Solar panel advice

Solar panel advice

Have also posted in Southern Cal section but am looking for some guidance as regards solar panels. Looks like there are many traps and pitfalls in this industry.

Trying to get some quotes in Southern California. Need a largish system base on driving my MS 100 miles a day. Bill now $400 per month with $150 from the MS. Suspect I need a 13 + kw system. Solar city tends to push leases but to me it sees that I will need to let them drill my roof to just save $50 per month. At the end of 20 years you do not own your panels. Leases probably don't increase the value of you property and you may have issues transferring the lease. A purchase seems to increase the value of the property and may last up to 40 years. The quotes I am getting from Solar City are $62,000 down to $32,000 after rebates. Sunpower claim higher quality panels and their quote is similar for an 11.7 kw system. Too me theses quotes seem on the high side but would appreciate any input and pros and cons of various systems.

shop | 14. September 2013

$62k for how many kW system? If for 13kW, it is in the right ballpark, maybe a bit high. Bear in mind that while the panels may last 40 years, their output does degrade, and at some point, it makes more economic sense to replace them. But in general, solar makes a lot of economic sense for SoCal.

Kleist | 14. September 2013

I am paying $28k before incentives for a 5.2 kW system in NoCal using SunPower panels. There was not much comparison, because most companies do not install on a steel tile roof, this company had done several in my neighbourhood using the correct hooks from Germany. I checked the basic component prices and ended at about $20k - so $8k for the electrical work sounded more then fair to me ( panel upgrade, solar wiring plus extra 14-50 connector with 100 ft of #3 wire ).
I have a small roof and so I figured high efficency panels makes most sense here. In 20 years I expect 30% efficent panels to be available so an upgrade could make sense.

blue_tesla | 14. September 2013

Look for smaller companies in your area with good track record to get a better price. Here in the San Francisco bay area, I and several of my friends have used and we are very happy with it. The price (before rebate) are on the website. For a 13kw installation, it would be less than 44k before rebate.

dborn | 14. September 2013

I have 3 kw system ( Sunpower) here in Australia - small roof. At best I have only ever seen 2.7 kw instantaneous, but that is really at an ideal time of day and usually much lower. I face the correct direction. My installation uses quality components. Very short cable runs. So, bear this in mind when sizing a system. I am not using a solar tracker which likely would give better results.

SCCRENDO | 14. September 2013

Thanks guys. I am assuming that none of you recommend leasing. I am committed to being green but my wife is more concerned about the financial side. As it takes somewhere from 6-8 years to regain your investment if we end up selling our home after 4-5 years would it have been a mistake to purchase or is the investment likely to be recouped in the home resale.

rbgliny | 14. September 2013

Leasing is not an option in my opinion. We had SunPower panels installed giving us a 10.7 kWh system. It cost us about 51g but with all the credits from the electric company, the Feds and the state our total oop is about 17,000g. It increased the value of the house by about 34g. Plus we have a 15 year grace period where the county won't re-assess the property tax due to the install of the panels.

Kleist | 14. September 2013

I see it from a different angle... the solar more then covers my driving needs and that means I have pre paid for the next 20+ years of my personal transportation. We spend $5k-$6k a year on gas... in 4 years the solar is paid for. Using the electricity saving it takes longer more like 8-10 years.

blue_tesla | 14. September 2013

If you are on a TOU and tiered rate, and install just enough panels to get yourself to the lowest tier, the return on investment will be 20-25%. That is very good. If you install panels to cover ALL of your usage then the return will be slightly lower, but still quite good.

Solar City and other larger companies tend to recommend larger system than you need in order to guarantee the generated energy. So if you haven't done the analysis yourself, it maybe worth putting some rough numbers on a spreadsheet with your usage pattern and find out whether you really need a 13kw system. In my case, I found that the smaller companies were closer to my own analysis than the two large companies I got proposals from.

Surprisingly, there was one other benefit to working with a small company. They tried to find the best place for every single panel to get the best output throughout the year. Larger companies tend to slap them all in a row. You can see this for yourself if you look at the publicly viewable systems on, say, You will notice that smaller installers have all kinds of crazy layouts compared to the ones installed by bigger companies.

SCCRENDO | 14. September 2013

I have a 2 tiered system. Tier 1 is 11c and is about 530 kWh over 2 months.. Tier 2 is 16c. Solar city' estimated 13 kWh to cover 99 % of my electric bill. Sun Power quoted me for an 11.75 kW system. The quotes for their system was similar to what Solar City quoted me for 13. Sun Power panels are more aesthetic and they claim "more efficiency" I suspect they are all actually underestimating my bill as we only have MS data from when I got my MS in April till my end July bimonthly electric bill. My estimate is my charging has increased the bill $300 every 2 months (150 per month). A question about going with a smaller company. Are there any issues with warranty and after sales service.

SCCRENDO | 14. September 2013

@rgbliny. What state are you in because Sunpower quoted us 62,000 for the 11.75 kw system and with rebates only took it down to 31,000

SCCRENDO | 14. September 2013

@keist. What happens if you move. The consensus seems to be that it may not increase the value of your home and you take a loss.

Kleist | 14. September 2013

@SCCRENDO - everybody has a different point of view... just tought I throw my point of view in there.
There is very little chance that I will move, not too long until retirement and house is perfect size, location, etc. But it could happen - two years ago we found a great property in the neighbourhood but we were a day late, it just sold. That would have been a $700k transaction... in that case I would not worry too much about the $20k solar investment.

blue_tesla | 14. September 2013

@SCCRENDO The equipment warranty, usually 25 years, is from the manufacturer, so that is independent of the installer. Installation usually has 10 year warranty. That duration was required by California Solar Initiative. Yes, one has to do due diligence and find an installer with a relatively good track record. Yelp and online forums helped me with that. Interestingly, larger companies sometimes outsource their after sales work to smaller companies probably because the margins are lower. I haven't heard of many after installation issues; that is comforting.

earlyretirement | 14. September 2013

I have been thinking about this more lately. I never thought about it before getting the Model S. We will probably also get a Model X next year when it comes out (I need to test drive it first).

I also live in Southern California (San Diego). I'm curious at the explosion of the smaller mom and pop players out there. It seems like here in the UT San Diego newspaper there are tons and tons of advertisements all from different smaller players. How are all of these companies able to coexist?

I'm curious, do they do the work themselves or just subcontract it out? It doesn't seem like there would be enough demand for all of the various entities and players out there.

I guess I'll start calling some to crunch some numbers.

blue_tesla | 14. September 2013

@SCCRENDO Is your day time usage less compared to night time? If yes, the time of use rate plan, if available, works great with solar. You can sell high during the day and buy low at night.

SCCRENDO | 14. September 2013

I am in the city of Anaheim and there is no time of day rate plan. Same price all day and night.

bonaire | 14. September 2013

Inverter replacement usually in year 10-14. Factor that in.

dtesla | 14. September 2013

Adding solar to your home will increase it's value. The increase, or the national average for the increase, can be calculated.

Overview: Whoever purchases your home will roll the increased cost into the mortgaged. The mortgage is paid for by the savings. On average people are willing to increase the mortgage by 80% of the savings. So yes, the increased value of your homes, due to solar, is tied to the local cost of electricity and interest rates. Eventually the age of your system will be a factor, but today the system is new.

The formula is, "Increased value" = ("Savings" * .8) / "mortgage rates". Note: if mortgage rates is 4% you use .04 in the formula.

Nobody thinks of pricing the value of a home like this (or at least not consciously). But when you analyze what you do, this is what pops out. The 20% discount can be thought of as the compensation the buyer wants for the risk of purchasing a PV system.

shop | 14. September 2013

@earlyretirement - installing a PV system isn't particularly hard, so I'm not surprised there are a lot of small installers out there. However, like any construction project expected to last 25+ years, there are a whole host of good practices that should be followed. You can slap together a system that'll work day 1, but the next windstorm will rip it up. Or a bad connection could lead to an electrical fault in five years. So picking an installer that has been around for a while is always a good idea. | 14. September 2013

I leased. In our circumstances, it made sense and I like the idea of not having to worry about the maintenance, upkeep, etc. If anything goes south, it's Solar City's problem to deal with--I have neither the time nor the inclination.


blue_tesla | 14. September 2013

@SCCRENDO With no TOU plan and the rate of $0.16/kwh, the return on solar panel investment, just for the car, would be 7-8%. That is not bad but definitely not a clear cut choice.

If it is any consolation, with $0.16/kwh rate, electricity cost would be less than half the cost for an equivalent gasoline car. I am sure you already knew that.

earlyretirement | 14. September 2013

@ shop. Thanks for that comment. Yeah, I figured it was like that. Still, it just seems like everyone and their brother is jumping into solar right now. It will be interesting to see who survives and which players actually make money on this.

I even see some companies offering $50 gift cards or 2 Chargers tickets (if your monthly bill is over $200) just to get a free estimate/quote.

I don't use much electricity besides the summer months and I never plan on selling my house. Even when the kids are older and we are empty nesters, I just plan to rent the house out. So I don't have to worry about any potential problem o resale value on the house.

Bottom line is I just want a good ROI and to save money and helping out the environment at the same time helps but isn't my main priority. Someone else mentioned, primarily using solar to stay out of tier 3 and 4. That seems to make sense providing the costs aren't too high. I guess I'll have to do some due diligence and see what the ROI is like.

shop | 14. September 2013

To do a back of the napkin calculation, my calcs show that solar costs about $.10 to $.11 per kWh over the lifetime of the equipment. Now, that is in today's dollars. ie. you spend $30K or whatever capital today, and your electric rates will be fixed at that kWh figure. Meanwhile, utility electric rates go up around 5% to 6% per year.

So ... for a quick and dirty calculation, add up all your electric bills over last year (only if your usage changes a lot through the year, otherwise use one month), and add up all the kWh usage. Divide one number by the other to figure out your average cost per kWh.

For me, now, under the cheaper TOU-2 rate, it is still $0.19/kWh that I pay the utility on average. And that price will go up by 5% a year. So solar is a no brainer for me, and for most people in California.

That's why solar is such a hot industry right now.

rbgliny | 14. September 2013

SCCRENDO: we are in NY. panels warranted for 25 yrs.. The inverter is for 10 yrs. I believe the SunPower panels are one of the highest efficiencies on the market. As rates go up solar panels become more attractive to potential buyers. Our utility kicked back 16,500. Feds will be about 10,000 and state is around 5,000. Plus we got the solar panels for the Tesla. So add another 15,000 kickback on the Teslas (we have 2). And another grand that the utility is rebating ($500/each) for an EV purchase in 2013. So the total cost of the Panels (taking into the credits on the EVs is about $4000+.

JPPTM | 15. September 2013

FWIW I went with SolarCity but did the Power Purchase Agreement. No $$ down, no lease, no loan. They install, maintain, repair, monitor and guarantee the system for 20 years. I just buy my power from them at a 50% discount from PG&E. They size the system properly (generate 70% of your power and 90% of your bill). They do not oversell hardware. Yes, I could do lots of homework, get competitive bids, check out financing, figure out life cycle costs and repairs (inverters), etc. I decided that SC could make some money off of me and I would enjoy the experience. YMMV.

earlyretirement | 15. September 2013

@ shop. Once again. Thanks. Your information is super helpful. Yes, that is how I was going to do a back of the envelope type estimate. I guess my data will be more useful once I have at least a few months of charging history with the Model S.

So I'll keep detailed track of my data a few months for both my regular meter along with the 2nd dedicated EV meter I got installed. I do find it useful that I can see exactly how many kWh I use each night for the car with the dedicated meter.

@ JPPTM. Did you just go with Solar City without any other estimates at all? I was also thinking of calling them and hearing their pitch. They called me right after I bought the car but I told them I wasn't interested but will at least hear what they have to say.

Nu2Ecar | 15. September 2013

JPPTM or anyone,

Would you give more details on the Power Purchase Agreement please? How is the risk apportioned? Do they contract to sell you the power at a given discount to the utility? What happens if, say, an inverter fails, the conversion efficiency falls faster than predicted, the sun shines less than predicted, or a neighbor's tree grows to obscure the tree?

I expect Solarcity will replace a failed inverter, but do you pay full price until they do? Who bears therisk in the other cases?

This is not idle speculation on my part. I'm having a house substantially remodelled and plan on installing PV panels for electricity and solar-thermal for pool and outdoor shower.

SCCRENDO | 15. September 2013

Solar City tries to push you to lease. They have three different leasing option. 2 are monthly payments. One is stable and the second fixed. My electricity rates are frankly lower than most so savings are less. What bothered me is while they maintain everything you pay them a monthly fee and it seemed like I was only saving $50 per month initially with promises of savings down the line based on a hypothetical 4 % per year inflation rate. It am not excited about them drilling my roof and claiming all the rebates for themselves for essentially minimal savings. They are now pushing me to do a prepaid 20 year lease which will work out 30 % cheaper than outright purchase even after all my rebates at face value. But remember they will own the panels not you at 20 years. My extensive research over the past 48 hours suggest that purchase is the way to go over lease for most for reasons that are well documented on the web and I can elaborate on if required. At this point I am shopping for the best price but will only do it if I get the 30% rebate from my city which is awarded in January on a lottery basis. If you want the power purchase agreement call Solar City, they have an army of salesman ready to sell it to you. They claim they bear full risk and do a good job because its not in their best interest to be sending ther trucks around doing repairs all day.

@Nu2ecar you get to use the electricity generated. If its more than you need it gets pumped back into the grid and you get credit for the months you don't generate sufficient for the panels. Some cities will actually pay you for the excess electricity however my city banks the credits and are good for a year. Their sales point is that they are your new utility but in fact they are charging a monthly fee to lease their panels.

@JPPTM what you are doing is in fact a lease because after 20 years if you don't lease again they come pick up their panels and don't necessarily return the roof to its previous condition. The big factor to me is if you move within the 20 years you need to convince the new owners to pick up the lease otherwise its your baby and may potentially negatively impact resale. Purchase is said to increase home value.

dlake | 15. September 2013

SCCRENDO- The fee Solar City charges is because their investors expect a return on their money. I think it boils down to the cost of money?

To me, leasing seems to be a better approach. Here's why:
Solar panel technology will surely improve in 20 years, so you'd probably want to replace an old system anyway.
If weather, other environmental conditions or some malfunction affect the proper operation of your PV system, the company who is leasing you the system has to repair it.

I usually like to own things, but I am closer to leasing a PV system than owning one.

vlsidude | 15. September 2013

Solar installers are making a killing right now because panel prices have dropped sharply in the last few years and they have *NOT* passed along most of the savings.

I installed my 8.3kW system myself for about $10K out of pocket after the federal tax credit and the CA rebate (about $1.20/W). This is 32 panels - a mix of Trina and ReneSola - with EnPhase M215 micro-inverters and ProSolar racking. The lowest quote I had from an installer was about $40K.

The labor involved - including getting the permits and dealing with PG&E - was 24 hours of my time spread over two weekends and a few friends helping on a Saturday morning to actually lift the panels into place. I'm sure an experienced installer would have done it in less time, and I'm sure they get lower prices on the components than I did. | 15. September 2013

So, the Solar City PPA is different from a lease in that you are paying per kWh instead of a fixed amount based on the equipment costs. They size a system based on your last 24 months usage and guarantee the power generation. They usually recommend sizing a system to pick up your usage above Tier 1. IF they do not hit that number and you end up buying more power than planned fro your utility, they will credit you the difference.

You essentially buy your power from SC at a discounted rate. There are two options for the PPA. You can pay $0 and then get a fixed escalation on that rate every year (~3%) or you can pre-pay a couple of thousand dollars and lock in the rate for the 20 year term, or you can simply purchase the system outright.

After 5 years you can also buy the system outright--there is a schedule built into your contract--as you might guess, the price decreases overtime.

SC is on the hook for maintenance, so if something fails or beings to fail (they monitor the system in real time) they are on the hook to fix it. In my case, they did not need to drill holes in my roof, they used offset brackets to install the panels above the roof.

As I noted earlier, they guarantee you a certain amount of power each year, so if that number is not hit because of say, decreasing panel efficiency, then they are on the hook. If its because a tree is getting out of hand, then you are on the hook to fix that. I am not sure what happens with the neighbors' tree gets too tall.

If you move, you can transfer the lease to the buyer, pre-pay the system and roll it into the selling price of your house, or you can move the system to your new house (there is a one time cost of this).

Full disclosure--I am an SC customer and very pleased with them--nice folks from sales through customer service, professional installers, and the system has performed as advertised to date.

Yes, I realize I could probably have saved money looking at other options but I like the structure of the PPA and I like the idea of not having worry about the system going south--if it does, its SC's headache.


SCCRENDO | 16. September 2013

It really boils down to leasing versus buying and it seems there is far more money in it for them if you lease. If you buy you still have warranties. I believe in California, not sure about other states, but the manufacturer has to warrant the panels for 25 years and the installer has to warrant his work for 10 years.

JPPTM | 16. September 2013

omarsultan has nicely summarized the SC PPA. I went with $0 down and accepted a 3% rate increase every year (way better than PG&E). They have to guarantee output and repair everything. Yes, if I sell the house, I either have to:

1) Buy the system at an agreed upon depreciated rate
2) Have it deinstalled
3) have the agreement transferred to the new owner.

Not a major issue for me.

My roof (composition shingle) was drilled--they guarantee the roof and if they need to deinstall they make appropriate repairs.

Just like omarsultan--this deal is not for everyone. I am certain that if one buys a system outright and presses for a good deal, that you might do quite a bit better in cost vs. time vs. cost of money/interest vs. repairs, etc. I'm just not willing to do all of the complex math here. I do know from friends who have done PV solar, that if you buy a system, the installers want to oversell you, as they make money on the hardware. If you overgenerate, you are spending more in terms of hardware than PG&E pays you back. If you overgenerate PG&E still imposes fees (meter fees, etc). If you let SC do it, they have a vested interest in 'right sizing' the system. Also, they essentially sell you the hardware 'wholesale' intrinsic to the deal, knowing that they will make a profit on the split between what it costs them (over 20 years) to generate the power, maintain the system, etc, and what you pay them and what PG&E pays them. YMMV.

procarl | 16. September 2013

I have leased a 9.3 kWh prepaid system (40 panels) from SolarCity and expect to have it paid for (southern AZ location)in about 7+ years based on its operation so far (a few months). I have no maintenance worries for twenty years, guaranteed rate stability, guaranteed production, and all the power I need for the Tesla during that time. Further, I cannot believe that, if I sell my home (anytime, but particularly after the 7-8 yr pay back period)that prospective buyers will not be interested in paying an extra premium for the free electricity they will enjoy after purchase. Everything I have experienced so far points to a win-win. . . .

sidney_wang | 16. September 2013

When I looked at the guaranteed production table, the reimbursed rate is locked in at a fixed rate of 10 cents/Wh for the entire 20 year lease period. Surely, the value of 10 cents today will not be the same as the value of 10 cents 5 years or 20 years from now. So if for whatever reason the production degraded significantly 10 years down the road, the reimbursement you'll get from the leasing company most likely will not cover the growing PG&E bill right? I'm not saying this will happen, but what if...?

earlyretirement | 16. September 2013


Thanks so much for that excellent explanation. Very helpful.

Benz | 18. September 2013

The fact that Solar City takes care of (most of) everything sounds appealing to me.

JPPTM | 18. September 2013

Benz...and that is why I was willing to let SC make some money off of me--my time and gastric mucosa are worth more than I could likely save by doing it myself, etc.

kawaiia | 18. September 2013

Take a look at the comprehensive data from CSI.

"All data found on the California Solar Statistics site is exported from the CSI incentive application database and made available to the general public through the "Download Filtered Data" links on each figure, as well as through the complete files found on this page. The data is exported each Wednesday evening, and represents the most current and complete California Solar Initiative data available. "

All California solar installation cost and capacity is in this file.

simplesolarinc | 18. September 2013

If you live in the city of Anaheim, the rebate is awesome for solar, but not open until next year and it will be based on a lottery system. We did approx 30% of the system for rebates last year in Anaheim. $32k after incentive for a 13kw is definitely high. Typical ROI on solar system is 15-30% depending on what area you live. I tell my clients to buy whenever possible, where else in the market can you get return type of numbers with little to no risk? People don't realize that there is not much maintenance in solar and that is why they throw it in when they sell you leases/ppa. Leases/ppa should be only for people who doesn't know how to do math or don't have the money.

earlyretirement | 18. September 2013

I finally got around to making some calls. Solar City is coming out next week to the house. They are super responsive. Also, they said they just did a house in my area so I'll be curious to hear how that went.

I'll call a few other places as well.

amirm | 18. September 2013

I just ordered an 8kw system but not from SolarCity. I wanted to own rather than lease and they were not competitive. They used a marketing company to deal with signing me up and they were not too competent either.

earlyretirement | 18. September 2013


Which company did you go with?

SUN 2 DRV | 19. September 2013

I purchased my 7 kw solar system a few years ago because I felt it as the best long term value and I didn't mind putting up the cash up front to maximize the long term savings.

One thing I wish I'd considered is to face the panels more westerly to better align with the higher Time of Use utility rate times. My panels have a S-SW orientation and so my production curve runs from about 10:00 to 4:00, but PG&E's On Peak EV ToU rates run from 2:00 until 9:00PM.

So if you have multiple roof surfaces that are suitable for solar, it's worth mentioning to the solar estimator that you may be on a particular ToU rate schedule and to have them try to match the panel orientation with the On-Peak ToU timeframe.

SCCRENDO | 19. September 2013

@simplesolarinc Are you a contractor? Also if you feel the price is high are you willing to give me a quote?

amirm | 19. September 2013


I went with Synergy Solar in Sebastopol for a project in Bodega Bay after evaluating several including Solar City. References were excellent, all American made products, familiarity with my HOA rules and a good price. My 1st instinct was Solar City due to the Elon connection but they did not show competence nor were price competitive.

tqnguyen3 | 19. September 2013

I am seriously thinking in going with solar.

I contacted SC for solar installation.
My roof is very fragmented. They can install 4.2 Kwt panels only,covering
Less than 1/2 of my usage. To me it is not acceptable.

Sunpower suggested initial 6.7Kwt panels. More can be added in the future.
Cost 35K. They do not recommend AC panels. I thought AC / micro inverters
Is better than DC.

Thank I you in advance for your help and suggestions.


Kleist | 19. September 2013

The Sunpower high efficiency panels are larger and there are no micro-inverters that can handle 335W.
If you want micro-inverters then you have to stay with smaller ~250 W panels. Unless you have a sometimes shaded roof there shouldn't be much difference.

tqnguyen3 | 19. September 2013

Sorry, my knowledge in electricity is zero.
I plan to have 6.7 kW total, using many small panels.
My question now is , are AC panels with micro inverters reliable.
It seems, everybody uses DC panels.

Thank you,

earlyretirement | 19. September 2013

@ amirm,

Thanks for taking the time to post back. Yeah, it seems like either people like Solar City or HATE them. It's hard to get a consensus how good or bad they are. I also decided to at least give them a quote because of the Elon Musk connection.

So far with communications they have been responsive and quick to get back and quick to schedule coming out here. But it seems like everyone and their brother is in solar!

I got a few unsolicited emails from people on this board and also TMC that own companies that install. One guy that is up in Orange County said he would give me a quote to work on it here in San Diego. I might take him up on his offer just to see what he has to say.

I at least admired that the guy owns a Model S so he probably is aware of consumption, etc. But I think I'll take my time and explore a few options.