Freight shipping large items, like solar panels can be a daunting experience for someone whose only experience with shipping is from Amazon!
Last updated on August 15th, 2019 by Dan Martin | Written by Dan Martin
Why is shipping for solar panels so expensive?
That’s a complicated question with a complex answer:
Solar panels are big, and shipping big things takes time and costs money.
Alright so maybe it isn’t THAT complicated.
Because most solar panels have similar dimensions to those of a door, they have to be shipped on a pallet. They can also weigh anywhere from 30 – 55 pounds EACH! Because of their size and weight, they can’t be shipped through traditional mail like most packages from Amazon or Walmart, but they ship LTL (less than truckload).
LTL means a truck with a trailer shows up to the sellers and loads their one item onto their trailer, but the item doesn’t fill the whole trailer, so the truck will then go to another seller and load another item until their trailer is full. Then it gets shipped to a warehouse, sorted by individual metrics, and redirected to the final destination.
What does this mean?
Basically, this means that shipping anything LTL ends up costing more money and potentially taking more time because more people are involved in the shipping process.
So, am I just stuck paying an arm and a leg for shipping?
Sometimes, but not always! There are a couple of ways that the price can be more reasonable: Local Pickup, Terminal Pickup, FTL (full truckload) and maximizing your pallet.
This is really just as easy as it sounds. If you go to the store and pick up the item yourself, you don’t have to pay anyone for shipping, just a few dollars for your gas. Even if you don’t have a vehicle that can carry your order, it's still much cheaper for you to rent a truck and come pick it up yourself (people actually do this all the time here at SanTan Solar).
This is an option many don’t really know about. Let’s say you love this idea of local pickup and the included savings and want to order from us here at SanTan Solar, but you live in New York. We can send your order (still using LTL or FTL shipping depending on how many you order) but instead of having the driver show up to your house, they just offload your order at their shipping terminal.
They’ll send you a message saying your order has arrived and you can go to your local terminal and pick it up. This almost always lowers the cost of shipping, because it's less work for the shipping company. On your next order, ask about this option.
FTL (Full Truck Load) is exactly what it sounds like, you order enough of something to fill a full trailer. Now this obviously isn’t going to apply to everyone but doing FTL always lowers the cost per panel. The author stared at this paragraph for a few minutes wanting to add more detail, but it really is that simple. FTL is cheaper.
Maximize Your Pallet
You can fit between 25-30 solar panels on a pallet. When we say maximize your pallet, we mean order as many as you can per pallet. Although this will raise your overall price because you’ll order more panels and have more weight, the price per panel goes down significantly.
Residential vs Commercial
One last tip when trying to understand and maximize your shipping costs is to know the difference between residential and commercial delivery. When a big truck has to drive into a residential area a.k.a. your neighborhood most carriers charge an extra fee. They also charge for a liftgate if you don’t have a way to offload the panels and that incurs some extra fees too.
Your best option (if available) is to send it to a commercial address like a business where a truck can offload without having to enter a neighborhood or bring extra equipment. The price varies but this can save you up to $100!
What about shipping internationally?
Maybe you live in Canada or Mexico and want to order some solar panels too! Great! We can and want to make that happen, but there are some extra factors that can influence price. Let’s start with Canada.
Shipping into Canada isn’t all that different from shipping into the U.S. and these same strategies to help cut costs still apply. One extra cost to add is customs and duties. These costs fluctuate regularly, and different political positions and situations on both sides of the border can raise or lower these costs.
At the time of this writing, NAFTA/USMCA allows solar panels to be duty free as long as the product was made in one of the countries included in the agreement (United States, Mexico, Canada), you just have to pay local taxes. Those taxes will vary by location.
Shipping into Mexico is a headache, always. In order to deter corruption and drug trade, the Mexican government limits the number of brokers that can import goods, and that raises those prices. To cross the border, you need a broker on the USA side to file paperwork and a broker on the Mexico side for more paperwork there. Then you have to calculate trucking fees from the Mexico side to the desired location, which aren’t super cheap.
Like Canada you don’t have to pay a duty tax, just border fees, local taxes and the hassle of the agents unloading all your items, checking them and then reloading them again. So, it can be done, but it’s a very involved process and therefore can end up being expensive. For shipping into Mexico you’re better of finding some experts who know the ins and outs and letting them guide you through the process.
So why are shipping costs for solar panels so expensive? Well, solar panels are big, and shipping big things takes time and costs money. But you can do it, and if you feel overwhelmed reach out to some experts and they can walk you through your options.
If you want a recommendation for some experts, the team here at SanTan Solar handles multiple orders everyday and they would love to help however they can.
About The Author
Dan is an International Marketing and Sales Manager. A linguist turned marketer, he has a degree in Spanish and Linguistics with a minor in Portuguese and Mandarin Chinese. He is currently working with SanTan Solar developing markets in Canada and Mexico. He has written technical papers and academic reports on second language learners in various environments and explored the linguistics behind “internet words”. Currently he is a solar panel consultant simplifying the complex world of buying and installing solar panels by writing easy to read but in-depth articles on anything and everything that touches the solar panel industry.