Your Guide to Solar Panels in Iowa: 7 Steps to Solar Panels in Iowa

The average solar power system in Iowa pays for itself in 12 years — in line with the national average — and saves over $17,500 on energy bills after that point.

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The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) ranks Iowa as 28th in the country for solar adoption, but going solar in Iowa is well worth it for most residents.1 The upfront cost of solar in the state is quite high, averaging around $25,000, but the federal and state incentives available help bring those installation costs down significantly, often to under $17,500.

When you consider the long-term savings expected from your Iowa solar panels and the reduced emissions and carbon footprint, solar adoption in the Hawkeye State becomes well worth it.

In this guide, we’ll be explaining the process of going solar from start to finish. You can use the links below to skip to a particular section for more information.

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)

Step 7: Sit Back and Enjoy Your Solar Energy

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Purelight Power

Outstanding Regional Installer

Regional Service

EcoWatch rating

Average cost


  • Offers products from leading manufacturers
  • Great warranty coverage
  • Outstanding customer service


  • Relatively young company
  • Quality of installation may vary by location
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Energy Consultants Group (ECG)

Outstanding Local Installer

Local Service

EcoWatch rating

Average cost


  • Competitive pricing
  • Comprehensive service offerings
  • Many years of experience


  • Limited service area
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ADT Solar

Best Warranty Coverage

Regional Service

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Average cost


  • Industry-leading warranty coverage
  • Expansive service area


  • Some reported communication issues
  • No leases or PPAs

Step 1: What to Consider When Buying Solar Panels in Iowa

Since the cost of solar in Iowa is higher than average, there are a few things you should look into regarding your property’s solar viability before you commit. We’ll explain the research process we recommend in the following sections.

Research If Solar Panels Are a Good Fit For You in Iowa

Solar ends up being a good investment for most Iowans, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for you. There are a few things we recommend you think about before you commit to converting to renewable energy.

First, we suggest getting an estimate of how many panels your home needs to offset your energy consumption. The average solar energy system size in the area is 9 kilowatts (kW). If you use our solar calculator and get a significantly larger estimate, there’s likely some factor that is contributing to lower solar viability — like tree coverage on your roof during peak sunlight hours.

We suggest you look into your local weather conditions as well. Solar panels are much less efficient in cloudy weather, so areas that see fewer sunny days throughout the year will see lower rates of production.

The state as a whole sees around 200 sunny days per year, which is just below the national average of 205.2 Most cities in Iowa see around the average, but those with less sun exposure — like Waterloo and Dubuque — will have a slightly lower rate of production.

Consider Net Metering

Another crucial consideration to make when determining how valuable solar will be for your home is the access you have to net metering programs, also called net energy metering or NEM. NEM is mandated by the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB), with two options for homeowners: net billing or inflow-outflow solar billing.

Net billing provides credits for all exported kilowatt-hours (kWh), and your local utility company will credit your account for all excess energy you send to the power grid. The credits roll over for up to a year, so overproduction one month can offset underproduction in future months. You can then cash out excess energy using the avoided-cost rate (below retail).

Inflow-outflow solar billing is similar, but you’re credited at a predetermined outflow rate for excess energy sent to the electric grid, which stands for 20 years. Credits roll over until the end of your annual billing cycle, after which they’re lost. The benefit of this option is that the policy cannot change and leave you without NEM.

The policies offered by your utility company will play a role in how likely you are to offset your monthly energy bills and maximize your savings on your effective electricity rates.

Just as an example, Alliant Energy offers NEM at the full retail rate, provided your system isn’t grossly oversized for your home.3 Black Hills Energy uses a below-retail rate to buy back excess power from solar customers, usually sitting around the wholesale rate, which is less beneficial over time.4

MidAmerican Energy Company uses a short-term net billing program in which you can earn credits every 15 minutes to apply to future bills. The credit rate is equal to the retail rate, but the fast turnaround for credits means you’ll still be paying energy charges whenever your panels aren’t producing power, like at night or on cloudy days.5 Ultimately, this is far less beneficial than a standard NEM program.

All in all, most Iowa residents find solar conversion worthwhile. The table below should help conceptualize how valuable solar equipment is in Iowa compared to the rest of the country.

Iowa State Average United States National Average
Solar Power System Size Required 9 kW 9 kW
Typical Cost Per Watt to Install Photovoltaic (PV) Equipment $2.77 $2.66
Average Total System Cost Before Federal Solar Income Tax Credit $24,930 $23,940
Average Federal Solar Tax Credit Value $7,479 $7,182
Average Total System Cost After Federal Credit $17,451 $16,758
Average Panel Payback Period 12 years 12 years
Average Lifetime Savings of Converting to Solar $17,572 $22,379

Research How to Finance Solar Panels

Once you’ve confirmed that solar is a good option for your home, you can start looking into the different payment options for PV equipment to see which suits you best.

We recommend you start your research by figuring out how many panels you need, which you can do by using our solar calculator. To get an estimated solar panel cost, you can multiply your recommended system size in watts by $2.77, which is the average cost per watt for panels in IA.

This number is often intimidating at first, as it’s likely to top $24,000. However, it’s important to remember that Iowa solar incentives and rebate programs will help bring this total down quite a bit. Additionally, panels will eventually end up saving you money after they pay for themselves, so the financial benefits of going solar usually outweigh the downsides.

You have four options to choose from to finance your panels, which we’ll explain briefly below.

  • Cash purchase: When you pay for your system in cash, you’ll see the lowest cost leading to panel ownership, which also means your savings over time will be maximized. Of course, paying in cash is the least accessible option because you’re on the hook for $24,000+ upfront.
  • Solar loan: Financing your panels with a loan is much more accessible. You pay a small down payment — sometimes none at all — and then pay the balance of your system in monthly installments over several years. The interest will make your system more expensive over time and reduce your savings a little, but the minimal down payment requirements make this the most popular option. Higher interest rates will, of course, reduce your savings more.
  • Solar lease: A lease is a rental agreement in which you pay a monthly fee to rent your rooftop solar panels. In exchange, you get to use the energy they generate to offset your electric bill, ideally saving you money each month. You’ll never own your panels with a solar lease, so savings will be limited. Additionally, you cannot take the federal investment tax credit (ITC) if you lease.
  • Power purchase agreement (PPA): This is an agreement in which you get panels installed at no cost, and in exchange, you agree to pay a reduced rate for the energy they generate. These agreements also don’t lead to system ownership, so you cannot take the federal tax credit. Savings are the lowest with a PPA compared to all other financing options.

We recommend you carefully consider the panel payback period of each payment method. It’s always more beneficial from a savings standpoint to choose an option with a payback period, and the shorter the time frame for panel repayment, the more you’ll save over time.

Step 2: Getting a Quote from a Solar Provider

Now that you know how you plan on paying for your renewable energy system, you can start the process of finding an installer to work with and requesting formal quotes. We’ll explain what to look for in a provider and how to proceed with getting estimates.

Picking a Solar Installer

There are close to 40 installers that service Iowa, and choosing the one that suits your needs best and fits into your budget can be time-consuming. We recommend doing some preliminary research on companies in your area and prioritizing the below qualities. This should help you find a reliable installer that will provide a high-quality system.

  • The company should have at least five years of experience behind it.
  • The installer should have NABCEP-certified (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) installers on each installation team.
  • The solar provider should carry high-quality equipment brands.
  • The company should charge reasonable prices and accept the payment option that suits you best.
  • The installer should offer good warranty protection, at least in line with the industry standard.
  • The company should have positive customer reviews online and hold a good rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

To help get you started, we’ll include a list of some of our most highly recommended PV panel installers that service Iowa. These companies all meet the above criteria and should provide a positive overall experience.

  • Energy Consultants GroupLocal installer
  • Purelight Power — Regional installer
  • ADT Solar — National installer
  • Atwood Energy Services — Local installer
  • GRNE Solar — Regional installer
  • All Energy Solar — Regional installer

What to Expect After Requesting a Quote

Shortly after you provide your information to a solar company, a sales representative should reach out to you to discuss next steps. They’ll request a copy of a recent electric bill, and they’ll set up a virtual or in-person consultation to talk about your system requirements and your energy costs and consumption habits.

If you choose a virtual consultation, your sales rep should also set up an in-person roof inspection. If the company insists that it can get all of the information required from satellite images, we recommend choosing a different company. An inspection is necessary to see the state of your roof to determine if it’s financially a good idea to install panels.

After the consultation and inspection, the design team will come up with a system that suits your home and is expected to offset your energy bills. Once that’s done, your rep should connect with you again to discuss the solar proposal. This is the formal solar quote, so it should contain all of the information below:

  • The cost of solar panels for your home before and after the federal tax credit and local tax incentives. This should include fees for inspections and permits.
  • The size of your solar project, how much energy it will generate and how much that will save you over time.
  • An estimate of how long your panels will take to pay themselves off.
  • Schematics for where all of your equipment will be mounted.
  • Information about your warranty coverage.
  • An estimated timeline for the installation.
  • Payment information.

Getting solar proposals can take a while, but we recommend getting to this step in the process with two or three providers. If companies know you’re shopping around, they might offer to price match or include add-on products at no charge to entice you to sign with them. Plus, comparing quotes lets you choose the one that provides the best value.

Consider Purchasing Solar Accessories

Many solar customers in Iowa choose add-on products to improve the value of their systems and their homes. When you’re reaching out for quotes from different installers, you might want to consider asking each of them to include the accessories you want to be installed. Below are some of the most common ones chosen in your area.

  • Electric vehicle (EV) chargers: EVs are rapidly gaining traction in Iowa, and while the state is adding public charging stations to keep up, the demand is quickly outpacing charging capabilities.6 Many customers opt to install EV chargers in their homes for more convenient and constant access to charging.
  • Solar batteries: Solar batteries are most popular in states that don’t have retail-rate NEM available. They’re popular in your area because they allow solar customers to lock in an inflow-outflow rate for 20 years, plus get access to effective retail-rate NEM. Battery storage solutions also maintain electricity for your home through power outages.
  • Energy efficiency upgrades: Iowa sees cold winters and hot summers, which can take a toll on energy bills if a home’s efficiency levels are maintained. Many solar companies in the area offer energy-efficient home improvements, including new windows, new doors, new insulation, new roofing, smart thermostat installation and more.

Step 3: Signing a Solar Contract in Iowa

Once you’ve chosen the proposal and company you’re comfortable with, you can sign the contract the representative sends to you. In the following sections, we’ll explain what to look for in your contract terms and what to expect after signing.

How Do Solar Warranties Work in Iowa?

One of the best ways to protect what will be a sizeable solar investment is to make sure your contract includes solid warranty coverage. Solar warranties come in three varieties, which we’ll explain briefly below:

  • Equipment warranties: Equipment warranties cover things like manufacturer defects that can cause issues with your system’s performance or longevity. These warranties usually last for 25 years.
  • Efficiency warranties: Efficiency warranties cover your panel’s production capabilities. The industry standard for this type of coverage guarantees no less than 80% of the original panel efficiency will remain after 20 years of performance.
  • Workmanship warranties: Workmanship warranties cover the labor involved in your system’s installation, so it protects you from mistakes made by the installation team. Most workmanship warranties last for ten years. Some of the best labor warranties include coverage for roof leaks, although most installers don’t offer this.

When Can I Expect Solar Service to Go Live?

After you sign your solar contract, you can expect to wait an average of three to six months for the installation and connection to the electric grid to be completed. The process can take longer due to unexpected delays, including:

  • Delays caused by your installer being backed up with other system installations.
  • Delays caused by your building department if it doesn’t approve permits right away.
  • Delays caused by your electric company if they cannot get an inspector out to check the connection to the grid quickly.

Iowa sees around an average amount of rainfall and snowfall, so the weather is of minimal concern. However, rain and snow can make rooftop solar system installation dangerous, so you might experience minor delays if the weather isn’t conducive to proceeding.

Solar Panel Permits in Iowa

Building and electrical permits in the Hawkeye State are governed by local municipalities, and all counties and cities require permits before panels can be installed.

The permitting process involves plan submission and applications for opening permits, but you don’t have to worry about this. Your installer will be the one to file for the permits and submit all necessary documentation. The only thing you’ll be responsible for is the cost of the permit application, which should be included in your proposal.

The permit fee varies based on where you live. For example, the City of Des Moines charges $75 for the electrical permit required for PV system installation.7 Cedar Rapids charges permit fees based on the cost of your system — a base fee plus a percentage of the cost over a certain amount. Given the average cost of a system in the area, the average permit fee is $264.8

The City of Davenport uses a similar model but charges a base fee of $15.9 The average permit cost here totals $254. Iowa City uses an online portal for convenience, but it doesn’t post permit cost information outside of that portal.10

In most cases, your solar permits in Iowa will cost between $50 and $200, although there are exceptions. If you’re unsure what your permits will cost, you can ask your installer, contact your building department or look at your proposal for fee information.

Solar & Utility Interconnection

Another important thing to apply for in the preparation phase of your solar conversion is interconnection. Interconnection is the policy that governs how your system and the grid interact with each other. It’s only through interconnection that net energy metering is possible, and all grid-tied systems must apply for interconnection.

Much like filing for permits, applying for interconnection should be done entirely by your solar installer, and you’ll just be responsible for covering any application fees. The process will be slightly different based on your power company.

For example, Alliant Energy uses PowerClerk, an online portal for submitting interconnection applications.11 There is a fee for applying, but it’s based on your system size. Black Hills Energy has an online portal that’s accessible only to solar installers.12 The fee for application totals $380.13

MidAmerican Energy Company charges $125 for the application fee, and the application can be printed out or completed online.14

The application fee can sometimes be substantial, and it might seem counterproductive to apply for interconnection and potentially add weeks or even months to your installation timeline.

However, since this program is necessary to access NEM, it’s well worth the money and the wait to enroll. Net energy metering is one of the most beneficial solar incentives in Iowa, and we strongly recommend you don’t miss out.

Step 4: What to Expect on Solar Panel Installation Day in Iowa

Once permits are filed and the preparation stage of your installation is completed, your installer will give you an exact date that your panels and other equipment will be installed.

Solar installation takes between four and eight hours in Iowa in most cases, so your installation team will be there from the morning through the afternoon. Most installers will be able to complete your installation in a day, but some work may carry over to the following day.

Most solar customers wonder, “do I need to be home for solar panel installation?” You absolutely should be. Your installers will need access to your home to connect your panels to your inverters and your breakers, so you should plan on having an adult home all day when your PV system is being installed.

Before connecting your panels to the grid, your power company will need to inspect them to make sure everything is installed properly. Some installers will schedule this inspection on the installation day to expedite the connection process. If that’s the case, you can expect your solar inspection to add about a half hour to your installation timeline.

Step 5: Final Inspection for Installed Solar Panels in Iowa

The permits that were opened up for installation will need to be closed out after your system is set up. Open permits can cause issues down the road when you go to sell your home, as they often interfere with buyers’ financing. Additionally, some municipalities will issue violations for permits that are left open. As such, this is a crucial part of the process.

All building departments in the state will require an inspection to be completed before they will close out the permits. Some inspectors will just do an exterior inspection, for which you don’t need to be home. This is often only the case with panel-only installations.

If you have interior components as well, like solar batteries or EV chargers, then your inspector will likely need to access the area where they’re installed. If that’s the case, your installer should coordinate the inspection, and you’ll need to be home to provide access. Inspections are free, but you might be charged for a re-inspection if you miss the first one.

Your building inspector will make sure that your system is installed properly, but after that point, you’ll be responsible for monitoring your system for proper functionality. Some panel manufacturers will offer free mobile apps for keeping track of your system performance. Tesla and SunPower are two such companies that offer free monitoring software.

Step 6: Permission to Operate (PTO) in Iowa

The last step before your panels are turned on and can start generating energy for your home is to get permission to operate (PTO) from your utility provider. PTO confirms that your system is set up properly so as not to cause any electrical issues.

PTO just requires an in-person inspection completed by a representative at your electric company. Your solar contractor should schedule this for you, and since it’s an exterior inspection only, you won’t need to be home to provide interior access.

Once PTO is granted, your installer can turn your system on or let you know how to do so on your own. You should also take this time to ask how to shut your system off in case of an emergency, and you can ask about solar monitoring apps if you don’t have access already.

The last piece of information you need is the emergency contact number for your electric company. In the case of an electrical fire or another major issue, you should dial 911 and then report the problem to your utility provider. We’ll list the contact numbers for some of the larger electric companies in the state below.

  • Alliant Energy: 1-800-255-4268
  • Black Hills Energy: 1-800-694-8989
  • MidAmerican Energy Company: 1-800-799-4443
  • ITC Midwest: 319-297-6700
  • NextEra Energy Resources: 561-694-4442

Step 7: Sit Back and Enjoy Your Solar Energy in Iowa

At this point, your clean energy system should be active, your energy savings should be accruing and your monthly electric bills should be significantly reduced, if not eliminated! You can also rest assured that your carbon footprint and emissions have been reduced, and you’re doing your part to promote the renewable energy movement.

We should also mention that going solar is expected to provide a return on investment whether you enjoy the energy savings yourself or sell your home. Solar conversion makes your property more valuable, so there is financial upside no matter what you do after installation.

FAQ: Solar Panels in Iowa

Below are some of the most common questions we see from Iowa homeowners about the solar conversion process, along with our responses.

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Article author
Dan Simms is an experienced writer with a passion for renewable energy. As a solar and EV advocate, much of his work has focused on the potential of solar power and deregulated energy, but he also writes on related topics, like real estate and economics. In his free time — when he's not checking his own home's solar production — he enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, skiing and rock climbing.
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Expert reviewer
Kristina Zagame is a journalist, editor and content writer with expertise in solar and other energy-related topics. Before joining EcoWatch, Kristina was a TV news reporter and producer, covering a wide variety of topics including West Coast wildfires and hurricane relief efforts. Kristina’s reporting has taken her all over the U.S., as well as to Puerto Rico and Chile.

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    • Relatively young company
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