Do Solar Panels Really Work in Pittsburgh?

by Sara Gambone


April 14, 2021

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is known for a lot of things — its iconic skyline, its 446 bridges, and those delicious, french-fry-covered sandwiches and salads (potatoes area vegetable, after all). But one thing the Steel City isn’t celebrated for is its bright, sunny weather.

On average, Pittsburgh gets just 6.5 hours of sunlight each day. While that number tops out at 10.1 hours in August, it dips to just 2.8 hours in January. Those numbers make The City of Bridges the 11th cloudiest city in the entire country, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

With vitamin D supplements and the occasional vacation to sunny shores, a lack of sunshine doesn’t do much to dim Pittsburgh’s charm. But nowadays, sunshine has benefits that go beyond improving our mood and giving us a nice tan.

Sunshine can produce emissions-free electricity through solar energy.

Do Pittsburgh’s clouds snuff out solar energy’s potential, or can solar panels really be a viable alternative energy source?

Believe it or not, solar power can work remarkably well in Pittsburgh. While sunshine is an essential component of any solar power system, it’s not the only factor that comes into play.



High Electricity Rates = Better Paybacks

Solar energy generates free electricity to offset homes’ and businesses’ energy bills. Over time, the money saved on electricity purchased from the utility company will pay back the cost of the system, and then some.

The higher the electricity rates are, the more money solar owners will save over the decades-long lifespan of a solar energy system. Some high-quality solar panels are guaranteed by their manufacturers for 25 or even 30 years. This means they’ll be producing free electricity for your home or business for at least that long.

A solar system in a cloudier area may produce less electricity than an otherwise identical solar system in a very sunny area. But if the electricity rates are higher in the cloudier area, that solar system could end up being a better investment than the one in the sunnier area.

In Pittsburgh, residential electricity rates tend to be a few percentage points above the national average. That means it may cost you more to power your home in Pittsburgh than it would in other states. Solar can nearly erase that, dramatically reducing your electricity bill.

On top of that, it’s probably a safe bet that electricity rates will increase over time. However, the installation cost of a solar system is a once-and-done cost. That means your savings on electricity could increase over time as electricity rates rise.

Paradise Energy Solutions recently released a report on solar energy’s payback and ROI for homeowners. The report revealed the average Pennsylvania homeowner can expect their solar system to pay for itself in 14.89 years with an average ROI of 7.42%. A separate report revealed an average payback of fewer than ten years for commercial and agricultural systems installed in PA.  That leaves decades of free electricity production for solar system owners.

Incentives Front-Load the Investment and Cut Costs

Government incentives are making it easier for homeowners and businesses to cut their carbon emissions in a cost-effective manner.

The most wide-reaching and available incentive is the Solar Investment Tax Credit offered by the federal government. This allows all tax-paying homeowners and businesses to get 26% of the installation cost back in year one through a credit on their owed taxes. It even gives you the option to carry the credit forward if you can’t use the full amount in year one. Homeowners have five years to use it. While businesses can carry the credit forward up to twenty years.

In addition to this, businesses are able to accelerate the federal tax savings on the depreciation of the solar panels to the first year the system is put into production. While the amount businesses can save varies with their tax bracket, this can further front-load the investment by over 20%.

On a state level, Pittsburgh solar owners can make additional income from their solar system through SRECs, or solar renewable energy credits. For every 1,000 kilowatt-hours of solar-generated electricity, the owner of the system will receive one SREC. They can then sell this SREC on the PA SREC market for market price.

All these incentives contribute to lower installation costs and make installing solar more affordable. Your system won’t need to be operating under peak sun conditions in order to pay for itself and prove to be a lucrative investment.


Equipment Costs Are Declining Making Upsizing Easier

Yes, a solar panel in Pittsburgh won’t produce as much electricity as a solar panel in Phoenix, AZ. But what if you add extra panels in Pittsburgh?

Over the past decades as solar energy transitioned from exciting new technology to an everyday, viable alternative energy source, prices have decreased dramatically. This means sizing up a system to accommodate your production goals can prove to be cost-effective when comparing to the potential energy savings.

Between 2009 and 2019, the overall installation costs for a solar system declined 60%, and solar panel costs declined 50% from 2015 to 2019[1].

If you need a slightly bigger system to make up for the cloudy Pittsburgh weather, you won’t have to pay an excessive amount to do so.

There Will Always Be An Environmental Benefit

Whether for a business or home, solar energy can be a really beneficial investment financially. However, it can also help you affect meaningful environmental change.

As the most abundant source of energy on Earth, the sun provides enough energy to meet the world's electricity needs 35,000 times over[2]. And we have a way to harness that energy into electricity without emitting any greenhouse gases.

Every kilowatt-hour produced by a solar system is one less kilowatt-hour that’s produced by burning fossil fuels.

Solar in Pittsburgh Can Work

Despite Pittsburgh's well-founded reputation for less-than-sunny skies, solar energy can still be a great financial and environmental investment. With Pittsburgh’s high electricity rates, cost-saving incentives, and decreasing equipment and installation costs, you can install a solar energy system that produces a significant amount of emissions-free and cost-free electricity. Helping you be a difference-maker for your budget and the environment.

Yes, even in Pittsburgh.


Author: Sara Gambone, a content writer for Paradise Energy Solutions. Paradise Energy Solutions is a family-owned, full-service solar installation company with over 1,400 solar installations throughout the mid-Atlantic region for businesses, farmers and homeowners.