Installing solar panels is generally a very smart choice, but you have to know about the solar energy pros and cons. Before investing in solar power, it’s important to consider its many pros and cons.
Environmentally Friendly: Solar energy doesn’t produce any greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike more traditional coal-fired plants, solar panels also don’t spew harmful pollutants like sulfur dioxide, soot, mercury, and lead into the air. They don’t leak methane or produce coal ash that ends up in rivers and streams. Even when you consider the energy needed to produce the solar panels, the solar industry has prevented more greenhouse gas emissions than it has produced.
Abundant: Solar power is abundant and unlimited, and shines on homes and businesses alike. Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has suggested that solar power could easily provide all of America’s energy needs. All that would be needed is a large solar array of about 100 square miles in a sunny area like Utah or Nevada.
Energy Independence: A solar power system paired with battery storage or a generator, you could achieve 100% energy independence from the grid. Such an arrangement would allow you to remain powered up during power outages caused by grid failure or extreme weather events.
Reduced electricity costs: Assuming your home receives an average amount of sunlight and you install a 3-kilowatt system, you could cut your energy bill in half. Over the average 25-year lifetime of your solar system, this translates to tens of thousands of dollars in electricity savings. A 2011 study found that in a span of just 20 years, the average home solar customer would save $20,000. But savings vary significantly depending on where you live; a California resident could save over $34,000, while a household in Hawaii could save almost $65,000.
Silent Energy Generation: Other clean energy options are noisy. Wind turbines, for instance, are notoriously irritating to live near. Hydroelectric generators, likewise, produce an intolerable amount of noise. Fossil fuel-powered electrical plants (including those that use natural gas) are just as loud. But solar panels are completely silent once they’re installed and producing energy.
Low Maintenance: Solar panels don’t have any moving parts so there is no wear and tear to worry about. While solar panel performance can be affected by dust accumulation, the occasional rain shower keeps them plenty clean, and the only other maintenance you might need to do is cleaning snow or leaves off them in the winter and fall. If your solar system contains central (string) inverters, they’ll need to be replaced after 12 to 15 years. Other than that, your solar panels are a no-hassle power generating system.
Long Lasting: Solar panels are built to withstand the elements and last a long time. Most solar panels are under warranty for 25 years. Even the inverter, mentioned above, usually has a warranty of 10 to 15 years that covers you when it finally needs to be replaced.
Aesthetics: Early solar panels weren’t much to look at. However, with advances in technology, the most modern panels come in a smart, streamlined blue or black (depending on whether they’re produced using polycrystalline or monocrystalline solar cells). The black frames and black back paper make them an attractive addition to your roof.
Tesla recently announced a series of solar tiles that look no different than regular roof shingles, but function in the same way solar panels do. These shingles are only available in two shades of gray now, but will be available next year in tuscan (a light brown) and slate (a mosaic of earth-toned tiles).
Affordable: Whether you lease or buy, you can get your solar installation started with little to no money down. Leases often allow you to have solar installed for nothing down, though you’ll be locked into a contract for a fixed period (typically 15 months, at least). If you prefer to buy your solar panels, zero-down plans offered directly from the solar company allow you to slowly pay off the cost of your solar panels over time at a lower rate than what you’d pay for your monthly electrical bill. A growing number of private banks are also starting to offer home solar loans.
In addition, solar power customers will get lots of federal, state, and local government support in the form of tax credits and other incentives. The federal government, for instance, provides a 30% income tax credit, effectively reducing the cost of your system to 70% of its total price. In addition, many state and local governments offer rebates, tax incentives and solar generation credits to make the economics even better.
Increase in Property Value: A recent study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showed that solar panels can increase your home’s property value. After analyzing the sale prices of 22,000 homes across the country, the researchers found that a standard solar system will increase the price of your home by about $15,000.
Easy installation: Solar panels are typically installed by the seller, who takes care of permitting and paperwork, determines the ideal position for your panels, and connects them to the grid and/or your home storage battery. Leaving installation to the professionals is definitely the best option, since it saves you significant time and effort. Plus, if you install anything incorrectly, you could end up with sub-optimal energy production.
Intermittency: One of the most notable of the solar power pros and cons is that solar panels don’t produce power when the sun is down, and they offer only variable performance when it’s cloudy. Intermittency isn’t a problem when the solar system is connected to the grid or a battery, since any shortfall in production is bridged by electricity from the grid or the battery. Likewise, excess production can be sent to the grid or the battery for future use.
Spatial requirements: To produce solar power, the panels need to be installed on land or a roof that is exposed to adequate sunshine and generally free of shade. The number of panels－and the corresponding roof or land area－you’ll need depends on the energy needs of your home. Based on a solar panel efficiency of about 15 percent, you’ll require at least 1 square foot of roof space to produce 15 watts of solar power. Because of these spatial requirements, some homeowners won’t be able to enjoy the benefits of solar power.
Expensive battery storage: If you need to store the electricity that is produced by the solar panels, it may add significant costs to your project. While battery storage costs are coming down, they typically still add about $6,000 for equipment and hardware, plus another $2,000 for installation fees. Fortunately, you probably won’t need a storage system unless you don’t have access to a grid connection, poor grid reliability, or expensive grid usage charges.
High credit scores for loans: If you have poor credit, it can be tough to get a loan. Solar loans often require a credit score of at least 500. However, property-assessed clean energy (PACE) financing options can help. Unlike traditional loans, PACE loans are based on the value of your home, not on your credit score. While interest rates tend to be higher than those of traditional loans, PACE loans have allowed thousands of homeowners with low credit to go solar. PACE is only available in a few states like California. PACE financing isn’t available everywhere, unfortunately. Check this map for information about whether your state has authorized a PACE program.
Need to own your own home: Whether you buy or lease, installing solar panels typically requires home ownership. However, a new form of solar called community solar (sometimes called “shared solar”) is starting to expand access to solar power to renters. In a community solar arrangement, solar projects are installed in common locations and community members (either homeowners or renter) can purchase their electricity from this solar mini-grid.
Challenges associated with moving: One of the downsides of rooftop solar is that it is hard to take it with you if you move. While one can always find an installer who will be willing to remove the solar panels and install them somewhere else, your new home may not be suitable for solar or may require a different system configuration. However, it has become increasingly easy for solar customers to transfer the loan or the lease to the new home owner who is purchasing the house. If you’ve purchased your solar panels outright, you might be better off just leaving them attached, thus increasing your home’s sale price.