Pros & Cons of Solar Energy: What’s Best for You?
Solar energy has rapidly grown to be a popular energy source for the average consumer whether for home or business use. It accounts for more than 1/8th of energy produced across the United States. When considering switching to solar energy, what factors should you look at?
- Lowers electric bill
- Improves the value of your home
- Reduces your carbon footprint
- Solar is cheaper than ever
- Provides energy independence
- Initial investment can be high
- May not work for all roof types
- Manufacturing panels has pollution risk
- The transition can require navigating red tape
- Weather and climate dependent
So, what are the pros of solar energy?
1. Switching to solar energy will lower your electric bill
When installing solar panels, you are in control of the energy generated within your home, making you less reliant on utility providers. Therefore, your monthly bill could be reduced, if not eliminated entirely. Depending on your state, size of your home, and how much electricity you typically use, you could save anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 over a 20-year-period by switching to solar. The installation of your solar energy system is an investment. Use this estimate tool by energysage.com to calculate a customized estimate of how much you could save on your electricity bill.
2. A solar energy system improves the value of your home
Recent studies have shown that having a solar energy system installed increases the value of your property. Even if you plan to move before the life of your solar system is over, the increased value to your property will still provide a return on your initial investment. A study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, found that on average, across 8 different states, a solar system added $15,000 in value to the home. This is especially important if you’re ever planning on moving.
3. Solar energy is a clean energy source, reducing your carbon footprint
Solar radiation is captured in solar panels from the sun. The energy produced from these solar systems is free of pollutants and emits no greenhouse gasses. The Environmental Protection Agency states that greenhouse gases emitted from non-renewable energy like gas, coal, and oil energy are trapped on Earth and thus warm the planet. The average American home that uses typical non-renewable energy pushes out an estimated 15,000 pounds of carbon dioxide annually. With solar panels, that footprint is reduced by over 3,000 pounds, making it a much cleaner option.
4. Solar is cheaper than ever
The price of solar energy systems has continued to decrease, leading to a large increase in the use of solar technology. According to figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency, the cost of solar energy has dropped by 82% since 2010. This is due to many factors, including improved technology, and the cost will continue to decline as technology improves and more licensed installers become available. In 2010, solar cost roughly $0.378 per kilowatt and as of 2020, is now $0.068 per kilowatt—equating to an 82% difference. 13.1% of that drop happened between 2018 and 2019 alone. Not only has the price of the actual system dropped, but there are financial incentives set in place to help families and businesses afford solar energy. For example, purchasing a solar power system in the U.S. means you may be eligible for a 30% federal income tax credit.
5. Solar provides energy independence
Solar power is always available to us, unlike non-renewable energy that must be created from resources that are not unlimited. Solar is the most abundant source of energy that we have available to us on Earth, meaning that we’ll never run out of it. With the transition to the use of solar panels, the average consumer can trust that they’ll never run out of the sunlight that powers their home. As solar technology has improved, even climates with little sun can still generate energy.
So, what are the cons of solar energy?
1. Initial investment can be high
Though you may save money over time on your electric bill, the initial investment when installing a solar power system can be significant. The more energy you need to fuel your home or business, the more panels you’ll have to buy upfront. Installing panels can be tens of thousands of dollars in the beginning, but fortunately that can be reduced with federal incentives for making the transition to clean energy. Depending on your state, costs of a residential solar system after federal tax credits can range from an estimate of $11,000 to $20,000.
Though not everyone has the cash to pay for a solar energy system outright, there are a number of financing options to help you get started. The Investment Tax credit (ITC) has helped fund many solar panel investments since 2006—as of 2020, you can have 26% of your solar panel cost deducted through it. There are also federal grant and loan programs that offer incentives for installing solar panel systems—this enables homeowners to either receive a grant or take a loan to assist in their solar investment and get their system set up as soon as possible. Despite the initial investment cost being high, the savings on your monthly bill will allow you to recoup that investment in just a few years. The sooner you make the transition to solar energy, the sooner you can start saving money.
2. Solar panels may not work for your roof type
Solar panels are installed on the rooftop of homes and businesses through a mounting system. It can be difficult to install panels on some roofing materials used on older homes, making it difficult to include everyone in the transition to so
lar power. While installing solar on a home that you don’t own may make going solar for renters more difficult, it’s not impossible. You may be able to install solar panels on your roof with your landlord’s permission or use a portable solar panel system.
It can also be difficult to install on apartment buildings or businesses that have rooftop decks of skylights, making the installation process and transition to solar power much more difficult and costly. However, rooftop installation is not the only option when it comes to using a solar power system, as there are other options such as ground-mounted panels and community solar panel gardens.
If you live in an apartment, you can still go solar with portable solar panel systems —it can go on your balcony, banisters, or even your window. A portable system generates between 1.3 kWh and 1.5 kWh of electricity per day—enough to charge your devices and run small appliances—giving you the ability to use less non-renewable energy. These portable systems also qualify for the same federal tax credit that regular PV systems qualify for, continuing to save you money. While some roof types may make solar more difficult, as you can see it’s not impossible in the U.S.–even with the use of the smaller portable solar panel systems, both you and the environment benefit when the use of non-renewable energy declines.
And if you don’t have access to a community solar program, make sure your utility company hears that you want one!
3. Manufacturing solar panels has pollution risks
A solar energy system does not cause pollution during its working life, but it can during the initial manufacturing process. There are chemicals used during the making of the panels and the transportation of them—but it’s still one of the least-polluting energy sources available to us. In addition to the toxic chemicals used when making them, the manufacturing processes can produce gas emissions, but there is still considerably less pollution than what is produced by non-renewable energy sources. Manufacturers are continuing to improve their efforts in sustainability—including making sure that toxic chemicals are disposed of properly and that options for recycling solar panels are available. While there are pollution risks, making the transition to clean energy with minimal pollution outweighs the use of dirty energy and maximum pollution risk.
4. The transition require navigating red tape
Though solar is one of the fastest growing markets in the U.S., the market is still very small. It can be stressful and confusing to get started when you want to make the transition, and this can be due to the lack of qualified sales representatives that are honest or available. Don’t fall for aggressive companies trying to sell their products to the average consumer, which can make the transition to clean energy frustrating instead of enjoyable. With the growing of the industry, it’s becoming easier to find installers in your area that won’t leave you stressed about the transition. Mission: Net Zero is a project of Energy Alabama to install more than 310 megawatts of solar energy in North Alabama. Whether you are looking to install solar on your home or business, we have resources to connect you with qualified (and reputable!) solar installers throughout Alabama.
5. Solar is weather and climate dependent
Solar panels are dependent on the sun. In lesser-than-sunny areas, solar energy may not be as efficient despite technology improvements but luckily that isn’t a problem in Alabama. Solar energy also cannot be collected at night when the sun isn’t out, which is why external batteries are used to store energy during the day to power your home at night. These batteries are not essential for every solar system owner, but companies are steadily working towards increased availability for those who would benefit.
The technology of the batteries has greatly improved in recent years. Battery prices have dropped almost 90% in the past 10 years, with another expected 50% drop by 2023. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. household consumes an estimate of 30 kilowatt-hours (kW) of energy per day while a standard battery has a capacity of 10 kWh.
These pros and cons are what determine whether you choose to make the transition to clean solar energy—but it’s important to remember there’s a tradeoff. The technology of solar energy is continually improving and the pros still outweigh the cons.
While the initial investment can be expensive, you still save thousands compared to traditional non-renewable energy sources. Solar is also cheaper than ever and continues to decline in price. Despite installation difficulties and whether or not your roof type works, there are always alternative options such as portable panel systems or community solar programs. While solar may also be entirely dependent on the weather, batteries can make sure your home stays powered even when the sun is down. We will eventually run out of the non-renewable energy sources we use now, but we will never run out of sunlight. While there is some pollution in the creation of solar panels, there is much less pollution from solar than from the use of nuclear, coal, and gas, making solar energy one of the most advantageous option for our future.
The U.S. is successfully transitioning to clean energy—it’s our cheapest and cleanest option for our futures.The transition to solar energy in your home could encourage your neighbors, leading to more and more people using clean energy. Small steps lead to a big change, a change that could be made in your home and life. While it may not be the best and most available option for everyone right now, there is plenty of hope that one day it will as the solar energy market continues to improve.