Editor’s note: This article was updated on 1/7/2020. 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 2020! 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.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost in 2020?
Let’s get right to the good stuff. Here’s how much our most popular solar panels cost in 2020.
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.
|Manufacturer||Price (as of 1/7/20)||Output (watts)||Cost per watt||Cell type||Made in…|
|Mission Solar||$250||310W||$0.81||Mono PERC||America|
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.
|Manufacturer||Price (as of 1/7/20)||Output (watts)||Cost per watt||Cell type||Made in…|
|Solarland (Industrial Rated)||$337.13||150W||$2.25||Poly||China|
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 $1.20 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.
Solar System Costs in 2020 (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 1/7/20).
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 Size||Cost Per Watt||Cost (before tax credit)||Cost (after tax credit)||Monthly Output|
|2.76 kW||$1.81||$4,988||$3,691||374 kWh|
|3.45 kW||$1.67||$5,767||$4,268||468 kWh|
|4.14 kW||$1.58||$6,548||$4,846||562 kWh|
|5.18 kW||$1.55||$8,037||$5,947||702 kWh|
|5.52 kW||$1.53||$8,428||$6,237||749 kWh|
|6.9 kW||$1.48||$10,225||$7,567||936 kWh|
|8.28 kW||$1.46||$12,084||$8,942||1,123 kWh|
|10.35 kW||$1.46||$15,063||$11,147||1,404 kWh|
|11.04 kW||$1.44||$15,844||$11,725||1,498 kWh|
|12.42 kW||$1.43||$17,798||$13,171||1,685 kWh|
|13.8 kW||$1.47||$20,271||$15,001||1,872 kWh|
|17.25 kW||$1.44||$24,769||$18,329||2,340 kWh|
|20.7 kW||$1.43||$29.550||$21,867||2,808 kWh|
|27.6 kW||$1.38||$38,145||$28,227||3,744 kWh|
Solar System Costs in 2020 (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 Size||Cost per watt||Cost (before tax credit)||Cost (after tax credit)||Daily Output (summer)||Daily Output (Winter)|
|1.2 kW||$6.60||$7,920||$5,058||5.4 kWh||2.7 kWh|
|1.8 kW||$4.95||$8,908||$5,503||8.1 kWh||4.05 kWh|
|2.7 kW||$3.63||$9,800||$6,163||12.15 kWh||6.07 kWh|
|3.6 kW||$3.37||$12,125||$6,857||16.2 kWh||8.1 kWh|
|4.5 kW||$2.97||$13,377||$7,783||20.25 kWh||10.12 kWh|
|5.4 kW||$3.11||$16,770||$10,294||24.3 kWh||12.15 kWh|
|7.2 kW||$3.91||$28,126||$16,611||32.4 kWh||16.2 kWh|
|9 kW||$3.32||$29,910||$17,931||40.5 kWh||20.25 kWh|
|10.8 kW||$2.93||$31,694||$19,251||48.6 kWh||24.3 kWh|
|13.5 kW||$3.26||$43,950||$22,912||60.75 kWh||30.37 kWh|
|16.2 kW||$3.14||$50,850||$24,892||72.9 kWh||36.45 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.
For example, in 2012 you could buy an Astronergy 235W panel for $275. Today, you can buy a 345W Astronergy panel for $242.
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 2020 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.
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 345W. In five years, technological advancements allowed them to squeeze an extra 35 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.
|Year||Cost per watt (systems)|
Is Solar Worth It?
If you’re just starting to research the solar landscape,
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.