A decade ago, Chicago’s biggest utility provider had 7 megawatts of solar capacity installed on its system — enough to power about 388 homes. But thanks to several federal and state-sponsored solar incentives, solar adoption is surging in the Windy City and across Illinois.
Commonwealth Edison, or ComEd, now has 689 megawatts of solar power on its grid for nearly 46,000 homes. Illinois ranked No. 8 in the nation for solar capacity in 2022, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. And ComEd expects many more residents to go solar in the coming months and years.
“It’s a good time for people to move forward with solar,” said Marla Westerhold, who manages the My Green Power Connection team at ComEd. “There’s a lot of favorable legislation at the state level and federal level that you can stack. So go for it.”
If you’re looking to install solar panels on your rooftop, here’s a look at some of the best companies in Chicago and the incentives that can help you save.
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Best national solar panel companies in Chicago
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How to determine which solar company is best for me
While rooftop solar installations are now a fairly standard project, each project will have differences. What works on one roof will need to change a bit before being applied to the roof next door. That means that you’ll want to find the installer that best fits your needs, which might be different from the companies identified above.
The most reliable way to find the best solar installer for you is to research and interview a few. You should check out online reviews on third party platforms and talk to neighbors and friends who have installed solar. Then, when you’ve chosen a few installers to talk to, make sure they answer all of your questions clearly and completely.
Ask installers for their certification — the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners is one common certifier — and their experience with roofs like yours. Also, ask about their experience working with your utility, which will need to give permission for your system to operate, and their experience with your local government, which will issue the necessary permits.
Solar installers should be transparent about the price and schedule of your project upfront and they should be price-competitive. Always get multiple quotes from reputable companies. Because prices vary between markets, the best way to make sure you’re getting a decent deal is to compare real estimates for projects on your roof.
Read the contracts to understand what you’re paying for. “Will you own the panels, or is it a lease or power purchase agreement?” Westerhold said. “A lot of companies have marketing that is potentially deceptive.”
In Chicago, Westerhold said, you can call ComEd’s My Green Power Connection team, which can help you evaluate bids and get advice. Try to get customer referrals for any company you’re working with. You can also check the Better Business Bureau and the Illinois Commerce Connection website and look for complaints against the installation companies you’re comparing.
Cost of solar panels in Chicago
In Chicago, a standard ComEd customer pays around $23,000 to install a solar panel system, according to Scott Vogt, the vice president of strategy and energy policy at ComEd. The average customer receives $17,900 back using federal, state and utility incentives. They’ll need to finance the remaining $5,100. Low-income customers pay around $21,000 for a solar array and may receive 100% of that back through incentives.
Of course, your cost may vary based on:
- The size of your solar array.
- The pitch of your roof.
- Type of solar panels you purchase.
- Whether you get a battery system.
- The tax credits, payment programs and rebates you receive.
Nationwide, the average cost of an 8 kW system is $23,920 — $3 per watt — according to consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.
Chicago solar panel incentives and rebates
While solar panels are getting more affordable every year, they can still cost tens of thousands of dollars. But Chicago residents have many ways to save when going solar.
For instance, the federal residential clean energy credit will cover up to 30% of the cost of qualified clean energy improvements to your home, and statewide programs like Illinois Shines and Illinois Solar For All may cover some or all of the remaining balance. Illinois also allows property tax adjustments, so you won’t pay a higher tax bill just for installing solar panels. And utility programs like net metering and solar appliance rebates can also help you save. Here’s a rundown of programs you can access in Chicago:
Chicago solar incentives
|Residential clean energy credit||This federal tax credit reimburses you for 30% of the cost of solar panels, installation costs, panel-related electrical work and permit fees.|
|Solar property tax adjustment||Solar panels often increase the value of your home. In Illinois, you can have your house assessed with your solar system and as if it had a conventional heating and cooling system instead and pay taxes on the lower assessment.|
|Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd) Distributed Generation Rebate||ComEd utility customers can get a rebate of $300 per kilowatt when they install solar panels and an energy storage device.|
|Illinois Shines||This statewide program will pay you upfront for the future value of your renewable energy credits.|
|Illinois Solar for All||This statewide program can either provide low-cost community solar or cover all of the upfront costs of a solar system for low-income residents.|
|Net metering||This process allows you to sell excess solar energy back to the utility at the full retail rate.|
|Chicago’s Green Building Permit Program||This citywide program streamlines the permit process and lowers the costs associated with installing solar panels.|
|Solar group buy programs||These programs provide group discounts on solar panels.|
How to pay for solar panels in Chicago
Like most large expenses, you can pay for solar panels in a variety of ways. Before you commit to buying panels for your home, research how to pay for them. Whether you’re using your savings, taking out a loan or going with the preferred method for your installer, here are the options you can expect:
- Cash: Paying for the panels upfront could be the cheapest option because you won’t pay interest and fees. The drawback is that you’ll be taking money away from other financial goals.
- Solar loan: Many solar companies offer solar loans. This can be a simple and convenient option, especially if you get financing from the company that installed your solar panels.
- Other types of loans: You can also get a personal loan or a home equity line of credit from a bank or credit union, which might offer lower interest rates and better loan terms. This could be a good option if your installer doesn’t offer solar loans and you don’t have the cash to pay for the panels upfront. Just be aware of the risks of borrowing against your home equity — you could lose your home if you fail to pay it back.
- Lease or power purchase agreement: It’s also possible to lease your solar panels, where a third-party company installs the panels and then charges you a monthly fee to lease them. This typically costs more over the long run. A power purchase agreement is similar, but you’ll buy power from the solar company on a per-kilowatt-hour basis, as you would from the power company.
Installation factors to keep in mind
Before you reach out to a panel installer, it’s a good idea to evaluate your home and figure out if it’s a good candidate for a solar system. Your utility company is a good place to start, Westerhold said.
The utility may be able to help you evaluate the roof, determine if you qualify for solar incentives and explain your financing options.
Here are some of the factors you’ll need to consider:
- Roof conditions. Before you install the panels, a professional should check your roof and make sure there are no leakages or other problems.
- Homeowners association rules. A state law in Illinois says HOAs can’t ban solar installations — but they can adjust their placement in some cases.
- Your tax bill. Illinois allows property tax adjustments, so you won’t pay a higher tax bill if the value of your home increases after installing solar panels.
- Homeowners insurance. You’ll need to let your insurance company know you’ve installed solar panels. Your rates may increase.
- Sunlight and tree cover. Solar panels work in cold weather, but they’ll need to be installed under direct sunlight. If your roof is covered by too much shade, you might be a good candidate for community solar.
- Whether you own or rent your home. If you rent, you may need your landlord’s permission to install panels. And keep in mind, you might need to own your home to qualify for some solar incentives.
- Energy requirements of your property. A panel installer can help you figure out how many solar panels you need, but there are ways to estimate your costs ahead of time.
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