Is Solar Worth It in Wisconsin? (2022 Homeowner's Guide)
Here’s a quick overview of solar viability in Wisconsin:
- Wisconsin ranks 24th in the country for solar installations*
- The average cost of electricity is 14.32 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh)**
- The average solar payback period is 11 years***
- Homeowners are eligible for a decent net metering program and the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC)
- The average homeowner saves $21,005 over the lifetime of their solar system***
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Wisconsin ranks 24th in the country in terms of solar adoption. Coupled with the fact that residents use far less electricity than the national average, homeowners in the Badger State often wonder if solar is worth it. For most Wisconsin residents, it will be, but it’s not right for everyone, and it isn’t guaranteed to save every homeowner money.
Below, we’ll discuss some of the key factors in determining whether or not solar would be a good investment for your home. We’ll also explain some of the most appealing benefits of converting to solar and some things you should consider as you move toward installing solar panels on your home.
How to Figure Out if Solar Panels are Worth It in Wisconsin
Solar conversion on the right house in Wisconsin will pay for itself and then save tens of thousands of dollars on energy costs, but it can end up costing money in some cases. Below are the metrics to determine if solar will save you money or cost you in the long run.
What’s Your Home Electricity Consumption?
The first step to determining your solar viability is to check your average monthly energy consumption. Most homeowners will be able to find this information in the billing history section on their past electric bills. Generally speaking, solar panels are expected to be cost-effective from a consumption standpoint for homes that use more than 500 kWh per month. Below this threshold means your consumption rate might not yield enough savings for solar to be worth it.
The average Wisconsin homeowner uses around 694 kWh monthly, which means solar will be a good investment for most homeowners in the area. The state’s energy needs are lower than the national average, however, meaning solar will give you the opportunity to save less than residents in most other states.
How Much Is It To Go Solar in Wisconsin?
The average price of solar panels in Wisconsin is around $2.60 per watt. With homeowners usually needing a system size of 7 kilowatts, the average total installation price is approximately $13,468 after the federal tax credit. The per-watt price and the system size requirement are both lower than the national averages, meaning you’ll spend far less than most US residents would on solar in Wisconsin, and your money will go further.
Solar provides the most value in areas where energy consumption or electricity rates are high. The energy needs in Wisconsin are below average, and the price per watt for power is above average. As such, solar provides around the average level of value in the Badger State.
What’s the Payback Period for Solar in Wisconsin?
One massive benefit of going solar is that the system almost always provides enough energy savings to pay for itself. The time it takes for this payoff to occur is called the solar panel payback period. This metric takes several other factors into consideration — including sun exposure on your roof, your system size and cost and your monthly energy usage — making it one of the best metrics you can use for solar viability.
The average payback period in Wisconsin is around 11 years, with a standard range of 8 to 14 years. This is below the national average, meaning solar will yield more savings in Wisconsin than in most other states. The longer your payback period is, the lower your return on investment (ROI) will be. If your estimated timeline is longer than 14 years, solar might not be right for you, depending on your financial situation.
What Are Average Buy-Back Rates in Wisconsin?
Many states require electric companies to offer net metering, which is a billing policy that lets solar customers produce more energy than they use with their panels and sell the excess back for a credit on their energy bills. Net metering helps customers pay off their solar panel system more quickly and save more in the long run.
Wisconsin does mandate net metering programs, but the state doesn’t require that the energy companies buy back the electricity at the retail rate. As such, most will use an avoided-cost rate, which is less than what you’d pay for energy from the electric grid. This is still quite helpful, but customers will need to consider installing a solar battery along with their panels if they want the opportunity to eliminate their electric bills.
How Much Sun Does Your Roof Receive?
Solar panels will only save you money if they receive enough sunlight throughout the day to produce energy for your home. The more sun your panels absorb, the more electricity charges you’ll offset and the more you’ll save. Wisconsin as a whole experiences around 188 sunny days per year, which is below the national average of 205. From a sunlight availability perspective, Wisconsin is a bit below average in solar viability.
Of course, you need to assess your home on an individual basis, as not all homes in the state will receive the same amount of sun. For example, you should look for shading on your roof from trees and buildings, especially during peak production hours. Shading will reduce power generation and your solar panels’ value. You will also need to check the direction your roof faces, as south-facing and west-facing roofs are usually the only viable options in the US.
What’s the Outlook on Solar in Wisconsin?
Solar is generally well accepted in Wisconsin, although it currently takes a backseat to the state’s most prevalent renewable energy source: biomass. The majority of Wisconsin’s energy still comes from fossil fuels, including natural gas and coal.3 However, the solar policies in Wisconsin are decent, with some room for improvement, so it’s clear the state as a whole is taking some interest in solar as a clean energy source.
Residential solar installations have increased year over year in Wisconsin for the past decade, and the local solar industry is projected by the SEIA to see better growth than most other states over the next five years. Utility-scale solar has also skyrocketed in the past two years, so a more serious move to solar could mean that it overtakes biomass in terms of energy production in the state.
Benefits of Solar Energy in Wisconsin
Going solar in Wisconsin means you’ll gain access to numerous benefits that make converting more appealing overall. Below, we’ll discuss some of the most significant upsides to going solar in Wisconsin.
Electricity Bill Savings
For homeowners looking for financial incentives, the savings solar panels provide on monthly energy bills will be the most appealing solar benefit. Solar produces electricity for your home, which reduces the amount you have to pull from the grid and pay for. The average Wisconsinite pays around $99.42 for electricity per month, meaning you could save about $1,193 every year by going solar.
Wisconsin solar panels are expected to pay for themselves in around 11 years. For the remaining 14 years of expected system life, your solar array will save you an average of $21,005, and that’s not including the savings that go toward paying off your system! These numbers are based on current energy costs, so your actual savings could be higher if electricity rates continue to climb.
Lower Taxes & Access to Other Incentives
Solar power is incentivized by both the State of Wisconsin and the federal government, so there are some tax incentives and other upsides to converting. Most important is the federal solar tax credit, also called the ITC. This is a tax credit in the amount of 26% of your total installation costs that gets credited to your federal income taxes. The ITC averages around $4,732 in Wisconsin.
There are some additional Wisconsin solar incentives available, which we’ll list and explain briefly below:
- Net Metering: Net metering is mandated in Wisconsin and lets you offset your costs for incoming electricity using overproduction from your panels. Wisconsin’s net metering rates vary, and most are below the retail rate.
- Sales Tax Exemption: In an effort to keep installation costs down, Wisconsin waives sales tax on all solar equipment and installation charges.
- Property Tax Exemption: Solar panels will improve your property value, which would, under normal circumstances, cause your property taxes to increase. To prevent this from keeping residents from installing solar power systems, Wisconsin has a property tax exemption that stops your taxes from increasing as a result of going solar.
- Focus on Energy Program: Many Wisconsin homeowners will also be eligible for this solar rebate program, which provides solar customers with up to $500 for converting to solar.
Home Resale Value Increase
Another massive benefit of going solar in Wisconsin is the bump in home value you’ll experience. According to research conducted by Zillow, the average home will increase by around 4.1% in value when a solar energy system is added.4 Given the average home value of $254,680 in Wisconsin, this comes out to a typical value jump of approximately $10,442.5 The added value could be even higher if you live in a more expensive area, like Madison or Milwaukee.
This benefit will only be enjoyed by solar customers who choose solar financing options or pay for their systems with cash. A substantial downside to solar leases and power purchase agreements is that they don’t provide an increase in home value.
Clean, Renewable Energy
Wisconsin is a relatively eco-friendly state, so many homeowners will also be drawn to solar for non-financial benefits. For example, converting to solar panels lets you reduce your reliance on fossil fuels, which, in turn, minimizes your contribution to pollution and global warming and reduces your carbon footprint. Solar panels also make you more energy independent, meaning you can avoid relying on your utility company and the price hikes in electricity costs that are expected in the future.
What to Look Out For When Considering Solar in Wisconsin
Determining your solar viability is a great first step to take in your solar journey, but there are many other things you’ll have to think about and decide on before having your panels installed. Below, we’ll discuss some additional considerations you’ll need to make along the way.
The upfront cost of solar panels is prohibitively expensive for many homeowners, even in Wisconsin, where the prices are well below the national average. Luckily, there are some things you can do to keep your initial payments to a minimum. Most importantly, you can choose a solar loan that only requires a small down payment or none at all. You can also reduce equipment costs by choosing a cheap solar panel brand and avoiding add-on products like solar batteries and EV chargers.
As mentioned above, your solar panel payback period is a crucial metric for deciding if solar panels are right for you, but you can also use it to determine your expected ROI. With the average payback period of 11 years in Wisconsin and a normal range of 8 to 14 years, you can see where your ROI falls as compared to other homeowners in your area. If yours is longer than 14 years but under 25, you’ll still save money, but your overall savings will be lower than average.
Net Metering Policies in Wisconsin
Wisconsin mandates net metering from all electric companies, so every solar customer will have access to the program. However, the rate at which you’re compensated for excess energy production and other program specifics can vary among electricity providers. The policy you have usually won’t make or break solar viability, but you should check with your provider before committing. Less favorable net metering programs often require customers to pay more to install a solar battery if they want to eliminate their utility bills.
Pending Policies & Changes to Incentives
The solar industry is still expanding and improving, so changes to policies and incentives could happen at any time. Things may improve — like new solar rebate programs popping up or incentives becoming more beneficial — or change for the worse — in the case of solar incentive programs disappearing or expiring. While it’s not wise to wait for better incentives to come along, you should check for updates and new incentives before signing anything.
Weather & Climate in Wisconsin
Some Wisconsinites will be concerned that the state receives well below the average number of sunny days per year. Cloudy days can limit panel production, but most residents will find that there is plenty of sunshine in Wisconsin to make solar panels a worthwhile investment.
Solar panels are most efficient nearest the equator, where the sunlight is most intense. As such, many Wisconsin residents also worry that the northern location — and specifically the long, cold winters and abundant snowfall — will make solar a poor choice for the area. While the Wisconsin winter will bring reduced panel production, electricity actually travels more quickly in the cold, so you’ll still get decent efficiency. The snow coverage will also limit production temporarily, but it will also naturally keep your panels clean, which can boost production once the snow clears.
Companies Pushing Solar Leases or PPAs
Finally, you need to take some time to decide on the right solar company to handle your home solar project. Generally, it’s best to avoid companies that use marketing tactics like advertising “free panels,” which is really just a solar lease in disguise. Solar leases are much less appealing than they first seem, as they don’t bump up your property value, they don’t let you take advantage of the federal tax credit and they yield far fewer savings over time.
Unfortunately, there are a handful of other scams to be wary of. Local electric companies like Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative have warned customers of installers that over-promise savings and either never deliver a working system or install one that never covers the home’s energy consumption.6 WEAU 13 News has also reported on solar scams involving companies that take customers’ money — sometimes tens of thousands of dollars — and never install any panels or return phone calls.7 You should always be vigilant, do your research, and only work with reputable and vetted solar installers.
Wrap Up: Is Solar Worth it in Wisconsin?
Most Wisconsin homeowners will see massive returns averaging over $20,000 when converting to solar, and that’s after the solar photovoltaic (PV) system pays for itself. However, not every WI resident will save with solar, so it’s important to calculate your home’s solar viability and your estimated savings before diving into solar panel installation.
Some of the most crucial factors to consider include your monthly energy bills, your total system cost, the net metering policy offered by your electric company, your home’s energy efficiency and more. Given how complicated the process can be, we suggest having a local solar installer assess your home and help figure out if solar is a good option for your home.
Frequently Asked Questions
The EcoWatch team is thrilled to get questions regularly from Wisconsin homeowners about calculating solar viability. Some of the questions we see most often from homeowners in your area are listed below, along with our responses.
How long does it take for solar panels to pay for themselves in Wisconsin?
The answer to this question will be different for every Wisconsin homeowner, as your solar panel payback period depends on many different factors. Some of the things that can affect your payback period include how much you spend on electricity each month, whether or not you install a solar battery, your electric company’s net metering program, your solar panel costs, shading on your roof and more.
With that being said, the average solar payback period in WI is around 11 years, and most residents will see a timeline between 8 and 14 years.
Does going solar actually save you money?
Most of the time, yes. Solar panels are costly, but they provide you with monthly savings on your electric bill. Over the 25+ years of expected system performance, your solar panels are expected to pay for themselves and then provide an additional $21,005 in energy savings.
Does solar increase home value in Wisconsin?
Yes, installing solar panels will increase your home value, but only if you use a cash purchase or solar loan to pay for them. Solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPAs) will not make your home more valuable.
If you do buy or finance your panels, research from Zillow estimates that you’ll enjoy a property value bump of around 4.1%. In Wisconsin, this comes out to an average value increase of $10,442.
Do you need a permit for solar panels in Wisconsin?
Yes, you do need to pull building permits to install solar panels in Wisconsin. Permits help ensure that your solar power system is installed safely and that your roof can support the weight of the panels. In most cases, you won’t have to carry out the permitting process yourself, as your solar panel installation company should do that for you.
Can I install my own solar panels in Wisconsin?
You can install your own solar panels in Wisconsin, but the process is dangerous, complicated and time-consuming. You will also be putting yourself at risk of injury by installing a rooftop solar system, and you also stand to damage your home and your PV equipment. It’s a much better idea to leave the work to a professional installer.