Solar FAQs: Your top 10 questions about solar energy answered

Published on 23 Dec, 2018 by Zeeshan Hyder

Categories: Solar energy

Top 10 questions about solar energy answered

Solar is everywhere these days—but most of us have more questions about it than answers. This article uses leading solar consumer information websites to answer the top 10 questions homeowners new to solar ask.


1. How much do solar panels cost in 2019?

In 2019 the average cost of a residential solar system in the United States is about $3.90 per watt, putting an average 6 kW system at $23,400 before claiming any incentives. After claiming the 30% federal solar tax credit, the average cost of a 6 kW system comes down to just $16,380.

The figures quoted above are, of course, average figures. The actual cost for you will vary based on your energy usage patterns and climatic conditions in your area; these factors determine the solar panel system size (i.e. how many kW) needed for your house.

To better understand how solar panels pricing works, and how it changes based on region, check out this explainer on how much solar panels cost to install in 2018.


2. What are the pros and cons of solar energy?

For any big-ticket purchase, the smart consumer carefully balances the advantages with the disadvantages. You should do the same for solar energy, which represents a significant investment that will last up to 25 years. Here are the top arguments for and against solar energy, summarized:

Advantages of solar energy

  1. Marginal cost of energy is zero: Once the capital cost of the solar panels is paid off, there is no additional cost of producing energy. In other words, you start producing electricity for free!
  2. Insurance against rising power prices: With an accurate price quote, you get an exact breakdown of how much each kilowatt-hour of energy will cost you over the next 25 years. This makes monthly budgeting much easier.
  3. Renewable resource: Solar energy is renewable and abundant. It’s never going to run out. And it’s far more sustainable for the planet than traditional power sources, producing no extra carbon for each additional unit of electricity created.

Disadvantages of solar energy

  1. High capital cost: There is often a significant upfront cost associated with solar energy, but the best panels can potentially produce cheaper power than the utilities.
  2. Solar energy is an intermittent energy source: Sunshine is variable depending on the time of day, season and even weather.
  3. Energy storage is expensive: Using energy storage systems such as batteries has many benefits, but unfortunately, they are also expensive.

See the full list of 10 advantages and 10 disadvantages of solar energy by solar expert Andrew Sendy. It is an excellent analysis that places a heavy focus on the financial aspects of solar energy.


3. Does Tesla sell solar panels in 2019?

Yes — but it’s a complicated picture. 

In 2016, Tesla entered the solar panels industry by acquiring SolarCity, then the largest manufacturer and installer of solar panels in the US. To date, Tesla continues to operate the SolarCity business, which sells SolarCity-branded panels manufactured by Panasonic as well as third-party solar panels.

Meanwhile, Tesla Energy has made some exciting product announcements of its own. These include the launch of the revolutionary Tesla solar roof tile, a radical reimagining of how solar panels look and function.  

Together, Tesla and its subsidiary, SolarCity, offer many solar panel brands. To better understand the options, and see which one is right for you, read this primer on what solar panels Tesla is actually selling, and what they are likely to offer you.


4. How much does a Tesla solar roof cost?

You might have noticed that the Tesla solar roof tiles look fantastic. Unfortunately, they do not come cheap. For an average-sized house in the US, using the Tesla-provided average ratio of 40% solar tiles, the cost comes to a whopping $43,700 in materials alone.

Of course, there are several factors which determine how much a Tesla solar roof will actually cost you. Key among them is how many solar tiles you need, which will vary based on your roof size and energy requirements. The cost is also affected by whether you opt for an add-on Tesla Powerwall battery, which adds storage but further increases your upfront costs.  

And once you’ve figured how exactly much they will set you back, there is the next big question to answer: are the Tesla solar roof tiles actually worth it?


5. Should I install solar shingles on my home?

We’ve just mentioned the most famous solar shingle product, the Tesla solar roof. But solar shingles refers to a broader category of photovoltaic (PV) panels; Dow Chemical Co. and CertainTeed have been offering variations of the product for several years already.

Are they better than solar panels? It depends. If aesthetics are your top priority when you think about installing solar, they might be the right option for you: they look amazing! But as a newer technology, solar shingles also have some significant drawbacks when compared to conventional solar panel grids. Read the pros and cons of solar shingles.


6. What is the cost of a solar battery in 2018?

Battery storage is another fast-advancing field in solar energy. Lithium-ion batteries with intelligent software are rapidly replacing traditional lead-acid batteries. More interestingly, the application of the technology is shifting. Solar batteries were traditionally used — albeit on a limited scale — for off-grid systems, but they are now being installed in grid-tied residential systems, and that too at explosive rates.

The most widely-know solar battery solution right now is a product by — you guessed it — Tesla. The Tesla Powerwall 2 currently costs $6,800 in equipment; when you add in installation and associated costs, the total comes to between $10,000 and $14,000.

Read Solar Estimate’s take on the Tesla Powerwall 2 here, and see how it compares with its main competition, LG Chem’s RESU and the sonnenBatterie eco compact. You can also check user reviews of solar battery brands and solar battery manufacturers.


7. What are the best solar panels to install on my home in 2018?

The solar panel market is crowded nowadays, with both USA-based and foreign manufacturers selling a variety of products. The offerings vary widely regarding cost and efficiency.

Luckily SolarReviews, which has hundreds of real customer reviews on all major solar panel brands, produces a compilation of solar panel rankings. It shows you rankings based on different metrics: expert opinions, real user reviews, efficiency ratings and the value-for-money proposition. Here are some highlights:

     Top-ranked solar panels


How much would solar panels cost for your home?


8. How do I find reputable solar providers near me?

Once you’ve committed to installing solar panels on your house, the next big question is how to choose the right solar installer. Here is a quick summary of the steps you should take:

  1. Ask people around you about their experience with local installers.
  2. Read consumer reviews of installers who serve your area.
  3. Request a free quote. Best to get quotes from several installers, instead of only one.
  4. Discuss and decide on a solar panel brand with the installer.
  5. Check product warranties and installer certifications.
  6. Assess service commitment and references.
  7. Review financing options.

Going solar is a big commitment. It’s crucial to find a reliable installer to provide you with accurate and detailed information. They can help you decide on the size of your system as well as the best solar panels and inverter. They will also be responsible for installing your array to the required levels of quality and precision—and then performing timely maintenance as needed.


9. Should I install DIY solar panels?

Given the not-insignificant cost associated with buying solar panels, it is tempting to buy DIY solar kits and install the panels yourself. Indeed, you or someone you know may have successfully completed a simple solar installation such as solar garden lighting. But while DIY solar could potentially save you money, there are significant downside risks involved with a whole-home system that you should be aware of:

  1. Some states that do not allow DIY solar projects to begin with. In the states that do allow it , your solar project must be completed according to state regulations, as well as pass state and/or local electrical inspections.
  2. You will be on your own if you have any technical issues, or need to prove a warranty claim on the solar panels.
  3. Installing solar panels is potentially dangerous; improper electric work poses a fire risk, and rooftop installations present dangers associated with working at heights.

In short, DIY solar power is a complicated venture. Be sure to do lots of research before you jump in, and consider getting multiple quotes from local solar installers to see how they compare.


10. How much does a solar flower cost?

The solar flower is an innovative solar power technology unveiled under the SmartFlower brand name in the US in 2017. It simulates the movement of a sunflower to ‘track’ the sun across the sky, which means the SmartFlower is more efficient than conventional solar panels.

The total cost of installing a 2.5 kW SmartFlower system varies from $25,000 to $30,000, with the average cost coming to about $27,000. This gives it a nominal cost of $10 per watt.

However, the improved efficiency of the SmartFlower means that it produces electricity equivalent to a 4 kW rooftop system; taking that into account, the SmartFlower cost is effectively $6.50 per watt. That’s still well above what a traditional solar system will cost you.


Author: Zeeshan Hyder

Zeeshan is passionate about promoting renewable energy and tackling climate change. He developed these interests while studying at beautiful Middlebury College, Vermont, which has a strong focus on sustainability. He has previously worked in the humanitarian sector — for Doctors Without Borders — and in communications and journalism.