held out until Astronergy upgraded from 305W to their new line of 310W panels. That was in 2014. Now, the successor to that line of panels is sized at 335W. In four years, technological advancements allowed them to squeeze an extra 25 watts of output into the same physical form factor.

As you compare panels, the best metric to go by is cost-per-watt. As long as you have enough room on your property to build your system, don’t worry too much about size or wattage for individual panels. Just focus on how much you pay per watt of output for your entire system.

6. Supply & Demand

The last big factor is supply and demand.

60 and 72-cell panels cost less because they are widely used and manufacturers can sell them by the container. The economies of scale drive the manufacturing price down, which makes the cost-per-watt on these panels much lower.

On the other hand, specialty panels (like flexible/industrial panels or those with very low wattage) get produced in small quantities. The smaller manufacturing run means higher production costs get passed on to the consumer.

Historical Solar System Pricing Data (Since 1998)

Lastly, here’s some context on the historical price of solar power systems over the past 20 years. This chart shows the average cost to install a residential solar power system for every year dating back to 1998.

This data has been stitched together from reports by SEIA and NREL.

YearCost-per-watt (systems)
1998$12.36
1999$11.75
2000$10.70
2001$11.13
2002$11.14
2003$10.04
2004$9.37
2005$9.02
2006$9.07
2007$9.20
2008$8.84
2009$8.43
2010$7.14
2011$6.31
2012$5.39
2013$4.69
2014$4.27
2015$3.69
2016$3.36
2017$3.13

Is Solar Worth It?

If you’re just starting to research the solar landscape, hopefully this data is a good starting point to help you figure out how much it costs to go solar.

For more info, we recommend watching the above video on solar payback period – the amount of time it takes for you to recoup your investment into solar, based on reduced energy bills and tax incentives.

For more personalized advice on how much your system might cost and whether solar is worth it for you, grab a copy of your electric bill and head to our solar cost calculator. This tool can tell you what size system you need and how much you stand to save on your electric bill based on your energy usage patterns.

Download our free solar panel buying guide!
Review: SolarEdge HD-Wave Inverter with Integrated Electric Vehicle Charger

Review: SolarEdge HD-Wave Inverter with Integrated Electric Vehicle Charger

Today we’re going to take a quick look at a new offering in our product line: the SolarEdge HD-Wave 7.6K inverter with an integrated electric vehicle (EV) charger.

SolarEdge is our default inverter choice for most grid-tied solar systems, and the 7.6 kW size is our best-selling model. You can read more about why we like SolarEdge in our review of the best grid-tied inverters on the market.

The model we’re looking at today has the exact same features as that best-selling model, with one addition: an integrated port to charge your electric vehicle. Check out the video to see how it works:

All of the guts for the electric vehicle charger are right in the box. There is no extra work involved to install the EV Charger. Just mount the inverter on the wall, plug in the charging cable and you’re good to go.

The best part about this inverter is that it’s flexible. The car charger works even if you don’t have solar installed. The inverter works even if you don’t need to charge an electric vehicle. Neither function depends on the other to work properly.

You can start with one purchase (either the solar system or the electric vehicle), then add the other down the line. There’s no extra wiring or circuit breakers to install, and you don’t need to fear incompatible equipment.

The charge cable is sold separately and can be added any time you purchase an electric vehicle.

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SolarEdge also plans to launch a 3.8 kW inverter with an EV charger. We stock the 7.6kW version in our warehouse, and the smaller configuration is stocked at SolarEdge and ready to ship on demand.

The 3.8 kW will be your choice if you want to get into a smaller system or just plan to add a few panels to your existing array.

With either option, the most interesting application we’ve seen for this product so far is building a solar power carport.

The basic idea: build the carport for shelter where you park, then mount the solar panels on top to start generating energy. The carport should be sturdy enough to double as a foundation for your system.

You can build the structure with your own design, or get a custom order from SunModo, a company that designs custom carports for solar applications.

Mount the HD-Wave with EV charger somewhere on the carport, and voila! You’ve got a nice little place to park, generate solar power and charge your electric vehicle.

It’s a simple but brilliant solution if you’re considering solar, and already have (or plan to buy) an electric vehicle. And it’s pretty easy to install as a DIY project, even by yourself.

Where traditional inverters can weigh 65 to 75 pounds, the new HD-Wave inverters only weigh about 25 pounds. The car charging cable (sold separately) only weighs about 12 pounds, and you simply latch it on when you’re ready to use it. One person can set up the whole system.

This is a fairly new product, but we’ve already seen some really interesting builds with these new hybrid units. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

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The Cost of Solar is Rising. Here’s Why.

The Cost of Solar is Rising. Here’s Why.

If you want to go solar, now is the best time to do it.

The price of solar has been trending down rapidly in recent years due to technological advancements in the field. Solar panels cost less than half as much as they did just a decade ago. [PDF link]

With prices sinking all the time, we don’t blame people for holding out for the best possible deal on their system.

But that trend has come to a halt this year. Between new tariffs and the disappearance of key tax incentives, we expect prices to start climbing back up over the next few years.

So we wanted to put out a PSA for our readers: if you were waiting for prices to bottom out, this is the sweet spot. The cost of solar will rise steadily over the next few years.

Two big changes will impact the industry:

  1. The federal tax credit is disappearing.
  2. Tariffs have prompted price hikes across the board in the solar industry.

Let’s take a look at the impact these factors will have on the cost of your solar system.

Federal Tax Credit Disappearing

We’ll start with the tax credit. It’s not only easy to understand, it has the biggest impact on the true cost of your system.

In practical terms, the federal tax credit is money back on your system. Right now, the government offers a 30% tax incentive for going solar, which is applied toward the taxes you owe. So if you buy a $10,000 system, you get a $3,000 credit the next time you go to file taxes.

And that applies not just to system cost, but installation as well. Save the invoice if you hire an installer, and keep your receipts when you make trips to the hardware store for extra materials. All of that can be claimed.

Installation can cost quite a lot if you hire an installer. In some cases, installation charges can be higher than the cost of equipment itself. Don’t underestimate the huge impact this can have on the size of your tax credit.

There’s a bit more nuance to the tax credit, but here’s the simple explanation: if you buy a system now, you can qualify for a 30% credit on your project come tax season.

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Free Federal Tax Credit Guide

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But that credit is being phased out over the next few years, and it will disappear completely by 2022. The tax credit schedule for residential projects looks like this:

  • 2018: 30%
  • 2019: 30%
  • 2020: 26%
  • 2021: 22%
  • 2022: 0% (Commercial-scale projects retain a 10% tax credit.)

So each year you delay, the true cost of your system goes up a little bit. By 2022, the tax credit will be gone completely, and you foot the bill for an extra 30% of your solar project.

Each year you postpone your system build is a little bit of free money you’re never getting back. We always tell people to build before the end of 2019, when the tax credit starts scaling down.

Three Tariffs Driving Up Solar Prices

We’ve known about the tax credit for a long time.

But the more recent development is the introduction of a series of tariffs that are driving up prices across our entire industry.

There are three tariffs we’re concerned about right now:

  • a 30% tariff on solar modules + 25% tariff on Chinese module imports
  • a tariff on steel (25%) and aluminum (10%)
  • a proposed 10% tariff on inverters, AC modules and non-lithium batteries (which isn’t in effect yet, but is likely to pass)

30% tariff on solar modules.

This one got a lot of publicity in the solar industry, and we covered it on our blog a couple of months back.

In January, the U.S. government imposed a 30% tariff on imported solar panels and solar cells. They followed that with an additional 25% tariff on Chinese solar module imports in June.

(The first tariff applies to all module imports. The second tariff comes in addition to the first, but applies to Chinese imports only, which make up just 11% of the solar panel import market.)

These tariffs came about after two American solar manufacturers, Suniva and SolarWorld, claimed their business was being harmed by cheap imports from China. They requested a 50% tariff on solar imports. The tariff eventually went into effect at the 30% rate.

Back then, we estimated the tariff would add about 5% to the cost of grid-tied systems (which is what most people choose if they have access to the utility grid). And we expected off-grid system prices to climb by around 2%.

Impact of solar tariff on home solar

While prices went up slightly, we found that manufacturers absorbed most of the impact of these tariffs. In fact, several foreign companies are opening U.S. manufacturing plants to avoid future tariffs.

If it was just these module tariffs, you wouldn’t see the pricing needle move too much, as companies can absorb some of the tariffs by moving their manufacturing plants.

But a more recent tariff on raw materials has had a larger impact on the industry…

25% tariff on steel and 10% tariff on aluminum.

This is the interesting one because it’s flying under the radar right now in the solar world. Since it’s not specific to solar, we haven’t seen too many news sites covering the impact it will have on our industry.

It’s a new tariff on raw materials: 25% on imported steel and 10% on imported aluminum.

Since most solar equipment is built from steel or aluminum components, this tariff will impact almost everyone in the industry, no matter what they produce.

As the purchasing manager for Wholesale Solar, it’s my job to track pricing trends in the solar industry. Over the past few months, several manufacturers have emailed me to let me know price increases are on their way.

And they cite the raw materials tariff – not the module tariff – as the reason for those price hikes.

One vendor cited “accelerated raw material inflation that has greatly impacted our industry.” Other announcements followed a similar tone.

Ten companies have emailed me so far to warn that the raw materials tariff has impacted business, leaving them no choice but to increase prices soon.

In all, vendors across the entire industry have bumped up prices from 5-22% on their product lines.

(Note that some companies are going to be hit harder…racking manufacturers have it rough, as their product is made almost entirely from steel and aluminum.)

Here’s what’s happening: once the tariff was announced, everyone stocked up on as much steel and aluminum as possible to weather the impact of the tariff.

But of course, it’s not just the solar industry that uses steel and aluminum in their products. Manufacturers everywhere scrambled to stock up.

That created a scarcity of raw materials, which in turn causes inflation of the price of those materials. So everyone is stockpiling goods and materials at pre-tariff prices (including us). But when that supply dwindles, our vendors will need to kick prices up a bit to cover the cost of raw materials.

That cost increase will be passed on to you, the customer. Several companies have already put those changes into effect, and a the rest are slated to roll out pricing increases by the end of the year.

Here’s what all this means for you.

We are anticipating the price of a solar system to increase by 1-3 cents per watt. For example, a system with thirty 300-watt solar panels would come out to 9000 watts. This tariff would increase the cost of this system by $90 to $270.

That’s noticeable, but not an extreme difference for residential customers. Commercial and utility-scale solar projects will feel the brunt of this tariff’s impact.

Since margins are razor-thin, a slight increase in material costs can jeopardize those large-scale projects. According to The Hill, $2.5 billion worth of these projects have been frozen or canceled as a direct result of these tariffs.

10% tariff on inverters, AC modules and non-lithium batteries.

This one was just proposed this month, but we think it’s going to pass based on how the recent tariffs were handled.

The government has proposed a 10% tariff on inverters, non-lithium batteries and AC modules. Like the panel tariff, this one is specifically targeted at the solar industry. Manufacturers will attempt to eat a portion of the costs, but we won’t be immune to small price increases across the board.

PV Magazine forecasts an increase of 1-2 cents/watt for the affected products.

This round of tariffs will be reviewed on August 20-23. If it passes (and we think it will), that’s yet another bump in production costs that will trickle down to the consumer.

This all may not sound like too much, but it adds up. When you add the impact of the tariffs to the disappearance of the tax credit, suddenly you’re looking at paying 40% more for solar in 2022 than you would have in 2018.

So What’s the Best Time to Go Solar?

Right now. And we’re not just saying that.

The very best time to build your system was in 2017, before the first tariff hit.

The second best time is right now in 2018, while the tax credit is still in effect and companies still have “pre-tariff” pricing on materials.

We stocked up on solar panels to soften the blow of the price increases over the next few months. Other solar companies have made the same preparations.

We plan to sell these at pre-tariff pricing to ease the transition. But after that batch disappears, we may need to nudge our prices up a bit to keep pace with rising manufacturing costs. And we expect to see a similar approach across the industry.

To wrap things up, I’ll just say this: we’re big on educating our customers, and that includes letting you know how to get the absolute best deal on your system. Even if that means acknowledging our prices will get a little bit higher later on.

It’s never fun to announce that prices are going up. But we can make people aware that these are the best prices you’ll see before the tariffs take hold.

If this PSA prompts you to stop procrastinating and start your solar project, we feel like we’ve done our due diligence here.

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Why Are Solar Panels So Expensive?

Why Are Solar Panels So Expensive?

Why Are Solar Panels So Expensive?

Large solar installers mark up their quotes to 2-3x the cost of equipment, turning a $10,000 system into a $30,000 project. You can save money by hiring a local contractor for much less (or even installing it yourself), turning your system into a sound long-term investment.

Over the long term, solar energy is the cheapest way to power your property. But it requires a significant up-front investment that slowly pays back over time.

Everyone loves the idea of saving money on energy bills. But when someone puts a quote in your hands for a system that costs more than a new car, you might start to have your doubts…

“Seriously, why are solar panels so expensive?”

We get this question all the time. Here’s our explanation:

1. Huge Markup on Turnkey Installations

Did you get a quote from a full-service solar company that installs their own equipment? If so, they’re probably marking up installation costs like crazy – as much as double the cost of materials. You can save a good chunk of money by installing it yourself or hiring an independent contractor for less.

2. 30% Federal Tax Credit

You get a 30% federal tax credit for going solar. Just know that whatever you pay, you’ll deduct 30% of the cost of your system and installation from your taxes. (Heads up; the tax credit is being phased out by 2022.)

3. Solar is an Investment

The initial cost of solar is high, but the money you save on electric bills pays for the system over time. The amount of time it takes you to break even is known as the payback period.

This is a significant concept for anyone trying to understand why solar is a smart investment. Watch this video to learn how to calculate payback period on your system:

4. It’s Fine to Start Small

You can always start small and cover part of your energy needs, then expand as your budget allows.

It’s hard to give a conclusive answer, since this is such an open-ended question. But we hear it most often from people who have quotes out with a turnkey installer.

A system that costs about $10,000 in materials, like this 6.6kW grid-tied system, might be marked up to $30,000 after installation costs from a turnkey provider.

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Which explains why sticker shock is a common phenomenon in this industry.

So here’s our advice: the best way to save money on solar is to install it yourself, or hire an independent contractor to complete the installation at a fraction of what a turnkey provider would charge you.

If the up-front cost is still a concern, the next solution would be to scale back to a more modest system design and then expand on it as your budget allows.

Don’t Overpay for Installation

Most of the time when someone asks us why solar panels cost so much, they’re working from a quote from a turnkey installer (a company that offers an all-in-one solution to source the equipment and perform the installation).

Here’s the trick: the cost of equipment is pretty much the same wherever you go. The markup is in the installation.

Large installers have overhead costs. They have to cover labor, pay rent on their office, maintain a fleet of service vehicles, supply equipment, take out insurance, and so on…

All those operating costs get rolled into the charge of installation.

And the markup is obscene.

A typical installation might take a team of 3 laborers a full 8-hour day to complete. At $25/hr, that’s $600 in total labor costs. Add a bit more for tools and overhead, and the installer might spend about $1000 to send a crew to complete the job.

And yet…turnkey installers charge 1-2 times the cost of equipment to install it. If your equipment costs $10k, your final bill may come out to $20-30k once everything is bundled together.

Uh huh. You can see why we’re such strong advocates for DIY solar.

If you’re holding a quote from a turnkey installer, we strongly recommend you explore DIY as an option. Installing a solar system can seem scary, but it’s a lot easier than it looks.

We’ve helped thousands of people through the DIY installation process – take a look at the customer galleries in our Install of the Month feature for inspiration.

Don’t feel comfortable installing your own solar system? There’s a nice middle ground between DIY and turnkey: buy the system direct, then hire an independent contractor to install it.

Independent contractors tend to charge way less for installation. They should charge you 75 cents to a dollar per watt, which means you’d pay $5-6k to install the same system we used as an example above. You can see the value comparison of all three options in the chart below.

This is not to say that we fault turnkey installers for what they do. If you have a family or a demanding job, time is likely your most valuable resource. A turnkey solution is absolutely worth it if you can afford it and don’t have time to design your system yourself.

Just know you’re paying a premium for them to install the system, and that premium is awfully steep.

30% Federal Tax Credit Makes Solar More Affordable

If you live in the United States and choose to go solar, your system is eligible for a federal tax credit.

Today, that credit is 30% of your cost to go solar (which includes the cost of installation and equipment). However, it will shrink over time to 26% in 2020 and 22% in 2021, disappearing completely by 2022.

The tax credit is a reduction of the income tax you owe. For example, if you owe $3,000 in taxes but received a $3,000 tax credit on a $10,000 system, your tax liability would be $0.

If solar seems too expensive, keep in mind that 30% of your system cost will be refunded when tax season comes. However, that benefit will be phased out over the next few years. So if you want to claim the extra kickback on your taxes, you’ll have to do so sooner rather than later.

Read more: The Federal Solar Tax Credit, Explained in Plain English

Understanding Payback Period

Even if you skip the installer, you’ll still spend a good amount of money on the system itself. That number can be a little bit scary without any context.

It’s important to think of solar as an investment with a payback period.

Solar saves you money in the long run by reducing or eliminating electric bills. Over time, the money you save on electricity adds up.

Your payback period is the amount of time it takes for your energy savings to pay off the up-front cost of the system. (Other factors, like tax incentives, also speed up your payback period.)

The formula for payback period is:

System Price ÷ Value of Electricity ÷ Annual Usage = Payback period (years)

(This is a simplified formula. It doesn’t take into account certain factors like energy cost inflation, which increases costs by about 3% per year, or the scheduled replacement of smaller parts, like the inverter.)

The system may be pricey up front, but it will provide more than enough energy to pay for itself. For example, panels are warrantied for 25 years, but our sample 6.6kW system may pay for itself after about 8 years of typical use. The final 17 years of ownership yields profit off your investment.

Learn more about how to calculate payback period and return on investment for your solar system.

Start Small To Trim The Cost Of Solar

You don’t have to offset 100% of your energy costs if your budget doesn’t allow for it. It’s always possible to start with a modest system and then expand later.

You can start as small as one solar panel and a single micro-inverter. Solar panels and micro-inverters are a 1-to-1 system, meaning each panel is connected to its own micro-inverter.

See it: Enphase IQ7+ micro-inverters

This configuration can be expanded indefinitely. We build modest systems like this all the time for people who want to offset a small portion of their energy, then add to it over time as budget allows.

If you want to take this approach, be sure to mention your expansion plans to your system designer / sales tech. Not all inverters and panels are compatible. Start with a long-term plan in mind and plan appropriately.

Conclusion

Solar can be expensive in the short term, but the incentives will save you plenty of money over the life of the warranty. And the return on investment improves dramatically if you skip the turnkey provider and install it yourself – or at least hire an independent contractor to do it for you.

Trying to figure out whether solar is right for you? Take a look at our guide to getting started with solar. It’s tailored for people who are just starting to research the solar energy landscape.

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Ground Mount vs. Roof Mount Racking: What’s the Best Way to Mount My Solar Panels?

Ground Mount vs. Roof Mount Racking: What’s the Best Way to Mount My Solar Panels?

Ground Mounts vs. Roof Mounts: Quick Summary

Roof mounts are less expensive because they use your existing roof structure as a foundation. They also take up less room on your property. Ground mounts take up more space, but they’re easier to access for installation and repair. They also give you greater control over the orientation of your array to maximize production.

Once you have your solar panels picked out, it’s time to decide which mounting system is best for your living space, budget, and energy needs.

There are two types of solar mounting options: roof mount and ground mount racking systems. Roof mount systems affix to brackets on your roof, while ground mount systems are built into a foundation at ground level. See the comparison images below for examples.

Ground Mount

Roof Mount

There are benefits and drawbacks to each, and both mounting systems have their merits depending on your project specs. This article will dive deeper into what we think about when we recommend ground mount vs. roof mount racking to our customers.

But first, a quick summary:

Ground Mount Solar Racking

Pros

  • Easy to access
  • Easy to clean
  • Easier to troubleshoot
  • Stronger racking overall
  • System is not confined to the dimensions of the roof
  • Cooler panel temperatures means higher energy output
  • No need to remove panels if roof is replaced

Cons

  • Installation is more labor intensive
  • Installation is more expensive
  • Requires more parts and pieces
  • Permitting process is more expensive
  • Takes up real estate
  • Not aesthetically pleasing to everyone

Roof Mount Solar Racking

Pros

  • Less expensive
  • Requires fewer materials to install
  • Installation labor cost is lower
  • Utilizes unused space
  • Easier to permit

Cons

  • Hard to access – especially if your roof is steep or slippery 
  • Harder to troubleshoot errors
  • Higher panel temperatures mean lower panel output
  • Space constraints on the roof limits the size of the system
  • Can be a hassle if you need to replace the roof within the panel’s lifetime (might install the system twice)
  • Putting holes in your roof could lead to water damage

Why Go Ground Mount?

The Perfect Alignment

No matter what kind of solar system you’re considering, this much is true: every solar array works best when it’s able to get as much sunlight as possible.

If you live in the United States, you’re north of the equator, so the sun leans south as the Earth orbits. Facing your array true south will capture the most daylight and produce the best results. However, if you live south of the equator in South America, it would be more efficient to face your system true north.

Getting the perfect alignment can be a little tricky for a roof-mounted system. It isn’t likely that your roof naturally faces directly into the sun.

Ground-mount systems can face any direction you want. You can align your system at the optimal angle so it points directly at the sun. For that reason alone, ground-mounted systems are most efficient, as they maximize access to the sunlight that powers the array.

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Benefits for Off-Grid & Grid-Tied Consumers

The perfect angle isn’t the only thing that makes ground-mount arrays more efficient. Being raised off the ground allows for better airflow and cooling, which means your panels produce more energy.

Most solar panels are tested at an average of 77° Fahrenheit – a normal sunny day, but nothing too extreme. But when it gets hotter than this, and the panels grow less efficient, producing 10-25% less electricity. The semiconductors suffer greater resistance to the flow of electricity. Think of it like squeezing the hose when there’s water running through it.

Proper airflow and cooling keep your panels running in optimal conditions, which is a clear advantage for ground-mount racking.

Giving You Room to Grow

If you’re installing on your roof, chances are you’ve got limited space to make the most efficient array possible. Should your energy needs change in the future, it could be challenging to add more panels to your current system.

When you go ground-mount, you’re under no such restriction – assuming you have the space in your yard. You can expand your array after the initial installation, and many ground mount racking options allow you to bolt on new additions easily.  

This means if you add on to your property and require more power, or if you find that your initial power supply just isn’t cutting it, you can add more panels as needed with minimum fuss.

Accessibility 

Another major benefit to ground mounted solar is accessibility. Solar systems require a lot of trial and error, especially in the installation phase. It’s a pain to have to get up on the roof every time you need to work out a kink with your system.

This is an even bigger selling point if you’re considering a system with microinverters and optimizers. With those accessories, there is a component under each solar panel and they can be difficult to replace on a roof-mounted system.

What happens if a microinverter in the middle of the array breaks down? In that case, you would have to remove several panels to access the source of the problem. When your system is on ground level instead of high up on the roof, it’s easier to troubleshoot panels and accessories.

Ground mount also makes it easier to clean your panels and perform routine maintenance on them. It provides you with more peace of mind to know you won’t have to risk your safety every time you need to brush snow off the panels, wash off dust and pollen, or remove debris from under the panels. There are also pole mounts available, which are ideal for heavy snow areas. Pole mounts can be constructed with adjustable tilt angles to maximize energy production and easily shed snow in the winter months.

Drawbacks Of Ground-Mounted Solar

Now for the drawbacks of ground-mount racking that you might want to consider.

In general, a ground mount is a lot more complicated to install and requires more money upfront to get the job done. If your primary concern is seeing the maximum return on your investment into solar panels, roof mount could be the way to go. The permitting process will be lengthier for a ground-mount system. And it will take up more space on your property, which you may prefer to use for something else.

More Labor Intensive & Requires More Cost Upfront

The main reason why a ground mount requires more cost upfront is because the system requires more parts to be assembled.

Think of it this way – when you place a solar array on the roof, half of the structure has already been built for you. But when you place a solar array on the ground, you have to build a sturdy roof-like structure to hold the panels in place.

This process involves getting your soil surveyed to make sure it can hold the system firmly in place, digging large holes, and paying extra for parts to build a suitable foundation for the panels.

Roof-mounted systems skip a lot of these costs. Assuming your roof is in good shape and doesn’t have structural damage, it should be strong enough to support the weight of the solar array. You don’t run into any of the hassle of building a brand new foundation to hold the panels in place.

Ground-Mount Racking Requires a Longer Permitting Process

Additionally, the city or county you live in might have a heavier hand in the installation process, since the system is considered a new structure. Depending on where you live, you will have to go to the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) and obtain a building permit.

This will add extra challenges to the process. You’ll need to:

  • Submit a design plan
  • Consider soil type and property line setback requirements
  • Pay permitting fees

Ground-Mount Takes Up Real Estate

The final drawback to ground mounted solar is that it takes up a lot of space on your property. When you mount a system on your roof, it will be more discrete, and you get to keep the space on your land to do whatever you please.

The space issue isn’t a big deal if you have a large property. People who live out in the country tend to be able to find space for a ground-mounted system that won’t interfere with how they live the rest of their lives.

But if you own a smaller property, your roof may be the only place your solar array will fit. In some cases, a ground-mounted system isn’t even an option.

If space isn’t an issue, the decision often comes down to aesthetics. For those that consider ground mounted solar an unsightly blemish on their land, there are some artistic or unique installation options out there, such as those featured below.

But for the most part, people are proud of their solar arrays because they are a cutting-edge technology that represents freedom from the power company and total independence.

We like it when people show off their systems with a sense of pride. But there’s nothing wrong with preferring one look over another. For buyers who have the luxury of space, the decision often comes down to whether they think ground or roof-mounted systems look better.

Key Points To Consider:

Go with a ground-mount system if you want to simplify the maintenance / cleaning process and maximize energy output over time. There are three main questions to ask yourself to make sure ground-mount will work for you:

How much are you looking to spend upfront?

A ground-mount racking system requires more labor and parts to install it. You may need to partner with a contractor to get the job done, and the permitting process will be lengthier and more expensive.

But consider this: once the panels are installed, the upfront cost will be offset down the line by a more efficient energy output. There’s also less cost and hassle involved if you have to remove the panels for re-roofing.

You’ll shell out a bit more cash at the start, but the effort will pay for itself over time.

What kind of soil do you have?

If your property is on bedrock or if you know the soil is going to be really difficult to dig into, you might want to put the panels on your roof. Hard soil can make installation costs for ground-mount systems skyrocket. It’s not impossible, but you’ll need to rent heavy-duty equipment to drill into the ground.

There are also a few workarounds with ground-mount options to keep the digging to a minimum. A ballasted system might be a good solution. Learn more about the different racking options available in our article covering frequently asked questions about ground-mount racking systems.

Will you need to expand your system?

If you don’t plan on living off-grid, a rooftop system will probably be more than enough for your energy needs. However, if you are planning to go off-grid, the ground mount will allow you to add more panels as your energy needs change over time and you will get the benefit of a built-in tilt that can face towards the sun more easily than your roof.

When is Roof-Mount Racking Better?

Neither mounting system is “better” than the other – the choice depends on how your budget, energy needs, and lifestyle come together. A roof-mounted solar system tends to be a better option for customers who:

  • want to maximize their ROI
  • want a system that is simpler to install
  • don’t have a lot of space
  • want to spend less money upfront

Less Materials & Labor Means Less Cost Upfront

One thing that makes a roof-mounted solar system an easy sell is that it requires less time and money upfront to install.

When you put a solar system on your roof, the most complicated part of the structure is already in place. You don’t have to dig holes, get the soil surveyed, worry about your property line, or purchase expensive materials like poles and concrete.

The set-up is ideal for grid-tie customers that want to make a smart investment; installing on the roof instead of the ground can save you thousands of dollars.

If you’re curious to see what the roof mount installation process involves, take a look at our demo roof install in this 22-minute video:

Makes Use Of Unused Space

More often than not, a roof mount is used in a residential setting where there isn’t a lot of space for a ground-mount system. You might live in a condo or tightly-packed suburb. What scarce yard space you have might be better used for barbecues or a place for the kids to play. Mounting panels on the roof allows you to use space that would otherwise be useless, saving the rest of your property for the things that matter most.

Even for people with lots of land, some choose to install solar panels on the roof because it’s more inconspicuous. It keeps the space on your property free for things like raising animals, farming, and outbuildings. Roof-mounted systems keep the clutter off your land, so there’s more room to get things done.

Added Insulation & Protection

One unexpected benefit to a roof-mounted system worth mentioning is that it protects the roof from degrading elements like UV light, wind, rain, and snow. It will also keep your structure more insulated. If you’re living off-grid, this can be a nice way to keep the house naturally warmer at night and cooler in the daytime.

According to this article from Earth Sky, students at UC San Diego found that solar panels kept the roof an average of 5° Fahrenheit cooler than an exposed rooftop, which saved the building an average of 5% on cooling costs. Those savings are on top of what you’ll save on your energy bill anyway by going solar.

Easier To Permit

Are you one of those people who doesn’t like to get tangled up in bureaucratic procedures? A roof-mounted racking system is perfect for you. It involves a much simpler permitting process. You can submit the blueprints for your home to show whether or not your roof is structurally sound, and you’ll have to make sure your wiring and electrical systems are up to code. This typically won’t be an issue unless you live in an old home.

There’s no extra design paperwork to submit, because you aren’t building a new structure on your property – something that would lead to a much longer approval process.

Drawbacks Of Roof-Mounted Solar

What makes people shy away from roof-mounted systems? There are a couple downsides to consider:

  • Inaccessible due to their height
  • Less efficient, depending on the positioning of your home
  • Harder to modify and troubleshoot
  • Space constraints on smaller rooftops

Accessibility Makes Things Harder To Troubleshoot

For anyone that’s ever installed Christmas lights or cleaned out the gutters on their home, you know what a pain it is to get up on the roof. Depending on your mobility and planned level of involvement in the installation process, you may want to consider the accessibility of your roof. Depending on the pitch and what kind of material your roof is made out of, you may not want to risk getting up there. For example, metal roofing is really slippery.

Less Efficient

Roof-mounted systems are rarely as efficient as ground-mount systems. Rooftop solar panels can’t always be aimed directly at the sun. It’s a lot harder to angle an array on an existing structure so that it is optimized for full power consumption during peak hours.

You’re at the mercy of the built-in specs of your roof, which means you can’t always get the panels facing true south (above the equator) or north (below the equator). To compensate, you may have to buy a few extra panels to match the output of a perfectly aligned ground-mount system.

Space Constraints

The average roof area on a standard, medium-pitch roof in America is 1,500 square feet. Some of this space will be unusable due to chimneys, vents, and other obstructions. There’s not a lot of space left to work with.

Once your system is in place, it will likely be impossible to add on to that system if you need to increase your energy production. If your family grows or you add an extension to your home, it could be challenging to add extra panels to adapt to increased energy consumption.

Key Points To Consider

If you think rooftop solar is the best option for you, be sure to consider some commonly overlooked questions:

How old is your roof?

A roof and a solar system have a similar lifespan, so it makes sense to install them at the same time. Roofs less than 5 years old will likely be fit for solar panels. Any older than that and you at least want to consider whether it’s a good idea to replace it at the same time you install the panels.

If your roof is really old, there may be damage, leaks or structural integrity issues to worry about. It will need to be in good shape to support the weight of the solar array. Try to anticipate roof repairs before installing your system. It’ll be a huge pain in the butt to repair your roof after the panels are installed.

Does your HOA have constraints on where you can mount your panels?

Depending on the solar access laws in your state, a homeowners association (HOA) can prevent you from installing solar panels. Before you purchase your solar system, check in with your HOA to see if they have any guidelines regarding solar. You can negotiate any problems with them while you get the permitting in order.

How expensive is your electricity?

Even though solar panels are an excellent investment, it requires a big financial commitment upfront and it can take time to get a return on that investment depending on your energy consumption. If your energy consumption is small, your savings will be too. A lot of those savings can depend on your state and whether or not you live in a remote area that has expensive electricity. So even though we are big supporters of solar, it’s not for everyone – it really depends on your core goals.

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5 Questions You Should Ask Before Installing Ground-Mount Solar

5 Questions You Should Ask Before Installing Ground-Mount Solar

If you’ve read about the state & local incentives to go solar and maybe even looked into our free solar cost calculators, you’re likely convinced – going solar is a terrific investment. But once you’ve made the decision to purchase a solar system, that’s when the real questions begin.

If you’re a homeowner that has some acreage to spare, a ground-mounted solar array can be a terrific option for you. Depending on your budget, space, and energy needs, a ground-mounted system has a lot of benefits.

For starters, the system is easier to access and has no interaction with your roof – which means you don’t have to worry about damaging roofing materials, water leaking into your home, or moving the panels around in the case of a roof replacement.

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However, before you bust out the auger, consider these five questions inspired by a conversation I had with solar professional Brady Schimpf. In addition to being the Technical Marketing Engineer at Ironridge, a company that produces mounting hardware for PV solar arrays, Schmipf has a lengthy background in solar installation.

Aside from Schmipf offering up answers to these questions about rooftop solar, he also clued me in on five key things many people misunderstand about ground-mounted solar – and shed some light on major compliance & property line issues that can cause all kinds of costly problems after installation.

Question #1:  “What are the different types of ground-mount solar systems and how do I know which one is best for my needs?”

Standard Ground Mount

When most people think of ground-mounted solar panels, they think of the image on the left (as featured in our Dec 2017 install of the month). This is what’s called a standard ground mount – where several poles are placed in the ground, and a racking system is installed on top to hold the solar panels.

The process of building this kind of system is similar to putting together a fence. You would first dig several holes that are a few feet deep, then set the poles in, and fill them with concrete. This structure would create the foundation for holding your solar panels.

A notable feature of a standard ground mount is that the panels are “fixed” – this means the tilt angle and direction is permanent. While the main benefit of this is that it’s cost-effective and easy to install the downside is that there is little to no adjustability and it’s not ideal for areas with extreme snow.

While concrete piers are always the most practical and cost-effective foundation for a standard ground mount, there are alternative foundation options including ballasted, driven piers, and helical piles. These are mainly used for large commercial or utility installations, typically when the soil is too hard or rocky to drill into.

With a ballasted solar system, it’s basically a standard ground mount with an added feature – concrete footings that are above the ground. Driven piers look like a huge pole, and as the name suggests, it gets pile-driven deep into the ground using specialized equipment.

Helical piles, also known as Earth screws, look like a giant screw. They also require special equipment for installation, similar to the driven piers. Additionally, all three alternative foundation options require working with a Professional Engineer (PE).

Pole Mount Solar Panels

Aside from standard ground mounts, you may also consider pole-mounted solar panels. When I consulted solar professional Brady Schimpf, he explained that pole mounts provide some interesting solutions that might apply to your unique situation.

For starters, pole-mounted solar panels are built in a similar way as the standard ground-mounted systems, but instead of digging several holes you would dig one big hole and set a huge pole into it. Then, the solar panels are mounted on top with a built-in tilt and swivel feature that allows you to adjust the panels manually or set up automatic trackers to improve your solar output.

While this sounds pretty appealing, Schimpf reminds consumers that what it really comes down to is the cost per watt. He stated,  

“In a residential system it’s way cheaper and equally as effective to add more arrays [solar panels] than have the ability to adjust a smaller array.”

However, there are benefits to a pole mounted system beyond energy output – the adjustable feature also allows you to lift the array above the ground to clear foliage, snow, and other obstructions. The height combined with adjustability makes a pole mount ideal for those that live in snowy climates. On the downside, pole-mounted solar panels are a lot more expensive, require a big concrete footing, and the large pipe is hard to work with.

Question #2:  “Does ground-mounted solar have to be off-grid?”

Both grid-tied and off-grid customers can use ground-mounted solar panels. The decision to use ground-mounted solar instead of rooftop solar usually has to do with space. For customers that have some acreage to spare, using ground-mounted solar can be a great option – but if you’re living on a smaller lot, or want a quicker ROI, you might want to conserve space and make use of the real estate on your roof. Ground mounted solar systems tend to be more expensive and labor intensive, but can be more efficient at capturing energy thus saving you more in the long run.

Question #3: “What are some things I should consider before installing ground-mounted solar?”

Before you purchase a ground-mounted solar system, consider the fact that it’s usually a more complicated installation process than putting solar panels on a roof. When you have a roof installation, half of the structure is already built. All you have to install is racking and the solar array. However, with a ground mounted system, you essentially have to build the structure of the roof from scratch, so the solar panels have something to sit on.

When I posed this question to Schimpf, here’s what he had to say:

“[Aside from space] one important thing to consider is your soil type. If you’re not familiar with what it is, you can get a local contractor out to do an evaluation for a reasonable fee.”

And depending on where you live, this could be an essential step. Some cities, especially those with certain soil types, strict building codes, and high earthquake risk, will require you to get your soil inspected and approved before you can move forward with your ground mount design. In that case, a soil engineer would look at the soil to determine its type and make adjustments to the foundation size and requirements of the design.

Keep in mind that all standard ground mount racking comes pre-engineered for all 50 states, but certain conditions in your area like heavy wind and snow and certain soil types may require special designs.

The key point here is that depending on where you live, you might need to meet with a local engineer to get your system approved and built to city standards.

So what are the best type of soil for ground-mounted systems?

Schimpf tells us:

“Basically anything that doesn’t have tons of large rocks and isn’t a hard-pan type material [works] well. Ground-mount works well on almost any other type of soil – it’s only an issue if you get into that [situation] with large rocks in the ground. That’s where it causes problems – but there are alternate ways around that…It’s more costly, but if that’s what you have there are options.”

Some of those options would be the more complicated foundations mentioned above – like ballasted, driven piers, or helical piles.

Question #4: “Do I have to get my property line surveyed before installing ground-mounted solar?”

One of the smartest things you can do before installing a ground-mounted solar array is to get your property line surveyed. According to Schimpf, issues with property lines come up a lot – usually after you’ve spent thousands to install a ground-mounted solar system. He recalled one scenario where a consumer built their solar system too close to the property line and the whole system had to be taken down and moved a foot backward.

“It’s very important to go through that process and understand property line setback requirements because if you install without a permit and you put [the system] too close to the property line, that can be a huge problem if you try to sell your home or get a permit to do other work on your property. Down the road, this can come back as a big issue.”

Property line setback requirements will vary quite a bit depending on what state or county you live in. For example, this document from San Diego County names the property line setback for ground-mounted solar arrays at a minimum of 3 feet. However, this document from the Department of Energy Resources in Massachusetts recommends counties in the state enforce 20-50 foot property line setback requirements (located on page 8).

To save yourself a ton of money and a massive headache, be sure to contact your local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), which will be either your city or county depending on who issues building permits. To get a permit, you’ll have to go through all kinds of documented processes, including submitting a site plan. If you need assistance navigating the bureaucracy, be sure to download our free permitting guide.

Question #5: “Are ground-mounted solar panels safe & legal in my neighborhood?”

As long as you install your solar system after obtaining a building permit and purchase code-compliant materials, it’s entirely safe and legal. PV solar panels are compatible with most types of land use and permitting is typically handled on a local level.

According to Schimpf, when you install a ground-mounted solar array, there is not as much concern about fire as there is when you install on top of a roof, but UL 2703 code compliancy is still important. UL 2703 is a building code that requires PV solar racking materials, bonding, clamps, etc. to undergo rigorous testing that ensures they have the appropriate structural capacity, can withstand both high surges of electricity and don’t accelerate house fires.

And while the fire hazard element is more critical for rooftop solar panels, you still want to look out for UL 2703 compliant parts and avoid mixing and matching parts from different suppliers, as these parts may not have been tested together on a system level. Additionally, Schimpf recommends you protect the wires coming down from your solar array; they should be enclosed by a channel or raceway so that they’re not left open and exposed causing potential hazards.

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Customers’ Biggest Questions About Rooftop Solar Panels Answered

Customers’ Biggest Questions About Rooftop Solar Panels Answered

According to data from Consumer Reports, more residential homeowners are opting for solar power than ever before. From 2010-2015 the number of residential solar PV installations increased dramatically.

I surveyed three consumers who recently made the switch from PG&E power to sun energy, and they all said the same thing – their biggest concern during the purchasing process was their roof.

Many residential customers don’t have space for a ground-mounted solar power system. However, if your biggest concern is saving money and getting a quicker return on your investment, rooftop solar panels are likely the best fit anyway.

A rooftop installation is always more cost-effective because it takes advantage of an existing structure. With a roof mount, you don’t have to go out and buy pipes and concrete or pay for the extra labor it takes to install the system.

And although a rooftop solar system seems simpler at first glance, there are still a few important questions you might want to consider. In fact, here are the answers to five of the most common questions about rooftop solar power for home use.

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Question #1: “Is my roof a good candidate for solar panels?”

Most residential customers considering the switch to solar power want to know whether their roof is even fit for solar in the first place. The truth is, solar panels can be installed on almost any type of roof – you just have to find the right mounting system for the job.

To get more information on mounting systems for rooftop solar, I spoke with solar industry expert Brady Schimpf, who is the Technical Marketing Engineer at Ironridge. According to Schimpf, “there [are] mounting systems for just about everything…but some are much more difficult, expensive, and labor intensive than others.” The first thing to consider before a roof installation is the material that the roof is composed of. The most common roofing material, composition shingle, is one of the easiest to install solar panels onto aside from a metal roof.

In general, solar panels are best installed on a sturdy roof that is made of composition shingle or metal, and things tend to be a bit more difficult on tile roofs – especially those that are so delicate that technicians can’t walk on them, like Spanish tile.

One technique an installer can use with a tile roof is to remove a section of tile and install shingles where the solar panels are going. This makes the solar system appear flush with the roof due to the raised height of the remaining tiles, and you won’t be able to see the shingle roofing underneath the solar panels.

Each type of roof will likely require a different style of mounting hardware, so if you plan on doing your own installation be sure to discuss those details with a solar consultant. For example, a low slope roof (a.k.a. flat roof most commonly seen on commercial buildings) can be tricky to install on, and typically requires hiring a roofing company to install flashings.

On the other hand, something like a metal roof can be much more straightforward. On certain types of metal roofs, a solar array can be clamped down without penetration, making it 100% leak-free. You might also check out this video about solar panel mounting options or this one below, which details how to mount solar panels to a roof step-by-step.

In addition to materials, customers should also consider the pitch angle of the roof, the size and shape of the roof, how much shading is present, the direction the roof is facing, and of course the age of the roof. All of these elements can affect how much solar energy your system is able to produce. If the system is installed correctly and optimized, it could potentially cover the cost of a new roof in energy savings in as little as 5 years.

Question #2: “Do I need a new roof to install solar?”

If your roof is in need of any major repairs, you will want to take care of them before you install your rooftop solar system. Solar energy systems have a lifespan of 25 to 35 years and taking a solar system down to replace a roof can be complicated and costly.

But generally speaking, this is only an issue for shingle roofs, which have the shortest lifespan. A shingle roof installed in the last 5 years is probably good to go for solar. For a roof that is older than that, consult a roofer to find out whether you need to replace the roof or perform major maintenance before installing solar panels.

Question #3: “Do rooftop solar panels damage the roof?”

One huge myth about rooftop solar installations is that it will damage the roof. On the contrary, a rooftop solar system can extend the life of a roof by protecting it from the elements.

Rooftop solar arrays are mounted slightly higher than the roof so air can circulate under the panels to prevent overheating. That being said, confirm that the technicians installing your rooftop solar system have experience with your particular roofing material and investigate whether the solar installation will void your original roofing warranty. Also, make sure you regularly clean debris like leaves and pine needles out from under the panels.

According to Schimpf, “Something a lot of new installers or DIY builders struggle with is damaging the shingles,” and the real issue with putting holes in your roof is the potential for water damage. As described by Schimpf, who has a long background in solar installation, technicians will install flashing underneath the shingles, and if they don’t take their time and lift the shingles carefully, it can damage the roofing materials making your home susceptible to water damage. Thankfully, much of those worries about water damage can be alleviated by some innovations in mounting hardware made in the last 5 years.

Schimpf described an elevated seal system produced by Ironridge that uses strategically placed metal flashing instead of rubber or sealant to divert water around the hole. This means homeowners would be reliant on an elevated piece of metal, which will likely outlast the home itself, over a rubber or sealant that has an unknown lifespan.

Question #4: ” Can I install a rooftop solar system by myself or do I need to hire an expert?”

Depending on your skill set, you can install a solar array on your own or partner with a contractor. Some Wholesale Solar customers handle a majority of the project on their own but hire contractors for some of the work. For example, you might want to pay a roofing company to install the flashings and then you can bolt on the rails and solar panels yourself. Any local roofing company can install flashings, and the company that installed your original roof will be able to verify that it won’t affect the original warranty.

Of course, doing everything yourself can cut down on the cost of your system and is perfect for a customer that wants to be highly involved with every step of the process. According to Schimpf, any DIY installer should try to find a mounting system that “goes together simply, has a low part count and is easy to put together.” Considering you’ll be working on an inclined surface, the less little parts you have lying around, the better. Schimpf compared the process to the “Ikea Cabinet Scenario,” where “you’ve got 60 different screws and fasteners, you’re trying to put it all together, and once the cabinet is assembled you realize you’ve got it all backward.”

Schimpf also noted an essential piece of information regarding fire code compliance. He recommended finding a mounting system that is UL2703 listed, which means it has been through rigorous testing to make sure it can handle large surges of energy, has the proper structural capacity, and won’t interact with the solar array to accelerate house fires. For more information on this and other key details regarding DIY installation, you can check out beginner to advanced webinars from Ironridge.

Question #5: “Where might I encounter hidden costs that decrease my ROI?”

When a customer asks how solar panels will affect their roof, they’re ultimately questioning whether they’re going to be faced with extra costs or headaches down the line. And this much is true – taking down and storing solar panels while replacing a roof can be costly.

One important point to make is that most solar systems have the same lifespan as the average roof, so as long as your roof is in good condition when the solar system is installed, you won’t have to take the solar panels down until it’s time to upgrade both the roof and your solar system.

So what does an expert on mounting hardware state as his biggest concern for rooftop installers?

“Keeping your roof membrane intact, keeping water out of your house… and taking the most time to make sure it’s done right.”

Some additional tips offered up by Schimpf involve commonly overlooked elements regarding mounting a junction box or rooftop conduit box. Customers should take the same precautions around water damage as is done with the solar array, otherwise, you’re really only completing half the job.

Additionally, be meticulous with your wiring. There will be cables that come down from every panel, and they need to be kept secure. If they’re drooping and blowing on the roof in the wind, the rough roofing material can wear through the insulation of the wire causing safety hazards. Also, as explained in this article by Mark Durrenberger from New England Clean Energy, unsecured wiring can provide a nesting location for small animals and collects debris more easily.

The wiring behind your panels can be secured using metal clips that keep everything tight and neat– just make sure the materials are made for solar use, like these metal clips from Ironridge. A cheap bag of zip ties won’t be able to withstand the elements in the long term.

So whether you’re ready to hop on the roof and install your own solar array or want to hire an expert, there are many design elements to consider. Some of the main takeaways are safety, the longevity of the parts used, and code compliance.

If you’re ready to explore your options, download our Solar Racking Guide for more info.

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SunPower Buys SolarWorld, Reviving An American Solar Giant

SunPower Buys SolarWorld, Reviving An American Solar Giant

America’s largest solar manufacturer is teaming up with a leading technological innovator in the field.

SunPower announced this morning that it will acquire SolarWorld Americas for an undisclosed sum. SunPower will take over operation of SolarWorld’s manufacturing facility in Hillsboro, OR. The deal gives the largest American solar manufacturer the backing of one of the industry’s leading technological innovators. It should help both companies stay competitive and keep prices down for consumers.

With the acquisition, SunPower hopes to avoid the tariff on solar imports imposed in February. Under the tariff, foreign manufacturers pay a 30% tax on cells and modules imported to the United States for sale.

Silicon Valley is home to SunPower headquarters. But they outsource their manufacturing to Southeast Asia and Mexico. That will change when this deal finalizes. SunPower plans to assemble their low-cost P-Series module at the newly-acquired Oregon plant. Shifting manufacturing efforts into the U.S. effectively bypasses the tariff.

This move seems to be a savvy way for SunPower to remain competitive in the American market. Most solar companies will opt to raise prices to offset increased import costs. Instead, SunPower will plug into SolarWorld’s established manufacturing and distribution infrastructure. This should soften the impact of the tariff and keep their prices affordable.

The result for consumers? A technological leader joins forces with an experienced American manufacturer. This deal helps both SunPower and SolarWorld stay competitive. We expect any pricing changes on their product lines to be negligible.

A Win-Win Deal

The deal is a major victory for SolarWorld. They’ve been around for over 40 years and have proven to be the most resilient solar brand in America. But their growth has not come without its rough patches.

SolarWorld’s German parent company, SolarWorld AG, filed for bankruptcy in 2017. Since then, SolarWorld Americas trimmed their workforce and cut back research and development.

As a result, SolarWorld has struggled to compete with the cheap import market. Last year, they joined Suniva to lobby for the tariff which was eventually enacted this February. Ironically, that same tariff drove SunPower to seek American manufacturing options.

The SunPower acquisition provides much-needed relief to help them stabilize. SunPower has pledged to invest capital to reignite SolarWorld’s R&D efforts. SunPower will also fund improvements for the Oregon manufacturing facility.

The partnership is ideal for SolarWorld. SunPower is a technological leader in the solar industry. Their premium modules are among the most efficient products on the market. The new investment capital and guidance of a market leader bodes well for SolarWorld. We’re excited to see what innovations will come to their products in the near future.

The Oregon facility SunPower inherits will also continue to produce SolarWorld-branded legacy products. That’s great news. SolarWorld’s longevity as an American manufacturer has earned them a loyal following. We want to see their full product line remain on the market.

SolarWorld’s CEO, Jürgen Stein, commented on the impact the deal will have on his company’s operations:

“We are delighted that SunPower has agreed to inject fresh capital and their industry leading P-Series technology into SolarWorld Americas operations here in Hillsboro. Our hundreds of long-time employees are excited to be part of this next chapter in SolarWorld Americas’ long history. We are thrilled about this acquisition as it means quite simply, that our company can look forward to redoubled strength as it continues to innovate and expand into the future. This outcome is ideal for SolarWorld Americas and its employees.”

Wall Street seems to agree that this is a strong move for SunPower. SPWR opened at $8.81 on Wednesday, the day news of the acquisition went public. The stock continues to rise a day later, peaking at $9.77 a share at the time of publication.

The acquisition is not final until U.S. and German trade officials approve it. SunPower expects the deal to become official by the end of June.

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