Plug-In Solar Panels: Are They Worth It?
5 - Minute Read
PUBLISHED: Sep 6, 2022
It’s easy to see the appeal of plug-in solar panels. They offer the promise of a solar power system at a far lower cost than a conventional system from a solar installer.
But can a plug-and-play solar panel kit from Amazon or another retailer really live up to the expectation of not only lowering utility bills but also providing safety and reliability? Let’s explore plug-in solar to see if it’s right for you.
Why Would Homeowners Want A Plug-In Solar Panel System?
Adding solar panels to your home can be expensive. A 2020 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that when rebates and incentives are taken out of the equation, the average cost is around $2.71 per watt. This includes components, permits, materials and labor. At that price per watt, a 6-kilowatt (kW) system for the average home would cost $16,200. Costs can vary depending on your location and situation.
Plug-in solar offers a homeowner the possibility of plugging a solar system into a wall outlet and producing renewable energy without paying for professionals to design and install the system. It’s also easy to move a plug-in system to a new home. Plug-in panels could be a good way for those who are curious about solar to try it out before committing to a more traditional rooftop installation.
How Does A Plug-And-Play Solar Panel System Work?
Companies offering plug-in solar kits pitch their products as a way to add solar to a home without the expense of electricians, contractors, inspections and other professional services that can drive the cost up.
Each panel has a built-in micro inverter device that turns solar energy into direct current (DC), which the inverter then converts into alternating current (AC) that the home can use. Inverters can also cut power running from the panels to the outlet, which helps if the cord is accidentally unplugged.
Many DIY solar kits have a ground mount that you can put in any available space you have, from a backyard to a balcony. Some may also offer a roof-mount option.
To reduce the risk of a fire, it’s best to route a plug-and-play solar panel into a dedicated circuit – in other words, one that doesn’t have anything else plugged into it.
How A Conventional Solar Panel System Works
So how does this setup compare to a typical home solar panel installation? With a conventional installation, a solar contractor must work with the homeowner to determine the homeowner’s energy needs. The contractor then designs racking for installing the solar panels on the roof, determines the number of panels and selects the right type of inverter.
The conventional system is also hard-wired into the home. The panels turn solar energy into DC that the inverter converts into AC, routes to the electrical panel and then sends on to the meter.
Are Solar Panel-To-Outlet Systems Safe?
A solar panel-to-outlet system has many variables. Some that may impact safety include:
- There’s a limit to how much power you can route into a single electrical outlet.
- The output of a solar panel fluctuates throughout the day and could cause a fire hazard if its peak output is higher than what the outlet can handle.
- The cords can be a tripping hazard.
- Larger systems may need to be mounted on a roof, which may be too difficult for a do-it-yourself job and could result in roof damage.
These are all issues to consider when choosing between a professionally installed solar system and a DIY panel-to-outlet kit.
Is It Legal To Use A Plug-In Solar System?
Almost anyone can connect a plug-in solar panel system to an outlet in their home. This means they won’t have an inspection by their local utility company or municipality.
Failure to get an inspection could be a violation of local laws, which may require that homeowners have their solar panel systems installed by a licensed professional or be granted approval from a utility or city inspector. A typical solar energy system undergoes these checks to ensure that it conforms to International Building Code and National Electrical Code standards.
If you’re committed to trying plug-and-play solar panels, you might consider taking these steps:
- Research your local solar regulations.
- Contact your municipality and utility company for guidance.
- Get some help from a licensed electrician to verify that your plug-in solar system has no safety issues.
Are Plug-In Solar Panel Kits Eligible For Incentives?
Homeowners who install conventional solar panel systems are often eligible for incentives from government agencies and utility companies. The federal tax credit for solar photovoltaics is one of the most significant incentives, and many systems installed before the end of 2034 may be eligible. In some cases, sales tax breaks are available for solar equipment purchased as part of a home solar installation.
Some plug-and-play systems may be eligible for the federal tax credit. You’ll need to check with your local government, your utility company and a tax professional to see whether your plug-and-play system qualifies for tax credits or rebates.
Can Plug-And-Play Solar Panels Reduce Electric Bills?
Saving money on utility bills by producing solar energy is a draw for many homeowners. For plug-and-play systems, any cost savings will depend on the size of the system.
It’s not feasible to add a 6 kW plug-and-play system, which is the average size of a conventional solar system. It would require dedicated circuits and plugging into multiple outlets. But what about a smaller system?
In a sunny area, a single 265-watt panel might produce 460 kWh a year. NREL note that in 2020, the average daily use for homes in the U.S. was around 30 kWh per day, so that single panel will provide about 15 days of electricity per year. That’s not enough to make a big difference in your electricity bill, especially if your utility company can’t credit you for any excess power you produce.
Can Plug-In Solar Panels Work For Portable Power Supply?
If you want to generate solar power for your house during an outage, you might want to consider portable solar generators. They come in sizes that you can match to your needs. Some can run your entire home, while others could power electric garden tools or light up your campsite when you’re off-grid.
Solar generators avoid some of the safety issues associated with running solar power into an outlet. Generators also work without any outlets, making them far more versatile.
The Bottom Line: Conventional Solar Systems Are Best For Homes
DIY solar power with a plug-in kit might seem like a cheap, easy way for homeowners to produce renewable energy. But without professional installation and inspections, these systems may not be safe or legal.
Homeowners may also find that they don’t save as much money, produce as much energy or receive as much insight into their electricity production and consumption as they do with conventional solar systems.
Ready to take producing power into your own hands? Let’s start planning your system!
Rocket Solar does not provide legal or tax advice. The information herein is general in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific situation.