Illinois Solar Panels: Best Installation Companies, Incentives and Costs – CNET

Solar panels are at a steep discount in Illinois — after you factor in the government incentives.

As in the rest of the country, you’ve got the federal tax credit, which will cover up to 30% of the cost. But in the Land of Lincoln, there are also state programs offering major help. One, Illinois Shines, provides upfront funding for solar panels through the purchase of renewable energy credits. Another, Illinois Solar for All, pays for those who meet lower income requirements to install solar panels with no upfront cost.

Illinois Solar for All allows residents to install solar panels with no upfront costs, said Vito Greco, director of solar programs at the clean energy advocacy group Elevate, which administers the program. 

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Going solar could be a big benefit, especially considering Illinois ranked in the top 10 nationwide for fastest-rising energy bills from November 2021 to November 2022, according to data from CNET’s sister site SaveOnEnergy. The average energy bill in Illinois rose 20.5% during that time. 

Here’s what you need to know before you go solar in Illinois.

Is solar energy right for you?

Interested in understanding the impact solar can have on your home? Enter some basic information below, and we’ll instantly provide a free estimate of your energy savings.

Illinois solar panel companies

There are 343 solar companies operating in Illinois, including 73 installers and developers, according to data from the Solar Energy Industries Association. So which one do you choose?

If you’re receiving state incentives, you’ll need to choose one of the approved vendors of Illinois Shines or Illinois Solar for All, whichever program you’re using. Get quotes from multiple installers, and check reviews and do other research to make sure you’re getting the best deal from a reputable company. Here are a few from our research and our list of best solar companies

SunPower is known for its industry-leading high-efficiency panels. Those panels have an efficiency of about 22.8%, meaning they convert more of the sun’s rays into power than others. That will help you save more money and recoup your costs more quickly. SunPower also offers strong warranties, which guarantee at least 92% production after 25 years. 

The nation’s largest solar company, Sunrun does most of its business in solar leases, but does also offer installations for sale. It offers choices when it comes to panels and batteries, and strong warranties. Those warranties aren’t as strong if you’re planning to purchase panels rather than lease them, and the company doesn’t offer a price match guarantee.

Tesla Solar offers quality solar panels that have a lower profile than others, meaning they look more seamless on your roof. It also offers a price match guarantee along with low prices, so those panels might be more affordable. The tradeoff is that Tesla isn’t known for robust customer service — customer complaints have been louder and more frequent compared to competitors. 

Based in Chicago, Windfree Solar has been in business since 2009 and operates across the Midwest. The firm, an approved vendor for both Illinois Shines and Illinois Solar for All, provides design, installation and monitoring services. It also sells battery systems.

Illinois solar panel incentives and rebates

Illinois has some robust incentives for clean energy, implemented in two recent state laws: The Future Energy Jobs Act of 2016 and the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act of 2021. These laws created programs around utility-scale renewable energy, electric vehicle infrastructure and more. 

If you’re interested in residential solar, these laws implemented a pair of incentive programs that can make a significant dent in the cost of panels. Illinois Shines provides upfront funding for your solar system by prepaying for 15 years of renewable energy credits, which you receive for producing clean energy. That can offset about a third of the cost of a solar system, Greco said.

Illinois Solar for All, meanwhile, makes sure residents don’t pay upfront costs for a solar panel system if their income is less than 80% of the area median income. 

Illinois Solar for All and Illinois Shines supplement the major federal tax credit, the residential clean energy credit, which was expanded and extended in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act. That credit covers as much as 30% of the cost of having a solar system installed. Because it’s a tax credit, you’ll claim it on your return the following year, and you can only receive as much as you paid in federal tax that year.

Here’s more on the incentives for solar in Illinois:

Illinois solar incentives

Program Description
Residential clean energy credit This federal tax credit will reimburse you for 30% of the cost of a solar system, and the Inflation Reduction Act extended it for another decade. There’s no limit on how much you can claim, except you’ll only be able to get a refund for what you actually paid in federal income tax that year.
Illinois Shines The Illinois Shines program is open to everyone in the state, and it provides upfront funding for 15 years of renewable energy credits. That will likely cover about a third of the cost of a system, Greco said.
Illinois Solar for All Illinois Solar for All is a state program that will cover all of the upfront costs of a solar system for those whose income is below 80% of the area median income.
Net metering Net metering is the process by which you can sell excess power generated by your solar panels back to the grid. In Illinois, utility companies are required to provide credits on your bill at the full retail rate — meaning one kilowatt-hour you sell will be at the same price as the kilowatt-hours you consume.
Property tax adjustment When you have a solar system installed, you can ask the tax assessor to calculate the property’s value as the lesser of whether it had the solar system or a conventional heating and cooling system.

Illinois solar panel costs

The cost of your solar system will depend on a lot of factors: What type of panels you get, whether you get a battery and other factors like the pitch of your roof. What you’ll pay will depend largely on your installer and the manufacturer of the panels. Some companies produce highly efficient panels that are better at converting the sun’s rays to electricity, while others sell panels that are more affordable. A large chunk of the total cost of an installation includes labor, permits and other costs not reflected in the price of materials.

Prices spiked during the pandemic as supply chains became constricted, but they’re coming down, Greco said. While some data show average prices higher, if you shop around you should be able to find a good deal on solar panels, he said. “You’re going to see costs under $3 a watt in Illinois. In Chicago and other cities where you’ve got more competition, it’s going to be cheaper.”

Here’s a look at typical solar system costs, using Illinois data from and national figures from the energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.

Illinois solar costs vs. the US

System size (kW) Price per watt Installed cost
Illinois 7 $4.02 $28,127
Nationwide 8 $2.99 $23,920

How to determine which solar company in Illinois is best for me

The best solar installer for your needs is an installer that has experience working on the type of solar project that you’re interested in. You’ll want to make sure your installer has experience working with the type of roof that your home has, and the type of system you want installed, like on-grid or off-grid. 

You should look for solar installers that are certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners and have the proper licensing and bonding to do their work. Reading online reviews can also help you get a better understanding of an installer’s reputation. A few common places to start looking for solar company reviews are Google, Yelp and Angi (formerly Angie’s List). Ben Delman, a communications director with Solar United Neighbors, recommends looking for installers that have at least 20 to 30 reviews. If you know someone who has solar panels on their home, ask them for solar installer recommendations too.

Aside from reviews and certifications, there are a few other things to look for in a solar installer. A good installer, Delman said, will be able to:

  • Provide good word-of-mouth references
  • Clearly explain the project deadlines
  • Easily define technical terms for your understanding
  • Be transparent about pricing and how system financing works
  • Understand the local permit requirements and the process for system interconnection with your local power company
  • Understand homeowners association regulations and restrictions to help you navigate through that process

A trustworthy solar installer should be able to answer any questions you may have, no matter how difficult your questions are. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification on project and pricing details. Make sure to shop around and gather multiple quotes to get the best price possible. Delman recommends comparing at least three quotes before choosing your installer. 

Installation factors to keep in mind

Solar panels can save you a lot of money — but only if done right. Not every home is right for solar panels. Greco estimated that as many as three-quarters of homes aren’t a good fit. There are a few ways to tell, but they won’t prevent you from doing your part and working to lower your bills. That’s because Illinois also has strong community solar opportunities, in which you pay for a share of energy from a separate facility. “For people who can’t put solar on their roof, they can subscribe to a community solar array, and you’re getting virtual solar,” Greco said. “Typically right now you’re seeing 20% savings off of community solar.”

Here’s what you should consider before getting solar on your roof:

  • The condition of your roof: Your roof needs to be in good shape to be ready for solar panels. And beyond just its age and any damage, it should be facing the right way and at the right angle. Solar panels in the northern hemisphere do better on a south-facing slope, and the US Department of Energy says they’re ideal at an angle between 15 and 40 degrees. Different angles and directions will affect how much energy you can produce.
  • HOA and neighborhood regulations: Illinois law prevents homeowners’ associations and other neighborhood groups from outright banning solar panels, but they may have some limited restrictions or requirements. Check with your HOA and local government to make sure you’re following all the guidelines.
  • Insurance coverage: Your homeowners insurance should cover your solar panels, but you should call first and make sure you can add them to the policy.
  • Your location: In addition to the pitch and angle of your roof, you need to consider what’s around you. If you’ve got a tall building next door that casts shade for half of the day, or a lot of big trees around your house, solar panels may not get enough rays to make them worth it. A reputable installer should tell you if you have too much shade.
  • Rentals: If you rent your home rather than owning it, you won’t be able to get solar panels unless your landlord or property manager is OK with them. In any case, you can always sign up for community solar, which doesn’t require you to change the property at all.

How to pay for solar panels in Illinois

The combination of state and local tax incentives in Illinois means your out-of-pocket expenses for a solar power system should be lower compared to other states. But you’ll likely still have to pay something — and even a fraction of the cost is still thousands of dollars. Here are some ways to pay: 

Cash: Paying with cash allows you to avoid financing costs and ongoing bills. If you aren’t ready for solar just yet, consider putting money away in a high-yield savings account so you have more cash to work with when you are ready.

Solar loan: Solar installers often work with financial institutions to offer loans. These can be a good idea if you don’t have the cash on hand, but shop around to make sure you’re getting the best terms and interest rate.

Home equity loan, or HELOC: One popular way to finance home improvements is through a home equity loan or home equity line of credit. These loan types differ from each other — loans are a lump sum you receive up front, typically at a fixed interest rate, while HELOCs are more akin to a credit card. What they have in common is that both are secured against the equity in your home, meaning if you fail to pay them back, the lender can foreclose on your house. 

Personal loan: If you don’t want to put your home at risk, you can also use a personal loan. These, offered by many financial institutions, are unsecured. Personal loans tend to come with higher rates and often shorter terms than home equity loans because they’re riskier for banks. When looking at any financial product, be sure to shop around to make sure you’re getting the right deal for you.

Lease or power purchase agreement: These two options will save you from having to purchase the solar panels yourself, but there are tradeoffs. You can lease panels from a solar company, paying them to rent the panels. Or you can have a power purchase agreement, in which a company installs panels on your house and you pay them for the power generated.

How we found the best solar companies 

Doing a hands-on review of a solar company is hard, and accounting for all the differences between solar projects is impossible. Instead, we focused on what we can measure and meaningfully evaluate among solar companies.

When evaluating solar companies, we focus on three categories of criteria: equipment, warranties and service. 

In the equipment category, solar companies receive scores for the panels, inverters and batteries they install. The warranty category includes the guarantees on the panels, workmanship and weatherization against leaks. Companies will earn points in the service category if they offer a price match, a decent level of price transparency and a well-rated app for monitoring solar production. Solar companies lose points if there are major issues regarding customer service (lawsuits, investigations or reputations for bad service). These service issues will always be detailed in the review.

Here’s a more detailed look at how we break down the scoring.

When it comes to pricing, we don’t consider the average price of a solar company’s installations in their score. Accurate pricing information is difficult to find and compare across service areas (and even project to project). Companies are often slow to disclose this information as well. We also leave out easy-to-find (but not useful) information, such as how many states a company operates in.


Is Illinois a good state for solar panels?

Illinois has some robust incentives that can make it a lot easier for you to afford putting a solar system on your home. The state also has community solar options, which make it easy to take advantage of the sun’s power even if your home isn’t a perfect fit for panels.

Should I get batteries with my solar panels?

Batteries don’t have to be included. Without batteries, your system will just be tied to the grid, meaning you’ll sell any excess energy to your utility system at the retail rate. But batteries may be useful if you want a backup source of power. “Residential customers want batteries in case the power goes out,” Greco said.