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why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

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  • why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

    Do any of you install solar for a living?
    Why do installers quote $7/watt to install?
    I can get a 4.4KwH System from Sunelec for $2.90 a watt
    http://sunelec.com/index.php?main_pa...ystems&id=1160

    That puts 4400x(7-2.90)= $18.000!!

    the aluminum mounting brackets, conduit, breaker box, etc might be $500 to $1000
    And although I've never done an install I figgure it might take a couple of days, max 3.

    Seems like $6000 would be a more realistic install cost.

    Maybe since I've never done it I'm missing something, but it's almost as if they think, the government is paying for half of it, so lets take advantage of it!?

  • #2

    Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

    Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

    Not to be impolite but, do you know how to do it?

    Frankly if you do you can do it yourself and save some money.

    Otherwise you are paying people who (hopefully) have had some significant technical training and (hopefully) experience in the field so that things are not only fastened down properly but also wired up properly.

    Although this is in doubt considering the number of inquiries we get here about problems that can be traced to bad installation.
    1220 Watts of PV, OB MX60, 232 Amp hrs, OB 3524, Honda eu2000.

    Ohm's Law: Amps = Volts / Ohms
    Power Formula: Watts = Volts * Amps

    Comment


    • #3

      Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

      Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

      Install cost comes with some significant hidden costs, including, but not limited to, engineering, labour, specialty hardware, inventory costs, specialty tools, insurances, overhead, profit, warrantee costs etc.

      I may complain that my car guy gets $75/hour until I realize that he has $100,000 worth of shop and diagnosis tools that allow him to solve a problem quickly and efficiently the first time instead of him having to spend time diagnosing by replacement.

      Yes, you can do it yourself, and many are more than competent to do so, but if you are looking for a proper install that is properly warranted etc there is a reason why the raw panel cost is only one factor.

      Tony
      Please note, being a moderator does not add any weight to my opinions 300 watts Siemens/BP panels,plus a Sun 90,, making ~400. ~30 amps into Rogue MPT-3024, 450 ah of Trojan T-105, Morningstar ts300 inverter, a Tri-Metric meter.a collection of antique generators, plus 2 Honda eu-1000i's (also a BS2512 IX controller) and assorted other stuff!

      Comment


      • #4

        Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

        Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

        Originally posted by icarus View Post
        Install cost comes with some significant hidden costs, including, but not limited to, engineering, labour, specialty hardware, inventory costs, specialty tools, insurances, overhead, profit, warrantee costs etc.

        I may complain that my car guy gets $75/hour until I realize that he has $100,000 worth of shop and diagnosis tools that allow him to solve a problem quickly and efficiently the first time instead of him having to spend time diagnosing by replacement.

        Yes, you can do it yourself, and many are more than competent to do so, but if you are looking for a proper install that is properly warranted etc there is a reason why the raw panel cost is only one factor.

        Tony
        All true, but $7/W seems a bit steep to me, even if it's installation PLUS equipment for a straight grid-tied system.

        Comment


        • #5

          Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

          Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

          I am not arguing that the ~$7/watt is a reasonable installation, but merely pointing out that on top of the raw panel cost of ~ $3/watt is but one factor in the cost. Pretty simple, add up the cost of the hardware, they you can see what the installer is actually charging for the installation. Granted, if you are buying the hardware from the installer, there is some profit in the hardware as well. As with anything, consider the calibre of the installation as compared to other installers to find out where the best value is. I contend it is not always related to the least expensive installed price.

          We have seen examples of many poorly thought out installs that don't take maximum advantage of the solar potential.

          Tony
          Please note, being a moderator does not add any weight to my opinions 300 watts Siemens/BP panels,plus a Sun 90,, making ~400. ~30 amps into Rogue MPT-3024, 450 ah of Trojan T-105, Morningstar ts300 inverter, a Tri-Metric meter.a collection of antique generators, plus 2 Honda eu-1000i's (also a BS2512 IX controller) and assorted other stuff!

          Comment


          • #6

            Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

            Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

            I guess people are getting $6 per watt quoted costs... And, already, lots of companies and manufacturers are going out of business--with 30%+ or more subsidies.

            Something is not right.

            -Bill
            20x BP 4175B panels (replacement) + Xantrex GT 3.3 inverter for 3kW Grid Tied system + Honda eu2000i Inverter/Generator for emergency backup.

            Comment


            • #7

              Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

              Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

              Originally posted by icarus View Post
              I am not arguing that the ~$7/watt is a reasonable installation, but merely pointing out that on top of the raw panel cost of ~ $3/watt is but one factor in the cost. Pretty simple, add up the cost of the hardware, they you can see what the installer is actually charging for the installation. Granted, if you are buying the hardware from the installer, there is some profit in the hardware as well. As with anything, consider the calibre of the installation as compared to other installers to find out where the best value is. I contend it is not always related to the least expensive installed price.
              No argument from me. Ever get the timing belt replaced in your car? Did you look at the itemized bill? ;^)

              Comment


              • #8

                Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

                Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

                Originally posted by BB. View Post
                I guess people are getting $6 per watt quoted costs... And, already, lots of companies and manufacturers are going out of business--with 30%+ or more subsidies.
                solar_dave got a quote for $4.90/watt installed w/Enphase microinverters...

                http://forum.solar-electric.com/show...6208#post76208

                Of course, not knowing specifics of the install it's hard to know if $7/watt is fair or not, but it's certainly not out of the ball park (yet).
                18 ET-M572 180w panels | Enphase M190 micro-inverters | 3.24 kW STC DC

                Comment


                • #9

                  Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

                  Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

                  i know how to do most of it, and have an electrician friend who could help me wire it all up.

                  I guess if they have a solar show room I would understand the pricing, but I think $7/watt is excessive, $4.90/watt is more reasonable.

                  Comment


                  • #10

                    Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

                    Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

                    A lot depends on where you are too. We pa $4.90/Watt just for the panels here!
                    1220 Watts of PV, OB MX60, 232 Amp hrs, OB 3524, Honda eu2000.

                    Ohm's Law: Amps = Volts / Ohms
                    Power Formula: Watts = Volts * Amps

                    Comment


                    • #11

                      Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

                      Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

                      It used to be $7/w around here until module prices dropped from $3.50 to $2.00 and the utility rebate was cut in half. Now competitive prices here are sub $5/w. Still seeing a lot of get rich quick companies trying to keep their margins up though.

                      I agree with you though. Sometimes I marvel at how much we charge for about 7 man-days of work on a typical residential job.
                      Then I think of all the costs involved in:
                      being reputable, having a storefront,
                      all the unproductive red tape,
                      finance costs from jobs taking forever because of all the fingers in the pie,
                      advertising costs to stay up with all the wannabees trying to get into the business,
                      every job a custom installation because houses were not designed with solar in mind (we are doing a job right now and discovered the roof has - I kid you not - 14" of foam on the roof),
                      utilities that are downright uncooperative to tying to "their" grid,
                      local AHJ's more interested in funding their permitting process than having a sustainable community,
                      governments with no long term energy plan that keep whipsawing the industry from boom to bust,
                      time spent educating the community to our new technology,
                      time spent keeping up with a fast changing field (by reading this forum of course)
                      homeowners with wasteful lifestyles,
                      dogs ready to eat meter readers at the service entry,
                      mounting panels so that neighbors will not have to look at those awful PV panels.
                      I'm sure something will come up tomorrow I haven't thought of.

                      I love my business - its not boring!
                      2.7kW Trina/Xantrex GT, 3.7kW Trina/SolarEdge, 3kW CSI/SMA GT, Solar well pump on 6, 25yr old Holeck 48W modules. Toyota SR5 converted to 108V EV. Prius w/Enginer PHEV conversion. BSEE, R11-residential, NABCEP, SunnyPro, >800kW installed
                      "Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof." - John Kenneth Galbraith

                      Comment


                      • #12

                        Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

                        Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

                        Originally posted by rollandelliott View Post
                        Why do installers quote $7/watt to install? I can get a 4.4KwH System from Sunelec
                        for $2.90 a watt...

                        That puts 4400x(7-2.90)= $18.000!!

                        the aluminum mounting brackets, conduit, breaker box, etc might be $500 to $1000
                        And although I've never done an install I figgure it might take a couple of days, max 3.

                        Seems like $6000 would be a more realistic install cost.

                        I would tend to agree that $7/watt is high. But, I sense that the
                        logic you use to estimate $18K as the amount contractors would
                        (over)charge to install this particular PV bundle is incomplete. Based
                        on my own experience, there are numerous important deliverables
                        that a contractor provides which may not be itemized on their quote
                        and which you have not taken into consideration.

                        Your formula for the total install is basically this:

                        Price of professional installation = ($7/watt installer proposal)
                        minus ($2.90/watt your cost for panels) minus ($500-1000 for
                        cost of balance of system)

                        Let's look at all three items. First, your $7/watt price:

                        You didn't mention where your $7/watt price came from. Normally,
                        a quote is specific to the location (state or city) where you are
                        installing and specific to the nuances of the installation site as well.
                        My observation is that $7/watt was the going rate about a year
                        ago for most places with average installation difficulty. That price
                        drifted downwards by more than $1/watt since then. My own
                        installation in June 2010 came in at $6.60/watt, and one of my
                        relatives installed for $5.60/watt in December 2010. So your
                        starting point of $7/watt seems high to me, notwithstanding
                        that you didn't mention anything about your site that might
                        justify the higher price.

                        Now, your $2.90/watt bundle:

                        The $2.90/watt price is on a specific bundle. Sunelec may
                        have priced it especially aggressively, i.e., it might be a loss leader
                        type bundle, which, if you can use it is great for you. However, it
                        may not be representative of what you need or want. I see at least
                        three items which would either further inflate this price or deflate
                        the value. First, it does not include shipping. The 24 panels themselves
                        weigh about 500 lbs, so the total package probably weighs 700 lbs.
                        The second issue is that the PV panels at 185 watts/panel are
                        essentially prior generation/older technology. 225-250 watt panels
                        are the sweet spot right now. If you go with the lower density panels,
                        you use up more roof space (less room for future expansion), and it
                        may be hard to get spares or extras if this older technology
                        discontinues soon. Lastly, the bundle is described as "for tropical
                        climate only." I'm not sure why they categorize it as restricted to
                        such climates, but taking them at their word, are you in a tropical
                        climate? Net net, your $2.90/watt "PV hardware cost" seems low.

                        Now let's look at the Balance of System costs. This is where
                        your formula is the most problematic, I sense.

                        You feel that installation should take at most three days.
                        For mine, with 13 panels, the onsite part took five days, with two
                        installers. Off site, my contractor ordered, received and consolidated
                        the hardware from the various suppliers, and loaded a trailer full
                        with equipment and tools. There's also his time spent doing onsite
                        surveys which included PathFinder shading analysis, the engineering
                        design which included PV-Watts predictions, schematics, the wind load
                        analysis, and the permit submissions with the county and the utility
                        company. Finally, after the installation was done, my contractor
                        came back for three inspections and spent another half day
                        making changes that the county inspector requested. If you add
                        this all up, you are on the order of 15-18 man-days of labor.

                        And that's not all of the deliverables. Icarus listed these:

                        >...specialty hardware, inventory costs, specialty tools, insurances,
                        overhead, profit, warrantee costs...

                        In addition to the above, my contractor had these further costs to
                        account for or to pass along: sales tax on materials, hauling away trash
                        from the install, custom safety labels on both the interior and exterior
                        circuit boxes, 8' lightning rod, customer support (Q&A before/during/after
                        the install). He provided a five year onsite warranty for his materials
                        and workmanship, and a five year subscription to the web management
                        software.

                        At the end of the day, I received a turnkey system that was optimized
                        for the shading conditions for my site, verified by software analysis to
                        be safe for 90 mph windload, fully operational, inspected and approved
                        by the governing authorities, and warranted to be cost-free to me for
                        maintenance and repair for five years (longer for the PV panels and
                        inverters).

                        So I'm not trying to defend your contractor's price. I am saying that
                        prices in the $5.50-7.00/watt range seem fair, if you are getting the
                        full range of deliverables that a job done right entails. You can
                        certainly do things cheaper with DIY and/or by giving up deliverables,
                        that's up to you.

                        John
                        Last edited by jcgee88; February 9th, 2011, 11:05.
                        15 Sharp 235w NU-U235F3 PV modules and 15 Enphase M190-72-240 Micro-inverters.

                        Comment


                        • #13

                          Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

                          Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

                          Excellent points. My system is going to be on the ground on flat sunny land about 50 feet away from the meter and is probably a lot less complicated than a roof mount system. I don't think the person who quoted me $7/watt over the phone took that into consideration. I'll probably get one or two more quotes, but it seems like installing this myself is the way to go, since I have all the resources and skills to do it, with some help from my electrician friend.

                          Comment


                          • #14

                            Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

                            Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

                            It was enlightening to me that any Federal/State tax credit I would've gotten amounted to the near exact dollar cost of three installation quotes I received. This on the labor line item.

                            I felt that the installers had the labor quoting down to a science to match these credits....and then the blank stares at the request for some battery backup....sheesh. Answers like "I know someone who did that" does not provide confidence in a customer willing to shell out 18K for a 2.4KW system while on grid power is available 'till it goes dark....then the grid tie is useless.

                            We treat our storefront the same as any other portion of the company, a profit center. If not it is a cost center and needs to be evaluated as such.
                            Last edited by SteveK; February 9th, 2011, 7:07.
                            6-180W CETC's., Midnite Solar Classic 200, Exeltech XP-1100E, Victron 24V-350W Inv, Energizer 24V 450aH FLA. Honda EU2000i Tri-Fuel. Victron BMV-602. Meanwell PB-1000-24. In Reserve: 2-180W CETC panels, Rogue MPT-3024, Exeltech XP-1100E

                            Comment


                            • #15

                              Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

                              Re: why is solar installation so expensive? $16,000 for a few days work?

                              Originally posted by rollandelliott View Post
                              My system is going to be on the ground on flat sunny land about 50 feet away from the meter and is probably a lot less complicated than a roof mount system.
                              A second relative of mine did a ground mount last year.
                              His 10kw array sits about 100 feet from his home. His site
                              prep included: grading, putting down gravel, and trenching
                              for running the power cables to his circuit box (he rented a
                              trencher and did that himself). Next, the contractor came
                              onsite and he anchored the rack mounting posts into the
                              ground; this step involved concrete work and caused some
                              wait time for the concrete to cure.

                              At this point, the install proceeded similarly to a roof mount.

                              Once done, the county inspector showed up, and he approved
                              the installation. However, he did require that a fence be put
                              up around the array. My relative went ahead and did this, but
                              then found that the fence he put up was deemed "too low,"
                              and he had to do it over again. Because the fence ended up
                              to be (I recall) in the 4-5 foot height range, he then had to
                              re-consider its location, to avoid it casting shadows on the
                              array.

                              Not counting his own DIY expenses, he paid $7.20/watt.
                              That's pretty high, and I can't tell if you should attribute
                              that higher cost to the ground mounting. It was done in
                              early 2010, so industry prices hadn't drifted down at that
                              point. [His state pays the highest SREC fees in the nation,
                              so he wasn't as price sensitive as most people.]

                              John
                              15 Sharp 235w NU-U235F3 PV modules and 15 Enphase M190-72-240 Micro-inverters.

                              Comment

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