Do You Really Need a Solar Installer?

15 July of 2009 by

We get a lot of questions here at GetSolar about why solarinstallation is so expensive. Savvy internet users point out news itemsthat say solar should be mere pennies per watt in the next few years,or come across the wholesale prices for solar panels and believe that’swhat they should be paying for installation. But like any specialty inthe construction industry, solar installation has a wealth of goodreasons for being as expensive as it is. One of the main reasons isexpertise. When I’m asked if it’s possible to learn how to installsolar on your home and avoid using an installer, I say sure…if you havea few years to grab a master electrician’s license and solarcertifications.

Solar installation companies usually have a diverse staff:engineers, electricians, salespeople, and sometimes regular labor. Toqualify for state and federal solar incentives, a PV system must beinstalled by an approved contractor. This means that even if you dohave some electrical know-how and can do solar yourself, you may belosing more in incentive funds than you have gained by not paying aprofessional installer.

This isn’t always the case: I’m sure there are solar systems outthere that have been installed by such handy folks, and that the costworked out well for them in the end. There are a few blogs out therethat document DIY solar. Solar hot water is the more popular technologyfor this, as it in general requires less training to install, and thematerials themselves are much cheaper. Whether you’re talkingtraditional silicon solar cells, CIGS, or the new copper-indium-diselenide darling of low-cost predictions, materials that generate electricity when hit by sunlight are just darn expensive.

Solar panels themselves account for anywhere from 50-70 percent of asolar quote. Other materials (inverter, mounts, wiring/cables) accountfor 20-30 percent more. Labor is only 10-15%, and that includes thehighly skilled planning process by which installers determine the bestorientation and deployment for the solar panels on your roof. If youlive in a state with even moderate incentives for solar, thoseincentives are generally only available to systems installed bycertified contractors. The incentives savings more than offset thelabor cost of using a professional solar installer.

  • Consider a $25,000 system (2.8kw, or thereabouts). Taking off 13%for labor and 30% for the federal investment tax credit, the net costfor the DIY version of this system would be $14,250.
  • If this system were in Pennsylvania, a state with moderate incentives, its net cost would be $11,200. In New York, with that state’s excellent incentives, the net cost would be  $2,850.Yes: really. That includes $6,250 in state tax credit; the $7,500 infederal tax credit that also applied above; and $8,400 in state rebate.

In PA, professional installation on this 2.8kw system would save youabout three grand. In New York, more than 11 thousand. And that’sassuming, for DIY, that you manage to get the same price for materialsthat your installer could, and not accounting for the greaterefficiency of a professionally engineered system…and so on.

Solar installers are not your local handyman equipped with adifferent toolkit: they are highly skilled in a difficult field. Aswith any contractor, you want to make sure you’re working with areputable installer with a good business record and satisfied previouscustomers–but that’s what we’re here for. Fill out our web form and letus help you determine if solar is right for you; if it is, you cantrust that GetSolar will only match you with qualified, respectedinstallers of solar energy systems.

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