2023 SunPower Solar Review Guide (Costs, Quality, & More)
By Kristina Zagame /
Although residents see relatively low electricity bills each month, solar still pays for itself in the area and saves an additional $14,479 on average, making it a great financial investment for most Coloradans.
Colorado is ranked 13th in the country for the rate of solar adoption by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).1 Likely because going solar is usually worthwhile for Colorado homeowners.
The below-average energy consumption in the state means that the average cost of a solar system is relatively low, making the conversion to renewable energy more affordable.2 Plus, the Colorado solar incentives and solar rebates make photovoltaic (PV) equipment even more accessible and profitable over time.
The average Coloradan pays around $20,175 for their PV panels, or closer to $14,123 after the federal investment tax credit (ITC). This is significantly lower than most U.S. residents pay, and the return on investment (ROI) for solar in CO is expected to be more than 100%.
In this guide, we’ll be walking you through all of the steps you need to take to convert to renewable energy in the Centennial State, from assessing solar value for your property to commissioning your system. You can use the links below to jump to a specific section as well.
Step 1: What to Consider When Buying Solar Panels
Step 2: Getting a Quote from a Solar Provider
Step 3: Signing a Solar Contract
Step 4: What to Expect on Solar Panel Installation Day
Step 5: Final Inspection for Installed Solar Panels
Step 6: Permission to Operate (PTO)
While installing a solar energy system in CO is more affordable than you could expect in most states, you’ll still pay over $14,000 after the federal credit for your equipment. Since this is still a hefty price tag, we’ll discuss how to assess your home, in particular, for solar viability below.
Although solar adoption in Colorado is a worthwhile endeavor for most residents in your area, you really need to make sure panels on your home will be valuable over time, as every property is different.
We recommend starting by figuring out how many panels you need to cover your energy demands. You can use our solar calculator to get an estimate for your required system capacity.
Whether you use our calculator or not, you should assess your home for sun exposure. You can start by looking at the local weather conditions in your city. Panels don’t work as well in cloudy weather, so cities that receive below-average amounts of sunny days annually won’t see as much benefit from solar adoption.
Colorado as a whole sees an average of 300 sunny days per year, which is well above the national average of 205 and makes the area a fantastic place for solar.3 Your city could see significantly fewer sunny days annually, decreasing your potential for production. Still, most residents see plenty of sunlight to make solar adoption worthwhile.
You may also want to look at local snowfall averages, as snow accumulation in Colorado is well above the national average. Snow coverage can decrease solar production, so areas with a higher likelihood of heavy snow may be less viable for solar adoption.
Another important consideration is the net metering program you have available to you. Net metering — also called net energy metering or NEM — is a policy that lets you overproduce electricity with your panels and “bank” the excess for later use. In actuality, you really receive energy credits on your bill for excess production, but it works like an energy bank to reduce electricity costs.
Thankfully, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) requires that all investor-owned utilities (IOUs) in the state offer net metering. The credit rate isn’t set by the PUC, although the legislation allows up to 120% of the retail rate per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to be credited. Since the rate isn’t set by the PUC, you should look into your power company’s NEM policy.
For example, Xcel Energy (Public Service Company of Colorado) offers the full retail rate for NEM credits, and it allows credits to rollover indefinitely.4 Black Hills Energy also offers the full retail rate for net metering credits, and it allows customers to cash out their accrued and unused credits to turn a profit, which is outstanding.5
Some municipal electric providers and electric cooperatives also opt to offer NEM, even though the PUC doesn’t mandate it. We recommend you check your power company’s net energy metering policy before going solar, as NEM is one of the best ways to maximize your solar savings over time.
The table below includes a quick look at some solar statistics for Colorado and the U.S. as a whole. This should help paint a picture of how affordable and beneficial solar adoption can be in your area.
|Colorado State Average||United States National Average|
|Solar Power System Size Required||7.5 kW||9 kW|
|Typical Cost Per Watt to Install Photovoltaic (PV) Equipment||$2.69||$2.66|
|Average Total System Cost Before Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit||$20,175||$23,940|
|Average Federal Solar Tax Credit Value||$6,053||$7,182|
|Average Total System Cost After Federal Credit||$14,123||$16,758|
|Average Panel Payback Period||12 years||12 years|
|Average Lifetime Savings of Converting to Solar||$14,479||$22,379|
Once you’ve determined that solar is a good fit for your home, you can start looking into how you’re going to pay for your system.
If you haven’t already, you should use our solar calculator to get an estimate of the system size that’s required to meet your home energy needs. You can take the size in watts — or kilowatts (kW)/1,000 — and multiply by $2.69, which is the average price per watt for PV equipment in CO. That should give you a good estimate of your total system price.
This number is likely going to be quite high, but keep in mind that you have solar incentives and rebates available in Colorado that can bring down your costs quite a bit. Additionally, one of the biggest perks of solar adoption is the energy savings you’ll see. It’s worth thinking about how much your panels will save you over time rather than what they’ll cost upfront.
You have four primary options when it comes to financing your solar equipment. We’ll discuss these options briefly below.
When you’ve decided which financing option works best for your savings expectations and your budget, you can start getting formal quotes from solar companies in your area. We’ll explain how to find reputable solar panel system installers in CO and what the quoting process looks like in the sections below.
Choosing an installation company is a surprisingly time-consuming process for most residents. There are nearly 150 installers that service the Centennial State, all of which bring something different to the table.6 We recommend prioritizing the below when researching companies in your area:
Below is a list of some of the best providers in the area based on these criteria and more:
Read our review of the best solar installers in Colorado.
Within a day or two of providing your information to a solar installation company, a sales representative should reach out to schedule a consultation. Most customers choose virtual consultations, but many companies still offer in-person meetings as well. You’ll need to provide some personal information and a copy of a recent electric bill prior to the meeting.
During the consultation, you’ll be asked questions about electricity-consuming devices in your home, like heating and cooling equipment, electric vehicle (EV) chargers, appliances and more. Your rep should schedule an in-person inspection to get roof measurements and assess your roof for shading and sun exposure.
After the consultation and inspection, your home solar project will be passed on to the design team. Next, your sales rep should reach back out to you with a formal solar proposal, as well as to schedule another call to discuss the estimate.
Solar proposals contain all the information you’ll need to make an informed decision about converting your home to clean energy. We recommend you look for the following in particular:
Going through solar proposals can be time-consuming, but we really recommend you go through the process with at least two or three companies. Having multiple quotes to compare means you’ll have options that can potentially save you money.
Plus, some providers will price match or offer discounted add-on products or services to make their systems more appealing.
When you’re reaching out for solar quotes, you should also ask each provider to include any add-on products you think you might want with your panels. We’ll include a short list of the most popular add-on options below, as well as an explanation as to why each is popular in Colorado.
Once you’ve chosen a company to work with, you can move on to reviewing and signing the contract sent by the sales rep. We’ll explain what to look for in your contract below and what to expect after you sign.
One of the most important things to look for in your contract is the warranty information. The terms provided for coverage will often be split into three types of coverage. We’ll explain how each of these works and the industry standard for the coverage provided below.
From the day you sign your solar contract to the day your panels actually start generating power for your property, you’re probably looking at between two and six months in CO. The primary delays in the process come from the following factors:
Short-term delays caused by weather can also extend your installation timeline. Installing rooftop solar energy systems is inherently dangerous in Colorado winters when snow and ice are likely.
The permitting process in Colorado should be handled almost entirely by your solar installation company. Your provider should file for permits with your local building department and close them out after the installation. You’ll just be responsible for the cost of the permit, which should have been included in your solar quote.
The average cost of solar permits in CO is around $250, although the price can be as low as $50 and reach up to $500. Thankfully, the residential solar permit cost is capped at $500 in CO, so your total will never be higher than that amount.12 However, every municipality is different.
For example, Denver uses its online program, SolarApp+, for a streamlined application process.13 The city charges just $50 for the permit.14 The City of Aurora charges the full $500 for a solar permit.15
Using the Colorado Springs permit fee calculator, the total for the electrical permit would be over $600, so it’s instead capped at $500 for solar adoption.16 The City of Boulder uses a flat-rate system for solar permits, so your cost would be just $69.60.17
In addition to filing for building permits or electrical permits with your local building department, your installer should also be applying for net metering for you. The application needs to be sent to your local utility company and is required to access net metering and connection to the electric grid.
Each electric company has a different process for applying. For example, Xcel Energy has an online portal where applications can be completed and submitted.18 Once approved, your system will be inspected and permitted to interconnect. There is no fee charged for the application.
Black Hills Energy also has an online portal for application, although it’s only accessible by your provider. Your installer will complete the application online, set up any necessary inspections, and get approval to connect your panels to the grid.19 There is no fee for applying with Black Hills.
The process of applying for interconnection and waiting for approval adds to your installation timeline, but it’s absolutely worth the time and effort. Interconnection is what allows you to access NEM and maximize your solar savings, so any amount of time added to your installation period would basically be worthwhile.
On the day your panels are scheduled to be installed, your installation team should arrive in the morning and will likely work through the afternoon to get your system up and running. Solar installations take between five and ten hours on average.
Most homeowners wonder, “do I need to be home for solar panel installation?” The answer is yes; you or another adult should be home for the entire day when your PV system is being installed. Your installation team will need access to your electric panel, and to install your inverters and any add-ons in your garage.
Your installer may expedite the connection to the grid by scheduling an inspection with your utility provider on the day of the installation. This is required for a proper connection to be made for NEM and to use power from the grid, so it’s a crucial part of the process. Solar inspections take about a half hour, on average.
Once your system is installed, your installation company will schedule the final inspection with your local building department. In some cases, installations can take a few weeks to get on the calendar, but the actual inspection is very quick, and you can usually use your panels in the meantime as long as your utility company has done its inspection.
Final inspections are necessary for closing out your building permits, which will avoid complications if you go to sell your home. The inspection can sometimes be done as a drive-by inspection, although some inspectors will require interior inspections as well, especially if you have add-on products installed inside.
Your installer will schedule the inspection for you or facilitate the scheduling with the building inspector. It won’t cost anything, although you may have to pay a re-inspection fee if you miss your original appointment.
Once your permits are closed out, you’ll be responsible for making sure your panels continue to work as they should. You can ask your installer if solar monitoring is available with your panel brands. SunPower, Tesla and many other manufacturers include a free solar monitoring app or software to help you keep track of system performance.
The last step before your panels can be activated and begin producing power for your home is getting permission to operate (PTO). PTO is granted by your utility provider after it has completed its inspection of your system and the connection to the grid. Many installers will schedule this inspection on the day of installation to expedite the process.
Once you’re granted PTO, your installer should turn on your panels and show you where the emergency shut-off switch is. If they haven’t already, your technician should also set you up with any solar monitoring apps provided by your manufacturer and show you how to use them.
Lastly, you should have the emergency number for your utility provider handy in case of an emergency. If you experience a life-threatening issue, like an electrical fire, you should dial 911 and then contact your utility company’s emergency number to notify them. We’ll include numbers for the larger electric companies below.
At this point, you can relax and watch your solar savings start to accrue. The hard work is done, your carbon footprint has been successfully reduced and you can rest assured that your commitment to clean energy is actively reducing your CO2 emissions. Not only that, but you should start to see significant reductions in your monthly utility bills and your effective electricity rates.
You’ll see the greatest ROI if you live in your home and use your panels to offset your energy bills, but there’s still the potential for financial upside even if you sell your converted home. PV systems make your home more valuable, so you’re likely to see a return even if you sell after installing your panels.
So that you can find reliable solar companies to install your new solar system, the solar experts at EcoWatch have hand-selected the top installers in your area. Click on any of the links below to discover who you can go to for top-notch solar equipment.
Below, we’ll answer some of the most common questions we get about solar adoption and the installation process from Coloradans.
Thankfully, no. Colorado has solar rights in effect, which means homeowners associations (HOAs) and other organizations cannot ban solar system installation.20
Yes! Colorado has a sales and use tax exemption and a property tax exemption — called the property tax exemption for residential renewable energy equipment. That means your upfront solar panel costs will be reduced, thanks to the fact that you don’t have to pay sales tax on your equipment or labor, and your property taxes won’t spike even though solar adds to your home value.
Yes, CO is a good place for solar. The state receives well above the average number of sunny days per year, which means a higher potential for production. Colorado residents also use less energy than most Americans, which means the average system will be smaller and more affordable.
The typical system in your area pays for itself in 12 years and saves around $14,500 on electric bills thereafter.
The typical solar system will last for between 20 and 25 years, and many can provide sufficient power for your home for up to 30 years. For the most part, the State of Colorado doesn’t see much in the way of extreme weather that threatens panels, so you can expect around 25 years of useful life or more from your system.
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