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When looking at the system price from a couple of different installers, it can be hard to figure out if System A, System B and System C are really apples-to-apples. Different panels, different inverters and even different panel placement can mean a HUGE difference in payback time and value for your buck. (Not sure what you’re looking at? Click here to learn more about how solar technology works.)

Below, we’ll walk you through how to compare purchase prices for rooftop solar systems prices in Las Vegas. With this handy chart and the ranges listed for Las Vegas, you’ll quickly be able to nail down where the value for the money is.

Step 1 : DO YOUR HOMEWORK ON THE SOLAR COMPANY

The lowest price in the world won’t mean much if the company is not licensed to install solar in NV or abandons your project after you’ve given them a down payment. Check their license HERE.  They should have a C-2 or a C-2-G in good standing and NO disciplinary action of any kind. Their license number should be on their bid, on their business card, on their website and on any marketing materials.

 If you cannot find a license for them and you see a super low price … don’t fall for it!

It’s tempting to go for that super low price sometimes offered by unlicensed contractors (or ones who are in trouble with the Board), but remember this is your roof and your main electrical panel we are talking about! They are going to drill hundreds of holes in your roof and run high voltage current to your main panel. A bad install can result in THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS IN DAMAGES to your home.  Doing business with a unlicensed contractor is taking on a huge risk if they damage your home or do not complete the install as promised. 

If the name on the license does not match the name on the bid (or if they tell you some other company is the licensed contractor doing the actual installation), that means you are talking to a lead generator, reseller or a marketing company. These are middlemen who will simply make your solar project cost more and take longer. ALWAYS check the license of the actual installer. They are the ones who will be working on your house, not the reseller, lead generator or marketing company you’ve been talking to.

Once you’ve verified they are licensed and not in trouble with the Board, check their reviews. The wisdom of the crowd is your friend here. Google, Nextdoor, Yelp!, Facebook, the Better Business Bureau or any other site you trust. Check them all. A good install company will have a lot of reviews – at least 10 or more on every site you check. If you only see 1 or 2 reviews or there are a lot of bad ones, move to the next company on your list.

Last, look for any add on fees such as monthly monitoring costs, pigeon proofing or warranty extension fees. The price you see on the quote should be the price you pay without any additional fees.

Step 2: COMPARE EQUIPMENT TYPES

Are you comparing apples-to-apples or apples-to-oranges? Are the companies using monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels? What type of inverters are they using? How many watts are in the panels? Selecting quality equipment is a vital step in getting a good value for your money. Mono panels paired with long lasting, trouble-free mirco inverters will deliver more power over the life of your system than any other configuration.

Step 3: COMPARE VALUE FOR THE MONEY

These four numbers on the bid are the most important for figuring out where the best value for the money is.

Cost per Watt, Net Cost, Kilowatt Hours produced in Year 1 and Payback Time.

COST PER WATT:

Solar prices are quoted as an “all in” price. It includes the panels, inverters, racking, labor, permits, engineering, HOA, clips, rails, clamps, warranty costs, overhead, insurance and everything else that goes into installing your system. The cost per watt is the unit price – like the price for a gallon of gas. You’re going to buy the whole tank, but you decide which station to stop at based on who has the lowest price per gallon. If you are looking at two very similar systems, cost per watt is your number to compare on.

Figuring out cost per watt is easy.

Cost of system/how many watts are in the system = Cost Per Watt 

Here’s an example: $35,989/ 12.21 kw or 12,210 watts = $2.94 per watt

In Las Vegas, the average COST PER WATT for solar is about $3.00. You should be seeing prices between $2.80 – $3.20 a watt. If you see a price outside this range, you should be asking lots of questions. Companies selling far below average might not have the financial strength to be here to take care of you or may be desperate for work or using cheap equipment. Companies selling above the average may be hiding financing fees or subcontracting costs in the price.

NET COST:

The cost for the system after the federal solar tax credit. This is the true out of pocket cost for your system.

KWH PRODUCED IN YEAR 1:

When you go solar, you are buying equipment and installation expertise, but what you are really after is cheaper, cleaner kilowatt hours! So the real value in a system is how much power you get out of that equipment each year. The amount of power used being replaced by production from your solar system is shown on proposals as an Offset %. They should clearly list how many kilowatt hours the system is expected to produce in the first year.

PRO TIP Check their math! Before you can compare the annual output of the systems you are looking at, first you need to check that their projections match what you actually use, not an average or an estimate. You can get a good idea of your annual use number by looking at your NV Energy bill. There is a bar graph in the upper left corner. Simply take the average kwh per day and multiply it by 30, then add up the totals (for older bills with black bars) or add up the monthly use totals (if you have the newer bill that has colored bars.) If your total and their total are more than 500 kwh different, that is a red flag that other things in the proposal might be inaccurate as well. 

Next, check their production totals by using the National Renewable Energy Lab PVwatts calculator. No matter how low the price is, if the annual use numbers or production numbers are wrong, what else would be wrong about the deal they are offering? Once you’ve checked the math, now you can compare value. Obviously, since solar costs less than getting power from traditional sources and it NEVER goes up in price, more solar is better. A system that delivers 75% of your annual power use is not as good of a value as a system that delivers 101% of your needs.

PAYBACK IN YEARS:

Net Cost of System/Annual Cost of Power Produced by the System = Payback Time in Years

In Las Vegas, payback time averages 8-14 years for a system purchased outright. This number might not be listed on your proposal, but it’s really easy to figure out. You just divide the annual cost of power the system makes into the net cost of the system to see how many years of full price power it would take to equal the net cost of your solar. Since power rates from NV Energy can go up or down, we’ll use today’s per kwh price to estimate payback time.

SYSTEM A:

This system makes 16,849 kwh annually. Right now, NV Energy charges .1117 cents a kwh (11.5 cents including basic connection, taxes and fees), so the value of that power is $1,937. The system you are evaluating costs $17,675 after the tax credit is applied.

$17,675/$1,937 =  9.12 year payback

SYSTEM B:

This system makes 12,496 kwh annually. At 11.5 cents a kwh,  the value of that power is $1,437. The system you are evaluating costs $21,203 after the tax credit is applied.

$21,203/$1,437 =  14.75 year payback

Clearly, System A is the better value in this example.

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