7 Steps to Solar Panels in Virginia

Virginians may spend more than average on solar equipment, but the panels typically pay for themselves and then save an additional $21,692, on average.

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Solar adoption in Virginia is more popular than in most other states, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), and for good reason.1 Most Virginia residents find that solar conversion is worthwhile.

The average cost to go solar in the area is $30,250, but that number comes down significantly when local and federal solar incentives are applied.

The price of solar equipment is going to be relatively high no matter where you live, but Virginians typically save well more than their conversion costs, with net savings nearing $22,000. Not only are long-term energy savings above average, but the state has additional solar perks to make panels even more viable in the area.

In this article, we’ll explain the process of converting to renewable energy from start to finish. You can use the links below to jump to a specific topic if you need more targeted information.

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  • Most efficient panels on the market
  • National coverage
  • Cradle to Cradle sustainability certification
  • Great warranty coverage


  • Expensive
  • Customer service varies by local dealer
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Blue Raven Solar

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  • Industry-leading in-house financing
  • Competitive pricing
  • Excellent reputation


  • Doesn't offer solar batteries (coming 2022)
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  • Industry-leading warranty coverage
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  • Some reported communication issues
  • No leases or PPAs

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

solar panels virginia
Credit: fietzfotos / Pixabay

With Virginia solar panel costs totaling over $30,000 before incentives, you must make sure solar adoption is right for you and your home. We’ll explain what research you should do to assess your solar viability and how to move forward in the sections below.

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

Most Virginians will find that converting to renewable energy is worth it based on the electric savings their panels provide. However, solar isn’t equally as beneficial for all properties in the Old Dominion.

Your first step in assessing how valuable solar will be for you is to figure out how many panels your home needs to offset your energy consumption. The average system in the area is 11 kilowatts (kW), requiring around 28 panels on average. If your home needs significantly more, it could mean tree coverage or roof angle makes solar less beneficial for your particular property.

Consider the Weather

Next, you should look at local weather trends as they compare to state averages. Panels produce less in cloudy conditions, so sunnier areas will fare better for solar production and savings.

The state as a whole sees around 205 sunny days per year, right in line with the national average. Some areas see a bit less, so production and savings will be slightly lower. Still, most cities in the state — according to the Department of Energy’s sun exposure calculator — get enough sun to make solar a good option.

Consider Net Metering

Another important thing to consider is the net metering program available to you. Net energy metering (NEM) is a billing policy that credits you for all excess energy you generate and send to the grid. Your credits go toward paying down energy bills in the future, effectively reducing your electricity rates.

NEM is a great option no matter where you live, but it’s especially important in your state. Virginians use more electricity and have higher monthly utility bills than residents in most other states, so NEM provides above-average value in the area.2

The state’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) requires that all investor-owned utilities (IOUs) offer net energy metering to customers.3 Municipal electric companies and electric cooperatives are not required to offer NEM, so you should check with your power provider for information on what’s available to you.

Most VA residents are served by Dominion Energy (DE) and Appalachian Power. Dominion, for example, offers the full retail rate for net metering credits, which is ideal.4 Appalachian Power also offers the full retail value per kilowatt-hour (kWh).5

The table below provides a side-by-side comparison of some critical solar statistics in Virginia and the U.S. as a whole. The lifetime savings, in particular, should illustrate how beneficial solar adoption is in the Old Dominion.

Virginia State Average United States National Average
Solar Power System Size Required 11 kW 9 kW
Typical Cost Per Watt to Install Photovoltaic (PV) Equipment $2.75 $2.66
Average Total System Cost Before Federal Solar Income Tax Credit $30,250 $23,940
Average Federal Solar Tax Credit Value $9,075 $7,182
Average Total System Cost After Federal Credit $21,175 $16,758
Average Panel Payback Period 12 years 12 years
Average Lifetime Savings of Converting to Solar $21,692 $22,379

Research How to Finance Solar Panels

When you’ve confirmed that panels are a good fit for your property, you can start thinking about your upfront and long-term budget and decide which financing options work best for you.

Now is a good time to determine what size system you’ll need to offset your electricity bills. You can use the average price per watt in the area — $2.75 — and the system size estimated for your home using our solar calculator to get a roundabout cost for your equipment.

Keep in mind that this will likely be quite expensive, but it’s important to remember that your electric savings — one of the most substantial financial benefits of going solar — will likely outpace your costs over time.

Once you know about what your system will total, you can think about which solar payment method works for you. There are four primary options, which we’ll discuss below.

  • Cash payments: Paying in cash means you’re responsible for the entire cost upfront, which is not realistic for many homeowners. However, if you can swing a cash payment, you’ll see the greatest return on investment (ROI), the lowest all-in system total and the highest electric savings over time. Paying in cash also leads to panel ownership, so you’ll have access to the federal tax credit.
  • Solar equipment loans: Solar loans also lead to panel ownership over time, so they let you take the federal investment tax credit (ITC) as well. You’ll be on the hook for a much lower down payment — or sometimes none at all — but your long-term costs will be a bit higher because of interest.
  • Solar leases: A solar lease is a panel rental agreement where you pay a fixed monthly fee to rent PV equipment and see savings from the solar energy they generate. Leases don’t lead to panel ownership, so you can’t take the federal credit and won’t ever reach a panel payback period, where savings really start to accrue.
  • Power purchase agreements (PPAs): When you sign a PPA, you’re agreeing to let an installer put panels on your property, and in turn, you get to pay a reduced electricity rate for the energy they produce. You’ll never own your panels with this option, so you can’t take the ITC and won’t see the same savings you would with the other financing options. This type of financing is often confused as Free solar panels but be warned there are many more advantages to outright owning your own panels instead of going with a PPA.
  • Community solar is also a great option for those who aren’t ready to fully invest in panels on their own.

You can also consider options like community solar or clean energy plans if you find that none of the above financing opportunities work for you.

Step 2: Getting a Quote from a Solar Provider

When you’ve assessed your property’s solar viability and are confident that conversion is a good financial move for you, you can start getting solar estimates from installers near you. We’ll detail what this process looks like and some tips for finding the best installer for your needs below.

Picking a Solar Installer

Choosing a solar installer seems like a simple process to most aspiring solar customers, but it can be quite complicated. There are around 60 installers available throughout Virginia, so researching every one to find the best is time-consuming and unrealistic for most people.6

To help you narrow down your options, we recommend prioritizing companies that meet the following criteria:

  • Your installer should have at least five years of experience in the solar industry, and ten is preferred.
  • Your installation company should have NABCEP-certified (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) installers on its team.
  • The company should provide good warranty coverage — we’ll include more information on what this means later.
  • The installer should have high-quality equipment brands available, reasonable pricing and access to your preferred payment method.
  • The company should have generally positive customer reviews and a good score with the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

We encourage you to do some of your own research as well, but below are some of the best solar installers in VA based on the criteria above:

  • Nova Solar — Local Installer
  • Virtue Solar — Local Installer
  • SunPower — National Installer
  • Blue Raven Solar — National Installer
  • ADT Solar — National Installer

You can get more information on these companies and how to decide which is right for you by reading our guide to choosing a solar panel system installation company in VA.

What to Expect After Requesting a Quote

Within 24 hours of providing your contact information to a solar installation company, a sales representative should reach out to get some basic information and schedule a consultation. You’ll be asked to provide a recent electric bill for your home, as well as some personal information.

Your consultation can usually be done virtually or in person, but in either case, your installer should send someone to your home for a visual inspection and to take roof measurements.

Once those are done, the design team will take over your solar project and come up with a system design to suit your property. Finally, your sales rep will send you a solar proposal and should call you to discuss the specifics.

Solar proposals include a bunch of information, including the following:

  • The size of your system and how much electricity it’s expected to produce monthly and annually.
  • The price of your system before and after the ITC and local incentives and solar rebates.
  • Detailed schematics for how each piece of equipment will be installed on your home.
  • An estimated payoff period and lifetime savings.
  • Solar warranty information.
  • Specifics about your payment option and when funds are due.
  • Inspection and/or permit fees that you might be responsible for.

Getting to the point where your provider sends you a proposal is time-consuming, but we still recommend going through the process with a few different installers. Getting multiple quotes means you can compare and find the best value for the money, potentially saving you on labor, equipment or both.

Some installers may also offer to price match and reduce their rates, which you wouldn’t have access to if you only got one estimate.

Consider Purchasing Solar Accessories

When you’re reaching out for solar quotes, you should discuss any add-on products you’d like included with your panels. All systems have inverters — or microinverters — and panels, but you might also want solar batteries or other add-ons. We’ll discuss some of the more popular add-on options in your state below and why each is helpful to consider.

  • Electric vehicle (EV) chargers: EVs are increasingly popular in Virginia, but they’re about to become even more prevalent. Since the state’s policy on emissions is linked to California’s, gas-powered cars will not be permitted to be sold in Virginia starting in 2035.7 That means EV chargers for at-home charging will be in very high demand in the near future.
  • Solar batteries: Solar batteries let you maintain power in the event of an outage, but, more importantly, they give you access to effective net metering. Since only IOUs are mandated to provide access to NEM in the state, many solar customers opt for batteries to maximize their solar savings.
  • Solar carports: Solar carports provide additional space to place rooftop solar panels. They’re helpful in Virginia because the solar array size required is well above average, and some homes cannot safely support or fit the required number of panels.
  • Energy efficiency upgrades: Virginians pay higher energy bills than most U.S. residents, so many have an eye toward eco-friendly practices and energy efficiency in their homes. Some PV installation companies in the state offer energy-efficient home improvements alongside panel and battery installations.

Step 3: Signing a Solar Contract in Virginia

Virginia solar panelsYour next step in the process will be to choose one of the providers you’ve researched and sign the contract for service. We’ll explain some of the more crucial things to look for in the contract in the following sections to make sure you get favorable terms.

How Do Solar Warranties Work in Virginia?

The warranty coverage detailed in your solar contract is one of the most crucial parts of the agreement to read through. There are three main types of warranties you might see in your contract, and all of them can help protect your home and your system from damage. We’ll explain the different solar warranties below.

  • Equipment warranties: Equipment warranties come standard with most solar panel brands, and they protect you from damage caused by manufacturer defects in the equipment. Most equipment warranties last for 25 years.
  • Workmanship warranties: Workmanship warranties typically protect you from issues that stem from poor installation labor, excluding roof leaks. Some of the best labor warranties do cover roof leaks, although this is uncommon. Typical workmanship warranties last for around ten years.
  • Efficiency warranties: Efficiency warranties ensure that your panels don’t dip below a specific percentage of efficiency over the warranty term. The industry standard efficiency warranty is a maximum of 20% degradation over a period of 20 years.

When Can I Expect Solar Service to Go Live?

The time between signing your contract and officially activating your Virginia solar panels is usually around three to six months. The exact time frame depends on quite a few things, including the following:

  • How backed up your installer is with other solar projects.
  • How long it takes for your building department to receive and approve solar permits.
  • How long it takes your power company to inspect your system to approve interconnection.
  • How long the equipment takes to get delivered, especially considering the back-order status of popular add-ons like Tesla Powerwalls.

Solar Panel Permits in Virginia

Every municipality in Virginia requires building permits to be filed before major construction or electrical work can legally begin, so you’ll need permits for your solar array as a first step. You will be responsible for any fees incurred for permit filing, but your installation company will handle filing for the permits for you. The fees should be included in your solar proposal.

If you do owe fees for the permitting process, the amount will depend on your location. For example, the City of Chesapeake charges the base fee of $50 for the electrical permit required for solar adoption.8 The City of Norfolk also charges $50 for a solar electrical permit.9

Richmond’s fee is slightly higher at $63, plus $6.07 for every $1,000 in construction costs. Given the average system cost, you’re looking at around $234 for permits.10

In general, you can expect to pay between $50 and $250 for your solar permit in VA. The information should be included in your proposal, and you can also contact your local building department for a fee schedule.

Solar & Utility Interconnection

In addition to the permit application, your solar installation company should also apply for interconnection for you. Interconnection is required to enjoy grid connection with your solar system and net energy metering. Each utility company in Virginia has a slightly different process for interconnection applications.

For example, Dominion Energy accepts paper and online interconnection applications.11 Virtually all residential customers will fall into Dominion’s Level I application, which doesn’t have any application charges. Appalachian Power also accepts online and paper applications and has no application fee.12

Applying for interconnection, waiting for approval and then waiting for the final inspection will extend your installation timeline a bit, but it’s absolutely worthwhile. Interconnection is required in order to get access to NEM, so it might take a bit of extra time, but it will end up saving you more in the long run in most cases.

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

Once permits are all squared away, your installer will get your installation on the calendar. Solar installations take between five and ten hours in Virginia, on average, due to the above-average system size.

Most solar customers wonder, “do I need to be home for solar panel installation?” You should plan to have an adult home during the entire installation process. Your installation team will need access to your home throughout the day, and you might need to answer questions throughout the process.

Your installer might schedule the inspection with your utility company on the installation day, pending availability. Solar inspections take an additional 30 minutes in most cases, so this can extend your installation timeline a bit.

Step 5: Final Inspection for Installed Solar Panels in Virginia

After the installation is completed, your solar company should reach out to the building inspector to schedule the final building inspection. They may also act as an intermediary to help you schedule it, as you might need to be home for the inspection.

Some building inspectors will be willing to complete a drive-by inspection, while others might need access to your home. If you have batteries installed, your inspector will likely need to meet you to gain access to confirm the work was completed in accordance with the fire code.

You won’t need to pay anything for your inspection unless you miss the appointment. If you do, you may be subject to a re-inspection fee, depending on your municipality.

After the inspection is done, your permits will be closed out. This is an important step, even though it seems unnecessary. Open permits can lead to violations from the building department and can cause issues if you ever go to sell your home.

Post-inspection, you’ll be responsible for monitoring your system. You can watch production and NEM credits to gauge how well your panels are performing, or you can check the solar monitoring app your installer included with your panels. Companies like SunPower and Tesla offer monitoring apps for convenience, but not all manufacturers do.

Step 6: Permission to Operate (PTO) in Virginia

The last step is to get the final inspection completed by your utility company if this wasn’t already done on the installation day. Your power provider will need to run diagnostics on your system to ensure the connection to the electric grid was made properly. Once you pass the inspection, you’ll be granted permission to operate (PTO).

PTO confirms that your panels can operate as intended, so your installer should activate your system at this point. If they haven’t already, ask your installation technicians where the emergency shut-off switch is for your panels. You can also ask about solar monitoring apps or software.

After your installer leaves, it’s crucial that you have emergency contact numbers in the case of an electrical fire or other major issues. First, dial 911 in the case of an emergency, and then alert your electric company via its emergency number. We’ll list emergency contact numbers for some of the larger power providers in Virginia below.

  • Dominion Energy: 1-866-366-4357
  • Appalachian Energy: 1-866-261-5525

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

Now that all of the hard work is done, you can relax and enjoy the many benefits your clean energy system has to offer. You should start seeing energy savings on all of your monthly electric bills, and you can take pride in knowing that you’re doing your part by limiting your carbon footprint and contribution to pollution and CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels.

You should also be aware that converting to solar boosts your home value by an estimated 4.1%.13 That means that you’ll still see financial benefits and an ROI if you sell your home after solar conversion.

Find a Local Installer in Virginia

The installation company you choose to install your panels, inverters and batteries will play a significant role in your overall experience with converting to solar. The customer service and warranty coverage you receive will also be primarily determined by your solar installer.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the Old Dominion is home to over 70 solar providers.14 Since choosing the best one for your purposes can be a time-consuming decision, we’ll include some links below to rankings of the best solar companies in major cities across VA.

Sun setting over Alexandria, VA
Credit: WikiMedia

Best Solar Installers in Arlington

View of Chesapeake Bay in VA
Credit: WikiMedia

Best Solar Installers in Chesapeake

Photo of downtown Danville
Credit: WikiMedia

Best Solar Installers in Danville

View of the skyline in Norfolk, VA
Credit: WikiMedia

Best Solar Installers in Norfolk

Nansemond River in Suffolk, VA
Credit: WikiMedia

Best Solar Installers in Suffolk

Street view from Charlottesville, Virginia
Credit: Kipp Teague / Flickr

Best Solar Installers in Charlottesville

Street view from Fredericksburg, VA
Credit: WikiMedia

Best Solar Installers in Fredericksburg

Skyline of downtown Newport News
Credit: WikiMedia

Best Solar Installers in Newport News

Skyline of Portsmouth from the water
Credit: WikiMedia

Best Solar Installers in Portsmouth

Stunning view of beautiful Virginia Beach
Credit: WikiMedia

Best Solar Installers in Virginia Beach

If you don’t see your city represented above, or you’re looking for general installer recommendations in VA, you can check out our article on the best solar companies in Virginia.

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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
Karsten is an editor and energy specialist focused on environmental, social and cultural development. His work has been shared by sources including NPR, the World Economic Forum, Marketwatch and the SEIA, and he is certified in ESG with the CFA Institute. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the solar energy sector, studying energy policy, climate tech and environmental education. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.

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    • Cradle to Cradle sustainability certification
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