Solar panels are typically the main focus of a solar energy system. Although there are other components of a solar array that are equally important, such as the inverter, it's the panels that most people see and recall when solar is the topic of discussion.
As the most obvious visual representation of the system, solar panels are the focus of most aesthetic decisions when exploring solar for your home. It's natural to wonder what the solar array will look like. A reputable solar partner will create a visual representation of the array during the design phase. The first step in this process is determining the number of solar panels that will be installed on your roof.
So, how many solar panels will you need? While it'd be nice if there was an easy formula, like a 1,200 square foot home = 12 solar panels, it's really more nuanced and customized to your unique energy footprint. With that said, let's dive into the most critical variables to consider when sizing a solar energy system for your home.
Your Energy Goals
One of the first steps in determining how many solar panels you need is figuring out your goals. Three common goals are to reduce on-peak usage, reduce a certain percentage of your electricity bill overall, and/or completely eliminate your electricity bill entirely. A qualified solar installation team will be able to walk you through the various options and price points to determine which one is best for you. Depending on what your goal is, your system might be larger or smaller than you initially pictured.
For example, if your goal is to reduce a certain percentage of your energy bill, you will need fewer solar panels. While a smaller array produces less energy, it also means a much smaller upfront investment. Conversely, if your goal is to fully eliminate your bill, you will need more solar panels, but this will come at a greater cost. In both examples, the payback period - also known as return on investment (ROI) - is calculated by looking at total savings over time. A reputable solar installer will share this information willingly. If your solar partner is reluctant to discuss ROI, seek another partner.
Your Energy Usage Profile
How many panels you need will also depend on your energy usage profile. If you are a relatively low-energy user, the number of panels you'll need to make a serious dent in your electricity bill will be less than a higher energy user. In general, the more energy you use, the more solar panels you will need to achieve your clean energy goals.
In this way, sizing is a direct result of family size and family behavior. A single person could move into your same home and have a much smaller bill than a family living in the same space. This is exactly why square footage and the number of rooms matter much less in terms of system sizing than family makeup and practices.
The Orientation of Your Roof
While it might seem like a small factor when it comes to installing solar, the orientation of your roof notably influences how many solar panels you need. As a general rule of thumb, a south-facing roof will require fewer panels than a north-facing roof. This is because a south-facing roof will receive more sunshine throughout the day than a north-facing one. More sunshine hitting the same amount of panels will produce more energy. So if you're wanting to offset a certain percentage of your energy bill, you might require more or fewer panels based on your roof's orientation to achieve it.
Buying Wholesale Solar Panels
Many people think they can save money by purchasing panels wholesale. This approach requires you to hire an installer willing to back a panel that they didn't sell.
While the price tag of wholesale solar panels might make this a tempting option to explore, we would caution against this for a few key reasons. First, depending on the seller, you might not know the true condition of the panels, or where they came from. Maybe you'll get a couple of good ones, but there's just as much chance you could end up with factory rejects, damaged or otherwise compromised units. Maybe the wattage of the panels has been impacted in some way, or they're used panels being passed off as new. We've seen it all.
Along with not fully knowing what kind of panels you might get, most qualified solar installation companies won't install just any panel. A reputable installer will want to ensure that you get a reliable system, and most will back their system with a workmanship warranty. If the installer cannot guarantee the product you purchased will perform or last as designed, they will most likely not be willing to warranty it and will decline your project.
Finding someone who will install your solar panels for you could result in a lower-quality installation team willing to forgo a warranty or QA regulations just to make a quick buck. We recommend avoiding wholesale unless you can verify the source and condition of the panels, and have a reputable installer ready and willing to tackle your project ahead of time.
Lucrative Incentives for Installing Solar Panels
While not a direct factor that influences how many solar panels you'll need to reach your specific energy goals, lucrative solar incentives can affect the overall kWh production of your system. The most recent update to the currently available solar incentives happened in August 2022, when President Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). This important piece of legislation reinstated and extended the 30% solar tax credit through 2032. It also made this higher 30% retroactive to all 2022 solar installations. Before the IRA passed, the tax credit was at 26% and scheduled to decrease to 22% on January 1st, 2023 before ending for all residential installations in 2024.
With this increased and extended tax credit, you might be able to afford higher-efficiency solar panels. This would most likely decrease the total amount of solar panels you'll need, since you'll have more energy production in a single panel when going with a higher wattage panel.
If you're wondering how many solar panels you'll need for your home, download our free guide, "Are Solar & Batteries Right For You?" In it, you'll find the various factors that make up a solar and energy storage purchase decision. Or, if you're ready to talk to a member of our team, contact us for a free, no-obligation solar consultation below.