How much of the cost is just the solar modules?

We get asked various versions of this question:

  • Can you break out what each solar component costs from my price?
  • How much of a solar project is labor?
  • If I did some the work for myself could I save myself a lot of money?
  • And so on…

Every job is a little different, but here are some averages.

Solar Cost Breakdown

Component costs as a percentage of the total.

This chart is for a 6.6 kW system, which is about 24 solar panels and is our average system size for residential solar. This example also assumes using Made in Washington solar equipment, which carries a slight premium compared to other equipment made outside of the state. You can see regardless of recent price drops, the solar modules themselves are still the most expensive component going into your system.

Racking & Electrical Materials includes the inverters, disconnections, utility meters, wire, conduit, etc. These costs are the infrastructure that is shared by most systems. We may add or subtract inverters and racking—maybe a utility required disconnect—but the rest is common to all systems. Those of you following cost trends in solar will recognize Racking & Electrical Materials as one of the next targets for cost reduction.

Permitting could be higher or lower depending on where you live. Some jurisdictions have over-the-counter (i.e. inexpensive) permits, whereas other places have engineering and plan review requirements that can drive up the costs.

Labor accounts for the remainder of the system cost. Many advances in solar technology since I started in the business in 2005 have centered on reducing labor. New roof flashings, racking systems, panel mounts, and inverter designs have reduced the labor that goes into your solar system. Standardized parts have gone a long way to make those reductions, and we expect to see more advances on this front in the future.

To answer some of the other questions we get:

  • No, if you do some of the labor it often increases our price because of coordination or rework.
  • Yes, you can buy the materials somewhere else and have us install them, but I’ll bet you we get better bulk rates through our suppliers than you do.

Does solar work up here?

Absolutely. The Pacific Northwest’s long summer days were made for solar. Thanks to all that sunlight and utility net metering programs, we can build energy credits in the summer months and work off of them in the shoulder months.

Solar panels also operate more efficiently in our cooler summer weather, which means more power than hotter climates, not less. Solar energy systems keep on working on cloudy days too, collecting scattered light and focusing it into energy.

Sure, we don’t produce as much power the southern deserts, but we still generate enough to make solar a financially viable solution. In fact, our solar resource is similar to Germany’s, which leads the world in solar energy installations.