What’s the Average Cost of Solar Across the US, With a Focus on New York and California? The Green Living Guy Investigates.

A solar installation crew hard at work in New York – photo courtesy of Kasselman Solar
A solar installation crew hard at work in New York – photo courtesy of Kasselman Solar

Solar has gone from being an expensive rarity to a common sight on rooftops in many places across the country. As a result, homeowners have switched from asking if solar is actually worth it to how much it costs.

Unfortunately, determining how much solar would actually cost for your home isn’t simple. To give homeowners a better idea of true prices out there, Green Living Guy decided to do some research!
First off, why is determining the cost of solar so difficult? There are several reasons for this:

1) Not all homes use the same amount of energy – this can even be true of homes that are right next to each other.

2) Different homes have different roof angles and receive different amounts of sun.

3) Rebates and incentives change from state to state, and even utility to utility.

4) Installers don’t tend to publish their prices, and pricing can vary widely from one installer to another for the same panels.

5) Prices have been dropping rapidly for the past ten years, making price studies from only a few years back completely inaccurate.

So how are homeowners supposed to know even a general ballpark for prices when considering purchasing solar? Well, we went looking better information, and we found several recent studies that help shed light on the actual cost of installing solar.

We looked at studies from both Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a federally-funded laboratory which does a large amount of research on all kinds of energy, and Solar to the People, an independent marketplace site that evaluates solar installers and publishes educational studies for homeowners.

The Lawrence Berkeley study looks at solar costs across the entire US, and is quite an in-depth study –

Here are our takeaways from the Lawrence Berkeley study:

1) Residential solar prices have dropped enormously across the country in the past decade

– Home solar prices have dropped roughly 55% from 2005 to 2015. The average price of an installed watt of home solar in 2005 was $9.04. In 2015 installing that same watt cost $4.05.

Image and data source: Tracking the Sun report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2016
Image and data source: Tracking the Sun report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2016

2) The prices that homeowners pay per installed watt of installed solar within states varies– as you can see in the graph below, people pay a wide range of prices for each installed watt. So prices vary not only ACROSS states (you can see that California prices in 2015 are almost 20% HIGHER than New Jersey prices), but WITHIN states – we were surprised to the extent that homeowners within a state paid such different amounts per watt of installed solar.

Image and data source: Tracking the Sun report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2016
Image and data source: Tracking the Sun report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2016

All this variation between states got us thinking – how much do installations cost overall versus just on a per-watt basis, and are there differences across regions WITHIN states?

For this part of our research, we turned to several studies that looked at two of the most popular places to install solar nationwide – California and New York. Lo and behold, it turns out that there are large variations within states, and you could be paying significantly more or less for solar than the state average depending on the region you live in.

We dug into Solar to the People’s study on the cost of solar panels in New York to understand how prices for home solar varied across the Empire State in the first six months of 2016. We were shocked to see the large variations you can see in the infographic below.

Image and data source – Solar to the People, 2016
Image and data source – Solar to the People, 2016

According to the data collected by Solar to the People, the average price for a home solar installation in New York state in the first half of 2016 was $16,426. Regional prices varied heavily for a full installation of home solar panels from a low of $12,361 in the Ithaca area to a high of $21,104 for solar on Long Island. The reasons for these price differences were primarily due the differences in state incentives. This incentive program is called the NY-Sun residential rebate program and is still available and going strong for upstate New York (where Ithaca is located), but is no longer available in Long Island. Long Island homeowners continue to go solar regardless, as they live in one of the highest cost areas for electricity in the country.
Of course, there’s no way we can discuss regional solar costs without looking at the reigning king of home solar installations, California. We looked at Solar to the People’s California study to get some insight into if there are regional differences in the cost of installing solar in California. According to the study, the average cost of a home solar installation in California in 2015 was $18,675.

Yet again, we saw there were sizable difference between the least and most expensive regions, though not nearly as large as New York. On average the highest-cost area for Solar in California was the Redding and Shasta / Cascades area at $20,698, and the least expensive was the Central Coast at $16,212. The differences in these prices seemed to be almost exclusively due to the size differences between installations in those two areas. The prices for home solar in the majority of the regions in the Golden State seemed to hover around the statewide average, like San Diego at $18,540 and Orange County at $18,866.

Image and data source – Solar to the People, 2016
Image and data source – Solar to the People, 2016

Hopefully our research has helped you understand a bit more about the national and regional costs of home solar installations! We think that knowledge is power that giving homeowners accurate information on solar is essential to help the renewable energy revolution keep on steaming ahead!

3 Comments on “What’s the Average Cost of Solar Across the US, With a Focus on New York and California? The Green Living Guy Investigates.

  1. Pingback: What’s the Average Cost of Solar Across the US, With a Focus on New York and California? The Green Living Guy Investigates. | Worm Farm Adviser

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