Consumer Reports Says Now Is A Good Time To Go Solar

Consumer Reports says, “There has probably never been a better time to switch to solar.” That’s because the cost of a residential solar system today is about the same as purchasing an economy car. Just as that car can help “pay for itself” because of lower operating costs, a residential system can also “pay for itself” by lowering utility bills over its useful life.

Residential Solar System

In the United States today, there is a federal tax incentive in place. It is a tax credit equal to 30% of the cost of the system. Various state and local incentives may apply as well. However, they vary widely across the country, with California offering the highest and some states like Rhode Island offering none.

Then there are utility and regulatory policies to consider as well. In some parts of the country, homeowners can sell their excess electricity back to the local grid at market rates. In others, the so-called “net metering” rate is quite a bit less. In still other jurisdictions, there isn’t a requirement for utilities to pay anything for the excess power.

Overall, residential solar power is on the rise, growing 60% in 2015. There is now one new domestic solar installation in America every 100 seconds.

Consumer Reports urges people not to wait. Right now may be the sweet spot for customers who want to add a solar system to their homes. While the cost of photovoltaic panels has come down dramatically in recent years, that trend is flattening out. Some state and local incentives are set to expire soon, and the utility industry is actively trying to limit the amount it pays for rooftop solar energy. People who act now will likely be grandfathered in if changes occur.

Where to begin? Consumer Reports recommends buying rather than leasing a system, to save the most money. Interested homeowners can go to various free online services, like Cost of Solar and EnergySage, to get cost estimates and savings estimates, and then get connected with local installers in their area.

Up until now, people who waited to get rooftop solar have saved a little money by doing so. But the window of opportunity may be closing. When Consumer Reports says the time to take action is now, it is not just sales hype. Check out the sites above today to find out how much you could save with a residential solar system.

Best States for solar power
Consumers Reports says the 31 states shown in white are the ones where residents should definitely consider a home solar system now.


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Images by Consumer Reports

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About the Author

writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.
  • rbindc

    Apparently Consumer Reports is ignorant of the fact that the savings reaped by the homeowner with solar is being paid for by his neighbors who lack solar. What a great idea! Screw your neighbors over to save money.

    At least CR is right about this being the “right time”(from the solar customer’s perspective) to make the move – before the state utility regulators catch on to this game and put an end to the cross-subsidizing that is going on.

    Shame on Consumer Reports. I think I’ll cancel my subscription.

    • Anonymous

      Sounds like you haven’t done much research. Fortunately for the less educated, the utilities have actually done very extensive, very expensive studies of their own that PROVE net metering is a net benefit to all customers, not just solar customers

      Here is a link to a decent article that includes links to some of these studies don’t by the utilities themselves to show it does not cost the neighbors more when they don’t go solar.

      • rbindc

        Au contraire! I happen to be an energy consultant with more than 30 years experience in the electric power industry. What is your experience in energy?

        The Brookings study you cite was done by someone with virtually NO experience in the energy field and has already been discredited by another Brookings scholar no less! Also by others.


        There are studies that purport to show net benefits from net metering, almost all of which are funded by the solar industry, including SolarCity. Other studies funded by more objective organizations, such as MIT and state regulators show the opposite.

        One of the best studies was done by a consulting firm E3, for California Public Utilities Commission. It projected a net cost of $1.1 billion in just one year (2020).

        Guess who will pay that cost? Not the utility shareholders. They have a legal right to earn a compensatory return on the utility’s prudently invested capital.

    • microm

      This argument is a bogus ruse by the power monopoly. The power companies have to pay for the facilities and fuel to produce the power by which they charge the consumers for their usage to cover their costs. Some services like transporting the fuel is subcontracted out to other providers. When solar customers net meter power back to the grid, this saves them money for not using their own facilities so it cost them less. Also solar provides this power at peak daytime hour when the utility would have to use more resources to meet demand. The only issue is that solar allows the customer to also be a “mini” provider/subcontractor instead of the power company being the sole monopolistic provider. So it’s not the solar customer ripping off the non solar customer. it’s the power monopolies blaming their solar customers for interfering in their pure monopoly while they get to take a windfall of unearned money to the bank.

      • rbindc


        You make a number of good points; however, what you are missing is that the retail rates are designed to recover the utility’s fixed infrastructure costs (e.g., the wires, switchgear and transformers) through charges based on the amount of energy the customer uses. The rates for those charges are set based on forecasts of the amounts of energy the customer will use each month. When a customer installs solar panels he pays less of the infrastructure cost that was originally allocated to him. That means the utility has to recover those costs from other customers. If you were to run the numbers you would see that solar customers’ bill savings are larger than the costs the utility avoids.

        The answer to this problem is not to ban people from installing solar but rather to redesign the retail rates so that they closely reflect the utility’s avoidable costs. That means putting all customers under dynamic rates that vary on an hourly basis as needed to reflect the wholesale price of energy. Of course, making that change will also make residential solar much less profitable for the customer and slow its adoption at the residential level. But that is actually the correct answer from a societal perspective.

        • GCO

          The closest thing we have today is time-of-use billing, and last I checked, the most expensive kW⋅h was on summer afternoons Mon-Fri.
          Sure, rates may change, but today, TOU makes solar more profitable for residential PV owners, not less as you seem to suggest.

          This also means that a PV customer on a flat rate typically feeds to the grid kW⋅h of higher-than-average value without compensation, benefiting the utility and therefore other customers — again, not the other way around.

          • rbindc

            Actually, Commonwealth Edison Company in Chicago offers a dynamic pricing tariff that has hourly prices indexed to the day-ahead wholesale prices in the PJM market. There are about 10,000 customers on the tariff and they love it. Unfortunately, not many customers have signed on.

            Aside from ComEd (and a Oklahoma Gas & Electric program) the next closest tariffs are time-of-day tariffs. However, the TOD tariffs typically have much higher fixed monthly customer charges so it is not always advantageous for a solar customer to chose TOD over the utility’s flat tariff. Furthermore, the TOD rates also include a component for recovering fixed capacity costs, not just energy costs, so a solar customer on the tariff is still benefitting from bill savings that exceed the utility’s avoided costs.

            Of the many utility tariffs I have examined – both flat and TOD, I have not found any that result in the solar customer saving the utility more money that it gets in bill savings, resulting in cross-subsidies from other customers to the solar customers.

            The message remains the same: we need to redesign the retail tariffs so that each customer pays (roughly) what it costs to serve that customer regardless of how much or how little the customer consumes in any time period.

          • GCO

            Your argument has nothing to do with solar, nor subsidies.

            People using more energy will pay more than those who use less, regardless of where the difference comes from.
            It seems perfectly normal and natural to me and others here (except you/@disqus_dwTNZQAG3V:disqus) that they contribute to the supporting infrastructure accordingly.

            Let’s try a (non-plugin) car analogy.
            Oil rigs, refineries, gas-stations etc come at a high cost which end customers ultimately need to cover. Would you say that people who burn a lot of gasoline, and therefore pay more, “subsidize” more frugal drivers?
            Would you find it adequate to request that every person pay the same fraction of “oil industry costs” regardless of how much fuel they use?
            If not, why suggest this for the grid?