Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the potential savings you’ll receive for switching to a solar-based energy system. The reason? The sun beats brighter in the Lone Star State than almost anywhere else in the United States. Despite the state government’s paltry incentive program, this abundance of free sunshine means you can still reap major monetary benefits from switching to solar panels in Houston. So long as you have enough roof or yard space for solar panels, you should be able to find a Houston solar system installer and financing plan that works for you. And, whether you end up leasing your solar panels or buying them outright, you can rest a little easier knowing you’re doing a good deed for the environment while you net some major cash.

If this sounds too good to be true, believe us when we say it’s more than feasible. To make solar in your home a reality, the first thing you need to do is educate yourself about the best solar panel options and installers for your situation. There’s a ton of information out there, so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to analyze the Texas state regulations, local Houston solar panel installers, and basic science behind the industry to help you make a solid decision about switching to solar.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the installation process, touch on the best solar panels and the local Houston companies that can install them for you, and explain the rebates and credits offered in the state of Texas. Then we’ll break down exactly how much money solar energy can save you, based on the number of panels on your roof.

Freshome’s Top Two Solar Panel Installers in Houston

Houston has been slow to get on the solar energy bandwagon, so there simply aren’t that many solar panel installers to choose from. It’s also important to note that there are hardly any companies that currently offer solar leasing, as the state does so little to encourage solar energy that companies have little incentive to do so. The companies that do offer solar panel leasing require an initial payment made up-front, so in this way it’s similar to outright purchasing the system.

That being said, we did find two of the area’s most popular solar panel companies and vetted them for customer service, panel offerings, and time needed for installation. Both solar panel installers in Houston were friendly, helpful and knowledgeable when we chatted with them over the phone. Don’t be afraid to give them a call yourself if you have questions not answered below!

Texas Solar Outfitters

The team at Texas Solar Outfitters are committed to helping you find a solar panel system that’s right for you. They offer financing options, will discuss the viability of net metering versus a battery system on your property, and help you complete the paperwork necessary for the installation.

We also like them because they work with Kyocera Solar and Canadian solar (two of our recommended brands) and offer a 10-year warranty on all labor — something not every solar installation company does. Their website is extremely thorough in its explanation of the mechanics behind solar panel, and they assess whether your property would benefit most from a net-me They estimated a standard installation takes 2-3 days.

Brands Available: Sun Power, LG, Kyocera Solar, Canadian Solar
Color Options: Navy, Black

Sweetwater Energy Services

The people at Sweetwater Energy Services answered all our questions and gave us a straight answer about the financial pitfalls of installing solar panels in Houston. Unfortunately, the state offers no incentives so the upfront costs of solar panels can be a bit more daunting than they are in other states. Beyond that, they work with Solar World panels, which offer a 25-year warranty. The owner also mentioned that the panels typically last much longer than 25 years, and that’s about the amount of time it will take to start receiving net profit on your system.

Brands Available: Solar World
Color Options: Black

Finding the best solar panels in Houston

Before we tell you our favorite brands, we want to emphasize the importance of quality when it comes to solar panels. Consider them an investment in your home. Like any investment, it’s important not to cut corners just to save a little dough in the short term. A high-quality product may cost a bit more but it will capture the sun’s energy more efficiently and thus pay for itself more quickly—saving you headaches and money in the long run.

We recommend a minimum efficiency of 16.5, a minimum max wattage of 230W, and a 25-year warranty no matter which brand you choose. Most solar installation companies work with multiple brands of solar panels, so you’re free to request your preferred supplier. We vetted the major solar panel manufacturers on the market and landed on four brands (listed below) that more than met our standards. Want to know how we came to our decision? Read more here.

Solar Power in Houston

Houston’s Solar Policies and Incentives

Unfortunately, Houston offers very little in the realm of incentives, tax rebates, and credits. If you install solar panels in your home, you are eligible for the federal tax credit of 30 percent, which is nothing to sneeze at. Keep this in mind when talking with installers about your costs, as an eye-boggling quote will actually be 30 percent less than it appears.

The good news? So long as you have equity on your home, you can take out a lease that will actually give you a better return on investment than buying the equipment outright. The reason for this advantage is because using a loan to install solar panels is essentially the same as investing in a business (your own electricity generating business) that is guaranteed to succeed, earn you that nice 30 percent tax credit, and increase the value of your home. The loan allows you to pay over time, but you’ll reap all the money-saving benefits of solar energy now. The decrease in your energy bill should offset the cost of your loan by about half—if not more. For this reason, we recommend taking out a home-equity line of credit (HELOC) with a fixed rate of no higher than 5 percent. If you pay it back over 15 years, you’ll be making money in no time.

Unfortunately, Texas doesn’t allow solar companies to lease their systems to you (typically the third financing option in most states). It’s not exactly that they prohibit it, they just offer so little incentive to do so that solar companies don’t even bother. Another bummer is that the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (the amount of energy the state is required to obtain through renewable resources) is middle of the road — 28th in the country to be exact — which is disappointing for such a large state with an abundance of both sun and resources.

A couple other things to know about Texas’s state laws regarding solar energy: There’s no solar carve out, meaning no percentage of the Renewable Portfolio Standard is allotted towards solar energy. That leaves the state with very little motivation to subsidize or offer rebates on solar energy systems. The final thing to remember is there are no net-metering laws. Net-metering allows solar energy system owners to earn money back by funneling the excess energy their system makes back to the utility company. A few utility companies do offer net-metering, but the lack of laws surrounding the issue means it’s by no means a guaranteed thing.

What to Expect

Houston receives 1600 harvestable kWh (kilowatt hours) of sun every year. Though the average cost of energy in Texas is 13 cents per kWh of electricity, Houston residents pay less at a rate of 11 cents per kWh. Even with those fairly low electricity rates, solar is still the more cost-effective option. Check out our calculations below to understand how much money’s worth of power your system could produce every year in Houston.

The average size of a solar panel is 3 feet by 5 feet, but keep in mind that you don’t have to jam pack your roof with as many panels as can fit. As many as 5 panels could produce a decent amount of savings in a year’s time.

How do solar panels work?

The key to solar energy production lies in photovoltaic cells (often referred to as PV cells), which constitute the panel itself. PV cells are generally either crystalline silicon or thin-film, with crystalline being the most popular choice as they are generally more efficient. The PV cell captures the rays of the sun and the energy then causes the semiconductor material of the PV cell to become active. Electrons move from the semiconductor to an electrical circuit which powers your home. This physical process is known as the “photovoltaic effect” and it’s actually been around since the 19th century.

How long does the install take?

The actual installation is a quick process and typically lasts between two days and one week. The more lengthy period of waiting occurs before a single panel is installed, as you wait for the permits and paperwork to be approved. Again, the installation company will help you out with the permit applications, but there’s not much anyone can do about to speed up the approval process. We recommend budgeting three months or more to complete your solar paperwork and installation.

Net Metering vs. Batteries

Net metering is a policy that allows you to earn money for the electricity your solar panel system produces. Any excess electricity your solar panel system produces is fed back into “the grid” that facilitates the utility company’s traditional distribution of electricity—the company then offsets your utility bill for the extra kilowatts you gave them.

Houston is tricky. Because the energy marketplace in Texas is deregulated, your utility company may or may not offer net metering. It’s best to check with your utility company to see if it’s something they offer. Battery systems allow you to store your excess energy in a self-contained system, but we recommend opting for net metering when available.

Does color matter?

The short answer: yes. Traditionally, solar panels were only available in navy blue, but thanks to scientific strides in thin film technology, you now have more color options than ever for your home. The only catch? These colored panels are often less efficient than the navy blue (and black) panels.

We recommend navy or black solar panels. Navy, made of polycrystalline, is both efficient and affordable. Black are typically made of monocrystalline, which is more expensive, but they’re the most efficient panels on the market. Talk to your solar contractor about whether the added efficiency will be enough to cover the upfront cost of installing black panels. It’s also important to assess for the aesthetic of your home — you don’t want to get stuck with something that you’ll consider an eyesore.

Take Action

Houston, while one of the sunniest cities in Texas, has been slow to put power behind the solar energy movement. That being said, it’s still a worthwhile investment if you can get past the upfront cost. The abundance of sunshine means your system will convert a significant amount of photons into energy for your home, and you will make back the money spent on your system — it just might take a bit longer than states with more robust incentive and rebate programs.

Your local installer companies will be able to provide you with a quote for installing solar panels on your home, methods for purchasing them, and up-to-date information about Texas and Houston’s policies regarding solar energy.

Houston’s Top Local Installers: Texas Solar Outfitters, Texas Solar Power Company

Freshome’s Top Solar Manufacturers: Solar World, Canadian Solar, Axitec, Kyocera Solar