Author Topic: What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?  (Read 1456 times)

Syonyk

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What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?
« on: August 06, 2018, 01:54:35 PM »
I'm looking at doing solar next year, and while it's been likely for a while that I'll do the work myself (because I just lean that way and like doing weird things), I've gotten some quotes from local installers anyway.  If they were willing to do something close to what I wanted, great, but... wow, the prices.

I just got a $38k quote for 8.6kW of roof mount.

I can buy the panels, inverters, and interface unit (at MY cost - not their bulk discount costs) for about $12k.  A couple grand of roof rails, some cable, conduit... maybe $15k-$17k installed.  I'm pretty confused as to why they're quoting $38k, other than "Because they can, and because their fancy finance packages make it seem cheap."

It's quite in line for other quotes out here.  $3-$4/W installed is the normal range out here, which seems just obscene to me for the materials cost, and I know that they're paying far less than I am, since they buy panels and inverters by the containerload.

This puts me firmly back into the "Doing it myself" category, which will let me do things like a virtual tracking (east/west facing panels) system, DC coupled, with battery backup.  Since I'm reliant on electricity to run my well pump (and eventually irrigation/firefighting pumps), building a battery backed system seems interesting, and the AC coupled stuff just isn't there yet, in either price or usability (IMO).  I'll still be grid tied, but for the cost of 8kW of grid tied, I can put in 14kW of panels (so better cloudy day production in the winter), 20-40kWh of battery in my crawlspace, and STILL come out ahead.  Or, so far, it seems that way.

Am I missing something massive here, or are solar installers just charging what the market will bear and making silly profits on the whole deal?

Fishindude

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Re: What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?
« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2018, 02:03:41 PM »
I looked into this several years ago too and can't justify the expense of the system (self installed or not) considering I only spend about $3000 annually on electric.
One thing the installer did provide, that may be difficult for the average guy was to assist you with the big tax credit paperwork, plus made arrangements to sell any excess power generated as "green energy credits" to the "dirty" energy producers, municipalities, etc.   Without these two things in your favor, the system really doesn't make any financial sense.   I was quoted approx. $70,000 for a system to cover my needs.

Syonyk

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Re: What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?
« Reply #2 on: August 06, 2018, 02:47:21 PM »
I looked into this several years ago too and can't justify the expense of the system (self installed or not) considering I only spend about $3000 annually on electric.

If you do the install yourself, that should make pretty good sense.

Quote
One thing the installer did provide, that may be difficult for the average guy was to assist you with the big tax credit paperwork, plus made arrangements to sell any excess power generated as "green energy credits" to the "dirty" energy producers, municipalities, etc.   Without these two things in your favor, the system really doesn't make any financial sense.   I was quoted approx. $70,000 for a system to cover my needs.

Whoof... that's insane for a system cost.  I doubt you'd need to spend nearly that much on materials.

I'm looking at about 14MWh/yr on my proposed design.

gooki

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Re: What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?
« Reply #3 on: August 07, 2018, 12:43:20 AM »
Wow that's insane pricing.

My 4.5kw grid tied install cost $7,000 installed and inspected, without any rebates or incentives. 10 year inverter warranty, 25 year panel guarantee (min 80% output).

If I include the 21 months interest free financing and no repayments from third party finance company, my out of pocket cost will be under $4000 ($1 per kw). I'm saving $700 per year in electricity, so an obvious no brainier.

And this is in a country with high labor costs and low economies of scale (4 million population at the bottom of the world), and high power prices ($0.17 per kw). All prices converted to USD.

My conclusion you're getting screwed. The subsidies are going directly to the installers as additional profit.

Worth mentioning we're using mid teir electronics and panel. Add 50% to move to top teir products.
« Last Edit: August 07, 2018, 12:47:00 AM by gooki »

Fishindude

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Re: What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?
« Reply #4 on: August 07, 2018, 07:48:43 AM »
Whoof... that's insane for a system cost.  I doubt you'd need to spend nearly that much on materials.

I'm looking at about 14MWh/yr on my proposed design.

Don't remember the specifics, but we were talking about a ground / rack mounted system 10' tall x 70' long.
It would generate enough electricity while sunny, plus the sale of green energy credits to give me free power when sunny out, plus pay for what I had to buy when dark.

terran

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Re: What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?
« Reply #5 on: August 07, 2018, 08:43:00 AM »
Maybe because electricians get paid a lot because electricity is dangerous and it's skilled work, roofers get paid a lot because falling off a roof is dangerous even though roofing isn't that skilled. Solar installers are kind of a combo of electrician and roofer, so they get paid even more?

It's also a newer thing perhaps with fewer competent installers than the other trades, so they might be in more demand?

You should DIY and keep very careful track of your costs, including labor, and then maybe it would be a good side hustle or full time business?

Syonyk

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Re: What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?
« Reply #6 on: August 07, 2018, 11:00:48 AM »
My conclusion you're getting screwed. The subsidies are going directly to the installers as additional profit.

That's... sort of my conclusion as well. :/

You should DIY and keep very careful track of your costs, including labor, and then maybe it would be a good side hustle or full time business?

I'll certainly keep track of my costs.  Unlikely to be something I go into business doing, though I'll probably end up doing some consulting for other homeowner/property owner installs at some point... probably not something I'd ask much money for.

Fishindude

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Re: What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?
« Reply #7 on: August 07, 2018, 01:04:12 PM »
As a lifetime builder, I would never advocate installing anything on your roof that doesn't have to be there.   Every attachment point, penetration, etc. is a potential point for a leak, the wind, snow and ice on solar panels will stress these connection points increasing odds of a leak, and your next re-roof will be ridiculously expensive if solar panels have to be removed and reinstalled.   Rack mount the system in your yard if you have the real estate.   It will also be easier to clean them in the yard, which will maximize their efficiency.

Syonyk

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Re: What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?
« Reply #8 on: August 07, 2018, 01:05:41 PM »
Yeah, I'm planning on some ground mount A-frames for that reason.

Prairie Stash

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Re: What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?
« Reply #9 on: August 07, 2018, 01:17:53 PM »
As a lifetime builder, I would never advocate installing anything on your roof that doesn't have to be there.   Every attachment point, penetration, etc. is a potential point for a leak, the wind, snow and ice on solar panels will stress these connection points increasing odds of a leak, and your next re-roof will be ridiculously expensive if solar panels have to be removed and reinstalled.   Rack mount the system in your yard if you have the real estate.   It will also be easier to clean them in the yard, which will maximize their efficiency.
I was looking at my shingles yesterday, I'll need to replace them in the next couple years (still okay). However Inoticed that only a patch was getting bad, the rest were much better looking. Solar panels over that patch would keep the next set of shingles much better off, I should get a few extra years out of my roofing. I agree about connection points, however there is a silver lining ;)

It also is the spot that gets the most sun, other parts of the roof get a little shade from trees. For optimum solar its the best place to put the panels, the spot with the most sun damage.

Another Reader

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Re: What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?
« Reply #10 on: August 07, 2018, 01:51:17 PM »
I believe tariffs have driven up the cost of Chinese panels and other components.

Fishindude

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Re: What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?
« Reply #11 on: August 07, 2018, 02:35:46 PM »
I was looking at my shingles yesterday, I'll need to replace them in the next couple years (still okay). However Inoticed that only a patch was getting bad, the rest were much better looking. Solar panels over that patch would keep the next set of shingles much better off, I should get a few extra years out of my roofing. I agree about connection points, however there is a silver lining ;)

It also is the spot that gets the most sun, other parts of the roof get a little shade from trees. For optimum solar its the best place to put the panels, the spot with the most sun damage.

..... or those solar panels could create premature leakage and require that you re-roof or repair the roof much sooner than a roof without anything mounted to it.   

Scortius

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Re: What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?
« Reply #12 on: August 07, 2018, 02:40:38 PM »
There should be no rush to install solar at the moment. I would say the only reason to do it now would be to take advantage of a potential incentive program that is expiring soon. Solar production costs are continuing to decline exponentially and solar panel technology and quality is still rapidly improving.  Battery technology is a huge focus in the energy industry, which will hopefully lead to more stable and efficient home energy systems. In the absence of incentive programs, things will only get cheaper and better. There is no need to have a fear of missing out. Right now, the break-even point is approximately 10 years. It's very possible that in the next few years, the break-even point may drop down to 5 years. If not, it's likely because grid energy itself will also become cheaper.  I would say the current market is still not able to financially incentivize solar, unless you can do a DIY system like our dear blogger. Unless your primary motivation is environmental, you lose nothing by waiting.

Syonyk

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Re: What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?
« Reply #13 on: August 07, 2018, 03:29:36 PM »
There should be no rush to install solar at the moment. I would say the only reason to do it now would be to take advantage of a potential incentive program that is expiring soon.

I mean, 30% of system cost in tax credits over a few years is a useful chunk of change back.  Especially if you're using that on materials, not labor and someone else's profits.

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Solar production costs are continuing to decline exponentially and solar panel technology and quality is still rapidly improving.  Battery technology is a huge focus in the energy industry, which will hopefully lead to more stable and efficient home energy systems.

Panel costs are dropping, but that has less and less of an impact on total system cost.  Less than half my proposed system cost (parts cost) is panels, and it may be significantly less than half, depending on how things end up.  It's certainly a higher percentage of commercially installed system cost, but less than one might think.  The rest of the hardware (inverters, cables, mounting, etc) is still a substantial part of overall system cost.  I'll definitely publish numbers on mine when I get it installed, but I'm looking at spending less than $10k on panels, for a $30k system.

Batteries... are interesting.  Everyone is so excited by the Tesla stuff, and meanwhile, boring old flooded lead acid is advancing in useful ways that make it quite interesting for power storage.  The newer carbon additives in the negative plates are improving partial state of charge operation, and there are some genuinely exciting lead/carbon foam batteries that behave very, very well.  And are still less than lithium.

One problem with lithium is that it doesn't handle temperature extremes.  You can't safely charge it below freezing (you have to heat the cells first), and it doesn't like being hot.  Lead?  It doesn't care.  You get less out of a bank in the winter, and should probably keep it from freezing (so that does limit winter depth of discharge in cold climates), but it's not damaged by the cold or the heat.  The cold increases the lifespan, the heat reduces it.  I'm planning on either flooded lead acid or sealed lead acid for my system (depending somewhat on if I think I can actually get a moderate flooded lead acid bank down into my crawlspace - that'll be tricky).

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Right now, the break-even point is approximately 10 years. It's very possible that in the next few years, the break-even point may drop down to 5 years. If not, it's likely because grid energy itself will also become cheaper.

More likely, it will go up, because we'll be moving away from the 1:1 net metering kWh credit that effectively "pays" residential solar customers the retail rates that combine energy and grid, instead of a much more fair LCOE rate for the other plants on the grid.  A "zero" power bill, while grid tied, is just transferring the cost of grid maintenance onto other customers.

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Unless your primary motivation is environmental, you lose nothing by waiting.

My primary motivation is an interesting project and reliable backup power.  Plus, experimenting in what it would actually take to run a "typical house" off grid, as my system will be capable of that if I want.  And, since I'll have morning/evening production peaks, on the costs of doing "grid friendly" solar.

gooki

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Re: What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?
« Reply #14 on: August 08, 2018, 02:53:14 AM »
Quote
Panel costs are dropping, but that has less and less of an impact on total system cost.  Less than half my proposed system cost (parts cost) is panels, and it may be significantly less than half, depending on how things end up

That's was my conclusion as well. However I expect battery costs to drop over time, and will look into them when my inverter warranty has expired.

FWIW, my prices include 15% sales tax.

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Re: What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?
« Reply #15 on: August 08, 2018, 06:25:27 AM »
There should be no rush to install solar at the moment. I would say the only reason to do it now would be to take advantage of a potential incentive program that is expiring soon. Solar production costs are continuing to decline exponentially and solar panel technology and quality is still rapidly improving.  Battery technology is a huge focus in the energy industry, which will hopefully lead to more stable and efficient home energy systems. In the absence of incentive programs, things will only get cheaper and better. There is no need to have a fear of missing out. Right now, the break-even point is approximately 10 years. It's very possible that in the next few years, the break-even point may drop down to 5 years. If not, it's likely because grid energy itself will also become cheaper.  I would say the current market is still not able to financially incentivize solar, unless you can do a DIY system like our dear blogger. Unless your primary motivation is environmental, you lose nothing by waiting.

This was our primary motivation.

But our system was under $10k (cash) for 4.5 kW.  Incentives give us back a little less than half of that; though it will be a few years before we see them back.

We only put up for about 80% of our useage though, with the idea that adding panels will be cheaper in the future.

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Re: What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?
« Reply #16 on: August 08, 2018, 08:46:01 AM »
I would say the current market is still not able to financially incentivize solar, unless you can do a DIY system like our dear blogger. Unless your primary motivation is environmental, you lose nothing by waiting.

This was our primary motivation.

But our system was under $10k (cash) for 4.5 kW.  Incentives give us back a little less than half of that; though it will be a few years before we see them back.

We only put up for about 80% of our useage though, with the idea that adding panels will be cheaper in the future.
+1 for DIY learning.

In 20-25 years you may have to add a panel to bring the system back up to its original output (panel decay). Within 40, a few panels need to be added or replaced, maintenance will be an issue some day. If the per panel cost is high for initial install, I imagine the replacement cost of a single panel is worse.

Plus, I strongly wonder how many people will get an electric vehicle in the next 20 years. At 30 kwh/100 miles a 5000 mile annual commute requires 1500 kwh of output. I'm not sure your exact details on your system, but I'd guess you expect 7000 kwh/year output, an additional 1500 is a fair chunk, that alone may require a 20% expansion to your system (or more, depending on miles driven).

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Re: What's up with (obscene) solar installer pricing?
« Reply #17 on: August 08, 2018, 09:24:20 AM »
I'm lucky to have a husband who is pretty competent in electrical work, he'd do the whole thing DIY, but he didn't feel like he had the time, and was worried about connecting into the grid.  But I have no doubt he'd be able to do most of the maintenance, and any expansion on his own.   That does really make things cheaper. 

Just wish we had that "friend" MMM did that he got all his supplies at wholesale cost.

Our community is doing a bulk buy, which saved us quite a bit on the panels, but still not wholesale.

I'm thinking highly about an electric car now that we have solar.  We are over 100% production in the summer, 80% is annual (the production is projected to be lower in the winter). But, I don't need a new car, so it wouldn't really be a frugal choice. Gas is barely a blip in my budget.