San Antonio isn’t short on sunlight. There’s plenty to go around, and probably more than you’d like for a good portion of the year. So why not make the Texas sun work for you? If you own your own home and have enough roof or yard space for a solar panel system, then installing solar panels can save you a ton of money in the long run. Plus, you’ll be doing a good deed for the environment, and adding substantially to the value of your home.

Getting set up for solar takes a little work and a lot of money — around $20,000 — but in this guide, we’ll walk you through the financing process, tell you about our favorite installers, and explain how solar systems can turn every sunny day into cash in your wallet.

Freshome’s Top Four Solar Panel Installers in San Antonio

We researched a number of solar contractors that service the San Antonio area and came up with a shortlist to pass onto you, so that you don’t have to go digging around when it’s time to compare quotes. We spoke to representatives with all of these companies, and peppered them with questions so we could pass the knowledge onto you.

Advanced Solar

Advanced Solar has great customer reviews, and was friendly and extremely responsive when we contacted them to ask a few questions. Their representative called, texted, and emailed me to get in touch, but wasn’t pushy, and was extremely knowledgeable about the products and services they offer.

Advanced Solar carries several different solar panels in black and navy, with monocrystalline panels available up to 335 watts. Although they don’t offer any of the brands on our list of recommendations (we’ll get to that later), that shouldn’t necessarily discourage you — there are tons of options for solar panels, and plenty of great brands that may not have made our list. And if you’re set on a specific brand, they may be able to order it for you. Just make sure that you compare any potential panel with Freshome’s recommended standards.

Brands Available: ET Solar, Suniva, and many more
Color Options: Navy, Black

Longhorn Solar

Longhorn Solar has a website packed with information, and their sales representative was extremely friendly and responsive. She called and emailed, and even followed up multiple times after our conversation to make sure all of our questions were answered. So if you have reservations about solar in your specific circumstances and still need some more information, they’re a great place to start.

They offer several brands of solar panels, including one of the names that topped our list of recommendations. And Longhorn’s customer feedback is mostly positive, although a couple of negative reviews lowered their rating to four out of five stars on Yelp and Facebook.

Brands Available: Axitec, Suniva, BenQ, LG, and more
Color Options: Navy, Black

Freedom Solar

Freedom Solar was friendly and helpful when we called to learn more about what they do. They have an exclusive relationship with SunPower panels, so you won’t have a choice between brands. If you’re set on going with a specific provider, Freedom Solar might not be a good fit for you. But they have great reviews and do a ton of work in Texas, so we’d still recommend them as a quality contractor.

All of the panels Freedom Solar installs are black monocrystalline, with wattages between 320 and 345. Those are extremely high efficiency panels, which may cost you more upfront, but could net you a savings down the line.

Brands Available: SunPower
Color Options: Black

Finding the best solar panels in San Antonio

While your initial quote from a solar panel provider may come with a bit of sticker shock, it’s important not to skimp on quality just to save a little dough in the short term. Your solar panels are an investment in your home and your future, and purchasing a high-quality product will pay for itself more quickly, and will save you the headache and price tag of a malfunction down the line.

Here at Freshome, we recommend a minimum efficiency of 16.5, a minimum max wattage of 230W, and a 25-year warranty. Most solar installation companies will work with multiple brands of solar panels, so you’re free to request your preferred supplier. Whomever you choose to install your panels will have their own favorites, and you should make sure you trust both your installer and the company who is producing the panels. Don’t worry, we’ve already vetted tons of solar panel producers. Our top picks for solar panels are below. And you can read a lot more about how we made this decision right here.

Solar Power in San Antonio

San Antonio’s Solar Policies and Incentives

In San Antonio, you’re eligible for a generous rebate through CPS. This is in addition to the federal tax credit you’ll receive when you have solar panels installed. So the big scary number that you will initially be quoted can only go down. Here’s a great in-depth explanation of how the numbers break down, but we’ll summarize the basics:

CPS offers a $1600 per kilowatt credit, up to $25,000. Let’s say you’re installing 5kws, and your solar panel installation quote comes to $20,000. And $1600 multiplied by five is $8000, so your $20,000 quote drops dramatically to $12,000. And that’s before your federal tax credit. When you file your taxes, you’ll get a rebate for 30 percent of the cost of your solar installation. That’s $3,600. So now you’re looking at just $8,400 up front to get setup with solar.

If that’s an easy number for you to swallow, then you should bite the bullet as soon as possible, because the CPS credit and federal tax break could expire or change at the end of the year. And the sooner you install solar panels, the sooner your investment will pay off. If you pay upfront in cash, you’ll make your money back in about 12 years. After that, you can pocket the approximately $1000 per year in energy savings. Oh, and did we mention your home value will skyrocket? For every $1000 per year your solar panels save you, you’ll see a $20,000 increase in your home value. And thanks to some crafty San Antonio lawmaking, that increase won’t affect your property taxes.

Unfortunately, Texas law doesn’t allow solar companies to lease their systems to you. Or rather, they provide so little incentive to do so that solar companies don’t even bother. But if you don’t have the cash to spend upfront on solar, you can get a home equity loan and still see a bang for your buck, even taking into account interest payments. We recommend reading up on this strategy here.

What to Expect

San Antonio receives 1700 harvestable kWh (kilowatt hours) of sun every year. While the average cost of energy in Texas is a whopping $0.13 per kWh of electricity, San Antonio residents pay much less, at approximately $0.07 per kWh. But even though you’re catching a break on your traditional electricity rates, solar can still save you money. Check out our calculations to see how much money’s worth of power you could produce every year in San Antonio.

The average size of a solar panel is 3 feet by 5 feet, so if you want to know exactly how many panels you can fit on your roof, divide the square footage by 15. And keep in mind that you don’t have to jam pack your roof with as many panels as can fit. If it’s not in the budget or you want to start small, you can cover just a portion of your roof, or even install a set of panels on the ground in your yard.

How do solar panels work?

Solar panel systems are made up of photovoltaic cells, often referred to as PV cells. PV cells are generally either crystalline silicon or thin-film, with crystalline being the most popular choice. When the sun shines onto a PV cell, the cell absorbs some of the photons, and the energy moves to the semiconductor material. This causes electrons to move from the semiconductor and become part of the electrical circuit. This process is called the photovoltaic effect, and while solar panels may still seem futuristic, the science behind them was discovered in the 19th century. If you’re still curious about exactly how this all works, you can learn more about the science of converting the sun’s light into usable energy right here.

What is net metering?

The best way to harness solar energy in your home is by staying on the grid. You’ll see this referred to as “net metering.” The only downside to net metering is that you’ll be susceptible to power outages, just like you are now.

Folks with “battery” systems that run off the grid may not have to worry about the lights going out during a storm, but they’ll be subject to the weather in different ways. While battery solar systems can hold onto extra energy to use as a backup, an extended period of cloudy weather could run out the supply and leave you powerless.

If you’re hooked up to the grid, you’ll add extra energy to your city’s supply when you have a surplus, and be able to pull from the power company’s supply when you have a deficit. Plus, you’ll be credited for the extra energy you add to the grid, so you won’t owe much if you need extra electricity during a cloudy winter week.

How long does the install take?

Installing solar panels is a quick process. It usually only takes a day to install, and another day to wire everything up. However, compliance is a waiting game. Permits can hold up your installation for months, and CPS can take a while to get you set up.

Budget three months or more to complete your solar paperwork and installation. But don’t worry, the noisy guys on your roof will only be there for a day or two. And your solar contractor should take care of the legal stuff for you, so you can sit back and work on your tan while you wait to use that sun for a more lucrative purpose.

Does color matter?

Solar panels used to only be available in navy blue, but in the past couple of years, scientific strides have been made that allow you to choose from a rainbow of colors. It’s important to note, however, that the color of the panels does have affect their efficiency. We wouldn’t call that a deal-breaker, but color options are definitely a nice bonus for something that costs upwards of $20,000.

Take Action

The science behind solar is complicated, but getting a quote isn’t. To find the absolute best deal possible, we recommend you compare costs from at least three different solar contractors — and our three recommended installers are the perfect place to start.

San Antonio’s Top Local Installers: Advanced Solar, Longhorn Solar, Freedom Solar

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