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

Most Pennsylvania solar customers see energy savings that pay off their system in just ten years — faster than the national average — and then save an additional $23,634 on average.

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The SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association) ranks Pennsylvania 24th in the country for solar adoption, but the relatively slow adoption rate doesn’t paint the full picture of solar viability.1 Residents in the Keystone State have a lot going for them when it comes to how valuable solar is in the area.

Most homeowners in the area use below-average amounts of electricity each month, which means the typical system size is below average, as is the price. The average cost of solar panels in PA is $21,675 before any federal or local solar incentives or solar rebate programs, as compared to the U.S. average of nearly $24,000. The financial incentive programs are also great and help boost the value of Pennsylvania solar systems.

In this guide, we’ll be walking you through the process of going solar, from the initial research phase through installation and beyond. You can use the links below to jump to a particular section for specific 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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Paradise Energy Solutions

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  • Great warranty coverage
  • No leases or PPAs
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  • No leases or PPAs
  • Relatively short workmanship warranty

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

Power outages are common in PA due to inclement weather
Credit: ehmitrich / Unsplash

Although solar equipment has gotten much more affordable in the past decade, the cost to convert to this renewable energy source in Pennsylvania is still quite high. In the following sections, we’ll discuss some important things to consider to determine if solar is a good fit for you.

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

Solar is a great investment for most Pennsylvanians, but it’s not right for everyone. We encourage you to do your research to make sure it’s a valuable investment for you and your home in particular.

You can start by getting an estimate of how many photovoltaic (PV) panels you need to power your home. You can use our solar calculator for an initial estimate. If your recommended system size is significantly larger than the state average — 8.5 kilowatts (kW) — that could indicate that there is some factor at play that detracts from your solar viability.

You might need to consider tree coverage and local weather conditions, as panels don’t generate as much power in the shade or cloudy conditions. The state as a whole sees just 179 sunny days per year, which is well below the U.S. average.2 If your city sees even less, then your system will provide a bit less energy savings for you.

Consider Net Metering

Another important consideration is whether net metering is available to you — also called net energy metering or NEM. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) does require that all investor-owned utilities (IOUs) in Pennsylvania offer net energy metering. However, it’s not mandated for municipal electric companies or electric cooperatives.

Plus, the PUC doesn’t set a specific energy credit rate. The best-case scenario would be the full retail value per kilowatt-hour (kWh), but most providers statewide don’t provide this. Instead, they use a less beneficial avoided-cost rate, which provides a credit of lower value per kWh. Your panels will bring you the most value if you have access to full-retail-rate NEM.

Just as an example, Duquesne Light Company is required to offer NEM, but it goes above and beyond by offering the full retail rate for credits.3 FirstEnergy (Penn Power) uses a below-average rate that sits between the retail and wholesale rates. As of this writing, it was 10.44 cents per kWh, compared to the retail rate of over 13 cents per kWh.4

Pennsylvania Electric Company (PECO) uses a “price-to-compare” rate for NEM credits, which is the wholesale rate.5

The closer your net metering credit rate is to the full retail electricity rate, the more value you’ll see out of your panels. As such, it’s crucial to find out what your solar power provider offers before going solar.

The table below includes some solar cost and savings statistics for your state and the U.S. as a whole. These numbers suggest that Pennsylvania residents will see more value and financial benefit from solar conversion than most other states.

Pennsylvania State Average United States National Average
Solar Power System Size Required 8.5 kW 9 kW
Typical Cost Per Watt to Install Photovoltaic (PV) Equipment $2.55 $2.66
Average Total System Cost Before Federal Solar Income Tax Credit $21,675 $23,940
Average Federal Solar Tax Credit Value $6,503 $7,182
Average Total System Cost After Federal Credit $15,173 $16,758
Average Panel Payback Period 10 years 12 years
Average Lifetime Savings of Converting to Solar $23,634 $22,379

Research How to Finance Solar Panels

After you’ve done some preliminary research and have decided that solar is a good fit for your home, you can start figuring out which payment option works best for you.

Your first step, if you haven’t done it already, should be to use our solar calculator to figure out what size system you need for your home. You can then multiply the number of watts by $2.55, the average per-watt cost for solar in PA. That should give you a good idea of what your total system price will be.

Once you know the cost, you can assess whether or not a cash payment or another option works best for you.

Two things to consider when thinking about the payment options are how quickly your panels will pay for themselves and your long-term energy savings, the latter of which is one of the biggest benefits of solar. The shorter the payback period, the higher your savings will be over time.

We’ll include some brief information about the four options for paying for solar below to help you decide which is right for you.

  • Cash payment: Paying in cash means you’re responsible for the full cost of the equipment upfront, which is a hefty financial burden. However, cash purchases lead to the lowest long-term installation cost, and they lead to immediate panel ownership. As such, they have the highest energy savings overall and let you take the federal investment tax credit (ITC).
  • Solar loan: Taking this financing option means you pay a small down payment — sometimes none at all — and pay the rest of the installation costs over time in monthly installments. The interest will bump up your total cost over time and reduce your savings, but the solar loan option is generally more accessible. Loans also let you take the ITC.
  • Solar lease: With a solar lease, you pay no money upfront and then pay a fixed rental fee for your PV equipment every month. Over the lease term, you get to use all of the power your panels produce to save on your electric bill. Leases are highly accessible with no down payment and minimal credit requirements, but they save you much less over time than cash and loans and don’t let you take the federal tax credit.
  • Power purchase agreement (PPA): In a PPA arrangement, your panels get installed at no cost, and then you agree to buy the energy they generate at a cost that’s lower than what you’d pay to your power company. This payment option yields the fewest savings over time and doesn’t let you take the federal credit, but it’s accessible to most homeowners.

Step 2: Getting a Quote from a Solar Provider

Your next step in the process will be to start getting quotes from solar companies. We’ll explain what to look for in an installer and in your solar quote in the following sections.

Picking a Solar Installer

Choosing a company to install your rooftop solar energy system can be a bit intimidating. Not only are you entrusting the installer with your money and your home, but there are nearly 200 companies to choose from in Pennsylvania.6 We strongly recommend doing some research on any provider you’re considering and choosing one that meets the following criteria:

  • The company should have a minimum of five years of experience in the solar industry.
  • The installer should offer robust warranty coverage, ideally for equipment, panel efficiency and workmanship.
  • The company should have NABCEP-certified (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) installers on its installation team.
  • The company should offer high-quality equipment brands at reasonable prices.
  • The installer should accept the payment option that suits you best.
  • The company should have a track record of good customer service, good customer reviews and a good rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Below is a list of some of our most recommended solar companies in Pennsylvania. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list, and we do recommend doing your own research as well to find a company that suits you perfectly.

  • Yellowlite — Regional Coverage
  • Paradise Energy Solutions — Regional Coverage
  • SunPower — National Coverage
  • Solar SME — Regional Coverage
  • Public Service Solar — Regional Coverage

What to Expect After Requesting a Quote

Shortly after you provide your contact information to a solar company, a sales representative should reach out to you to get some more information. They will likely ask for a recent electric bill and then set up a consultation. The consultation can usually be done in person or virtually.

During the meeting, your rep will ask for some information about the appliances and systems in your home that use electricity. If the inspection is done in person, they should take roof measurements. If it’s virtual, they’ll set up another time to come out to take measurements and inspect your roof.

After the initial meetings and inspections are completed, your solar project will be sent to the design team, where your system will be designed. Finally, your sales rep will send you a formal proposal and should set up a call to discuss the information on the quote.

There are a handful of things you should look for in your solar quote that can help you determine your home’s solar viability and the long-term savings. Below are some of the more important things to look for and understand about your proposal:

  • Your solar panel costs before and after incentives and rebates.
  • The size of your solar array, how much energy it will generate and how that will impact your long-term solar savings.
  • How many panels your home needs and where all of the equipment will be installed.
  • Your warranty coverage information.
  • Information about when payments are due.
  • An estimation of how long your panels will take to pay for themselves.
  • Any additional fees you should expect throughout the installation process, including those for permits and inspections.

It takes some time to get to this stage of the process, but we strongly recommend you get at least two or three proposals from different installers. Comparing quality is always a good option to have, but some companies will also price match or offer discounts or add-on products to help secure your business.

Consider Purchasing Solar Accessories

While you’re reaching out to installers to get solar quotes, you should be asking each to include any add-on products you want to be installed. Add-ons certainly aren’t necessary, but they can help make your system more valuable and can maximize your savings over time as well.

We’ll include a quick breakdown of some of the more popular solar accessories in Pennsylvania below.

  • Solar batteries: Battery storage allows you to store excess energy you produce for later use. These can maintain power throughout blackouts. More importantly, they can also provide effective net metering — which is crucial in PA, where NEM isn’t mandated for all electric companies — and no specific credit rate is set.
  • Electric vehicle (EV) chargers: EVs are becoming wildly popular in Pennsylvania, with EV purchases doubling in the state between 2020 and 2022.7 At-home EV chargers are a convenient way to charge your car at home and can provide additional savings.
  • Energy efficiency home improvements: Pennsylvania is a relatively green state, so many solar installers in the area couple panel installations with energy efficiency upgrades. These include smart thermostats, new windows, roofs and doors, solar water heaters and more.

Step 3: Signing a Solar Contract in Pennsylvania

Frequently cloudy weather in PA limits solar production
Credit: Zbynek Burival / Unsplash

Once you’ve found an installer you like and are comfortable with the terms in your proposal, you can move forward with signing the contract. We’ll include some information in the following sections about what to look for in your contract to make sure you get favorable terms.

How Do Solar Warranties Work in Pennsylvania?

One of the first things we suggest looking for in your contract is the warranty coverage included with your system. Solar warranties come in three varieties, which we’ll explain briefly below.

  • Equipment warranties: Equipment warranties last for an average of 25 years, and they protect you from equipment defects that arise from the manufacturing process.
  • Panel efficiency warranties: The average efficiency warranty lasts for 20 years, though some can last up to 25. These guarantee that your panels retain a certain percentage of their original production efficiency. The typical percentage guaranteed to remain after 20 years is 80%.
  • Workmanship warranties: Workmanship warranties last for an average of 10 years and cover most aspects of the installation process. They often don’t cover roof leaks, but some of the best ones do.

When Can I Expect Solar Service to Go Live?

From the day you sign your contract, you can expect to wait between three and six months for your panels to be installed and activated. Things like permitting timelines, delays caused by how busy your installer is and back-ordered products can all lead to a longer installation timeline.

Inspections can also cause severe delays. We’ll discuss the two types of inspections you need post-installation later on.

Solar Panel Permits in Pennsylvania

Solar permits are required in PA no matter where you live, and the permitting process and requirements are governed by your municipality. Most require an application to be filed and a permit fee to be paid before permits will be issued. Once your permits are approved, the installation can be completed, and final inspections can be done to close out the permits.

You should never have to file for permits yourself, as your solar contractor should handle that process. However, you will need to pay the permit filing fee, which depends on where you live. Your contract should include the permit fee information, but you can also ask your installer what the fee will be and if it’s included in your estimate.

In most cases, your fee will fall between $75 and $600. For example, Philadelphia charges a fee of $25 per $1,000 of installation cost.8 Given the average solar array cost in the area, that’s a permit fee of $550. Based on Pittsburgh’s permit fee calculator, the average cost for an electrical permit for going solar would come out to approximately $144.

The City of Allentown uses a similar permit fee schedule to Philly, charging $20 per $1,000 worth of work.9 That comes out to an average total cost of $440.

Solar & Utility Interconnection

In addition to filing for permits, your installer should handle the application for interconnection with your utility company. Interconnection is a solar policy that allows your system to be grid-tied, which gives you access to backup power from the electric grid and net energy metering.

Electric companies can all have slightly different application processes, but they usually involve your installer filing an application and then scheduling an inspection to confirm that the connection was made safely.

For example, Duquesne Light Company has a convenient online application for interconnection. Your installer should fill out the form for you, but you’ll have to pay the application fee. The fee is $100 for systems under 10kW, which will be the case for most residents.10

FirstEnergy also has an online application for convenience, but it doesn’t charge any fee for filing for interconnection.11 PECO uses a printable application and doesn’t charge anything for filing.12

The process of filing for interconnection, waiting for your inspection and then waiting for approval to connect to the grid can cause delays in your installation. However, it’s well worth the wait — and any application fee — as interconnection gives you access to net metering, which is massively beneficial in the Keystone State.

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

After all of your permits are in order, your solar company will schedule you for the installation. On that day, your installation crew will arrive in the morning and should finish up all of the work that day. Solar installations take between 5 and 10 hours, on average.

One of the most common questions we see about the actual installation day is, “do I need to be home for solar panel installation?” Yes, you should have at least one adult home on the day of installation, as the team will need access to your home sporadically throughout the installation process.

Some installers will expedite the process of getting your home connected to the grid by scheduling the final inspection with your utility provider on the installation day. Solar inspections take about a half hour, so they can extend your installation timeline a bit if they’re scheduled for the same day.

Step 5: Final Inspection for Installed Solar Panels in Pennsylvania

After your solar array is installed and connected to the grid, there’s one final inspection you’ll need done by your building department. This inspection is required in order to close out your permits. Open permits can lead to violations and monetary assessments, and they can cause issues with the resale of your home, so it’s important to get all permits closed out quickly.

Some building inspectors will be willing to do an exterior inspection if you only have panels and inverters installed, as your electric company will have made sure the connection to the grid was made safely. Others will require interior access, and most will need to get inside if you have add-on products like solar batteries installed in your home.

Your building inspection shouldn’t come with any fee. However, if your installer schedules the inspection for you and you miss it, you might be charged for a re-inspection.

Depending on the brand of panels you had installed, you might have access to a solar monitoring app. You can use that to keep track of production and make sure your system is working properly.

Step 6: Permission to Operate (PTO) in Pennsylvania

Your last step before you can officially activate your system is to get permission to operate (PTO) from your utility provider. PTO confirms that your system was connected to the grid properly, and it means your panels can be turned on safely.

Before this is granted, a representative from the company will need to do an inspection of your system and the connection. In many cases, your installer will schedule this inspection on the installation day, so there will be no delay in getting your system activated. Some installers will wait to schedule this after the installation is done.

In either case, once you get PTO, your solar technician can show you how to turn your system on and off in case of an emergency. If the tech hasn’t discussed a monitoring app with you yet, you can ask them at this point if one is available.

The last thing you need to know is what to do in case of an emergency, like an electrical fire. You should dial 911 and then call your electricity provider’s emergency number to report the issue. We’ll list the emergency numbers for the larger providers in your state below:

  • Duquesne Light Company: 412-393-7000
  • FirstEnergy: 1-888-544-4877
  • PECO: 1-800-841-4141

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

Finally, you can take pride in knowing that your solar installation is complete! Your system should start generating power for your home and should be offsetting your utility bills. That means your savings will start to accrue and pay off your system, not to mention your carbon footprint and emissions will be significantly reduced.

You’ll see the greatest return on investment (ROI) by using your panels to offset your energy bills over time, but you should also see a return if you sell your home. Solar panel systems make your home more valuable, so whether you live in your home after installation or not, you should see a financial upside.

FAQ: Solar Panels in Pennsylvania

Below, we’ll answer some of the questions we see most often from Pennsylvanians looking to convert to clean energy.

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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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