Solar panel installation: how long does it take and what you need to know

by Barbara R. Abercrombie
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Over the next ten years, the US will install three times the amount of solar energy in all years before 2021. With rooftop solar installations hitting every record in recent years, this rapid expansion should be no surprise. †

While many people go solar, it can be a lengthy process. Before signing a contract, ensure your home is a good fit, find a good solar company, and collect and compare a few quotes. After that, others will take care of the permitting, installation, and final approval of your solar panels.

Read more: Solar panel buying guide: everything you need to know.

While waiting may seem inconvenient, how quickly your solar panels get up and running can affect your overall savings. The federal solar tax credit is slacking off at the end of the year, and grid metering plans are being reconsidered across the county. When you run into one of these deadlines, understanding how long the setup process will take can help you make decisions. Here’s what you need to know.

Supply chain issues and personal research

Some points in the process of buying solar is difficult to plan for.

One variable is that current supply chain issues have not skipped the solar industry which means 2022 is a more uncertain year than usual for solar. So far, residential solar installations have continued to set records, with most delays affecting industrial and utility-scale buildings.

Read more: Should you invest in solar panels in 2022? It isn’t very easy

Another variable is your time on your research and getting quotes. Because the residential solar industry is very competitive, sellers are very responsive. This step takes as long as you need. Pressure to sign a contract quickly can be a sign of a scam, so beware.

Solar companies may have slightly different processes, so your experience may differ from those described below. Still, it gives you a good idea of ​​how the process generally works and how long it will take.

Solar Site Assessment and System Design

Before a solar company can install the panels, they must design a system that will fit on your roof. A solar professional will almost always visit you for an appraisal. They should ensure that your roof does not need to be replaced before installation and is not too shaded by trees or other buildings. If your house needs a new roof or trees need pruning, your timeline will be longer.

After assessing your home, your solar contractor will design your system to suit your roof and energy needs. You accept the final design and sign a contract. Several experts estimate that this phase lasts one to four weeks.

Permits and approval

After you sign your solar system design, your city or local government should do the same. From the time your solar installer submits the necessary permits to the installation time depends on the permitting process, which some local authorities have chosen to expedite.

Estimates range from three to eleven weeks. You can get an idea of ​​how soon a permit is needed with the clickable map in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Solar TRACE tool, but only for areas with enough data to estimate.

It can take several months from signing a contract to generating solar energy.

Eloi_Omella/Getty Images


Perhaps the most exciting part of the solar installation process is also one of the fastest. When workers attach panels to your roof, installation takes just a few days, even for complicated jobs. Expect it to be done in three days or less.

Permission to work

After installation, you can’t just flip a switch and use electricity from your panels. Your city should inspect the building and verify that it is in order. The Solar TRACE tool can show you ​​how long this will take in a few places, although a few weeks is a reasonable estimate.

The final step is getting approval from your utility company’s system, called permission to operate or PTO. Since the utility company must provide the necessary electricity in their territory, they have to approve projects that send energy to the grid.

Depending on the tool, this can vary greatly, but some estimates say it takes three to eight weeks after installation to get permission to use.

From system design to permission to operate, your solar energy purchase process can take anywhere from two to six months, although some put the limit at four months.

You will want to discuss the timeline with your installer before signing a contract. While there are unexpected delays, a general idea of ​​how long each step will take can help you identify irregular or unreasonable delays. The sooner you get those final approvals, the sooner you can save money.

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