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  • Writer's pictureRon Magby

Calculating your ROI on a Solar Project

Updated: Dec 21, 2023


For those inclined toward data-driven decisions or those who relish in-depth research, the prospect of calculating the return on investment (ROI) can be genuinely exhilarating. However, when it comes to the realm of solar panels—a sphere far removed from typical investment properties, stock portfolios, or even your next-door neighbor's garage sale campaign—calculating and comprehending your potential ROI takes on a unique character.


In this article, we'll unravel the intricacies of solar ROI, shedding light on how it differs from conventional investment calculations and the specific factors that come into play.


Understanding Solar ROI


For numerous homeowners across the United States, embracing solar panel installations represents a savvy financial decision. It not only enhances property value but also secures substantial long-term savings on energy costs. The core allure of residential solar energy systems lies in their ability to offset existing expenses, most notably those pesky utility bills, by tapping into the sun's abundant energy source (and at the unbeatable retail rate of $0).


While solar panels don't directly generate income, your solar ROI essentially reflects the amount you save on electricity bills. At some point during your solar energy system's operational lifetime, the sum you invested will equal the total costs you've avoided by switching to solar power. This pivotal moment marks the commencement of your solar panel payback period.


Beyond this point, your initial investment could be fully recovered through the savings achieved by using solar energy instead of relying solely on grid-supplied power. Post this milestone, you'll continue to enjoy monthly "returns" in the form of reduced energy bills as your solar panels faithfully generate electricity.


How to Calculate Your Solar ROI


While numerous online tools offer estimates for solar ROI, the uniqueness of each situation and the intricacies involved can lead to variations in the results. To gain a better understanding of how these calculators function, consider the following steps to create a rough estimate:


1. Begin by determining the comprehensive costs of your solar investment, encompassing project expenses, installation charges, financing costs, and any applicable solar incentives or rebates.

2. Estimate your system's annual electricity production.

3. Multiply your system's projected annual production by your local electricity rates to gauge the yearly savings resulting from reduced utility costs.

4. Extend these savings over the efficient operational life of your solar production, typically spanning 25 years.

5. Finally, compare your cumulative savings to your initial investment.


To illustrate, let's take the example of purchasing a 9 kW solar energy system in Phoenix, Arizona with an investment of $20,000 post-federal tax credit. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's PV Watts Calculator, this system would generate approximately 15,800 kWh of solar electricity each year in Phoenix.


Assuming an average electricity rate of $0.15 per kWh for grid-supplied energy and utilizing a 1-to-1 net metering or net billing structure, your solar panels could help you save up to $2,370 annually in utility expenses (15,800 kWh x $0.15 per kWh). Over two decades, this equates to $47,000 in savings.


When compared to your initial investment of $20,000, achieving $47,000 in energy savings makes a compelling case for solar as a wise investment in this scenario. Employing a standard ROI formula, where the net return on the investment is $27,000 ($47,000 in value minus $20,000), your solar ROI would be calculated at 125%.


Factors That Influence Solar Panel ROI


Although we've discussed how to calculate solar ROI, it's essential to recognize that this formula serves as a foundational framework and should be applied with consideration of other influential factors:


1. Degradation: Solar panels exhibit a gradual decline in efficiency over time, resulting in varying annual electricity production.


2. Fluctuating Energy Rates: Utility energy prices in your region are prone to change over the next couple of decades, potentially impacting your ROI calculations.


3. Energy Consumption: Post-solar installation, vigilant energy consumption plays a significant role in maximizing your system's benefits.


Solar ROI, Property Value, and Home Sales


Solar panels offer not just energy savings but also the added benefit of boosting property value. Many states, such as Arizona, have enacted provisions that exempt solar panels from property tax assessments, ensuring that they do not inflate your annual property tax.


In the event that you decide to sell your home while your solar system remains functional, having solar panels can boost your asking price and expedite the selling process. After all, who wouldn't be enticed by the prospect of moving into a home with minimal electricity bills?


Is Investing in Solar Panels Worth It?


There exist numerous scenarios where investing in solar panels proves to be a worthwhile endeavor. Although calculating your precise solar ROI may pose challenges, the long-term energy savings, arising from decades of solar electricity generation, often vindicate this investment.


Under favorable conditions, you can potentially recover your solar investment multiple times over through sustained energy savings. Unless you're contemplating a lifestyle devoid of electricity usage in the foreseeable future, solar panels represent a prudent investment to counter escalating utility costs, guard against inflation, and enhance financial flexibility for diverse undertakings.


Are you ready to embark on the journey of calculating your solar ROI?

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