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What are the pros and cons of solar energy? Here’s everything you need to know

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Image: Flickr

Using solar energy to meet your power demands doesn’t just make you more environmentally friendly — in many parts of the world, it may actually save you money as well. It’s a win-win situation, but only if you’re in it for long-run. Of course, the viability also depends on where you live, since how much energy your panels can harvest and consequently save you money depends on constantly changing factors such as time of day, season and weather, as well as geographic traits such as climate and latitude.

With this in mind, consider these pros and cons of solar energy before making a purchase.

Pro: Solar is Renewable and Clean Energy

Solar power systems still generate some emissions and pollution during their manufacturing process. However, during their operation, solar panels do not generate additional greenhouse gases that warm the atmosphere. Once your solar power system is set up, you can live comfortably knowing that your home isn’t making a negative impact on the environment. This means that overall, solar is a much cleaner alternative to conventional sources of energy.

Solar power is also renewable, meaning it will never run out. Fossil fuels like coal and oil, on the other hand, are depletable. In the case of oil, at least, experts forecast it will run out in a couple of decades. By hopping over to solar, you’re hastening society’s transition towards renewable energy.

Pro: You Can Save a Lot of Money

This is one of the main advantages. When you use solar energy, you rely less on utilities to give you electricity. Consequently, your monthly bills go down, and you can even earn a credit on your statement. Electricity companies also pay customers for using panels for the extra energy they don’t use in a month, so you make money (in some countries, at least).

According to a report by the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, backed by the SunShot Initiative, a fully financed solar PV system costs less than the energy purchased from a residential customer’s local utility in 42 of the 50 largest cities in the United States.

Figure 1: Ranking of 50 Largest Cities Based On Where Solar Offers Best Financial Value. Source: Going Solar in America (report)

Figure 1: Ranking of 50 Largest Cities Based On Where Solar Offers Best Financial Value. Source: Going Solar in America (report)

Pro: Improves the Value of Your Home

According to recent studies, a property’s value increases after solar is installed, as many people would love to move into a solar-powered home without actually going through the hassle of installing a solar power system. Know this, it’s a lot easier to make the decision of investing in solar knowing that you can actually turn a profit if you choose to move to a different town.

Pro: They’re Quieter than a Heartbeat

Solar panels make no noise whatsoever since they don’t contain any moving parts unless you order a PV array with a rotational axis that follows the sun throughout the daytime. Even then, however, the noise and nuisance are barely noticeable.

Another alternative energy source, wind turbines, might make noise because it is like a large fan blowing in your backyard. This is partly the reason why wind turbines are mostly located near farms or other remote locations because there aren’t many residences nearby to complain about the noise.

Pro: Solar Energy is Accessible in Remote Areas

[button url=”https://lp.understandsolar.com/ro/core/?lead_source=zmescience&tracking_code=solar_pros_cons” postid=”” style=”btn-success” size=”btn-lg” target=”_blank” fullwidth=”true”]Find out how much a solar roof can save you in your area[/button]

The cost of installing and maintaining solar energy panels is high in the beginning, but for areas that aren’t able to receive electricity the traditional way, adding these can be a huge benefit. Some areas are remote and off the grid, so electric companies cannot add a grid matrix to install electricity. These areas use the solar power so that they might use devices such as a microwave, washer and dryer, and the Internet. In some states, it’s debatable whether or not solar can beat the grid in terms of cost, but as far as remote off-grid locations are concerned, solar almost always beats a diesel or gas-fired generator.

Con: They may be Expensive to Install

While you save money by using less electricity, you spend a lot of money upfront buying solar panels. The bigger your energy needs, the more your cost is, and you can spend tens of thousands of dollars. The government can give you credits for adding solar panels, on the bright side. And some providers are actually offering interesting ways to fund your PV installation, so you don’t need to invest a massive initial capital to get going. Depending on where you live and your payment plan, your energy savings could equal your monthly payment. Also, thanks to advances in energy conversion and manufacturing, solar panels are cheaper than ever. According to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the median cost of a residential solar project fell from $12 per watt in 1998 to $4.70 per watt in 2013. EnergySage reports that the average cost of a 5-kilowatt rooftop system in the third quarter of 2014, before incentives, was as low as $3.70 per watt. In 2018, most homeowners are paying between $2.71 and $3.57 per watt to install solar. As you can see, solar energy is becoming cheaper year after year.

Using the U.S, average for system size at 6 kW (6,000 watts), solar system costs will range from $11,380 to $14,990 (after tax credits). For some, it makes sense to install now, for others perhaps you have to wait. Check out the calculator below to learn where you fit.

Here’s how much a solar power system will set you back on average in the following states:

Note that these are power system prices after the 30% federal tax cut for solar is applied. The price include cost of solar panel, storage, and installation. Source: Energy Sage / Solar Pricing Table 2018.

Con: It Might Not Work so Well in Your Area

solar-energy-pros-cons-map-solar-concentration

Areas closer to the equator have far greater potential for producing solar electricity than those closer to the poles, and areas with consistent sun have greater solar potential then areas that are frequently overcast. Luckily, most of the United States has a great potential for solar energy, as you can see in this map of global solar radiation from the United Nations Environment Programme. For the absolute best solar resources in the United States, think southwest.

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New Mexico and Arizona are red hot with solar potential, and California, Nevada, Texas, Utah, and Colorado also have large areas highly favorable for PV development. If you live in one of these states, consider this point as a “pro” on your checklist. Also, another point you should consider is air pollution. Using solar power, you disconnect from the grid, thus generating less demand which is generally met by coal power plants. In effects, this ultimately reduces pollution. But if you’re living in a polluted area in the first places, you’ll experience poorer performance than otherwise because black carbons spewed by power plants combine to form haze and smog. These greatly reduce the amount of available sunlight by blocking the sun. In 1985, Atsumu Ohmura discovered that the amount of sunshine on Earth had dimmed by 10% between the 1960′s and 1980′s.  In addition, over the past 50 years, the average sunlight reduction was 3% per decade.

Con: Your roof might not be big enough

The more energy you use, the more space is required in order to host more solar panels. Solar panels are great because you can install them on your home’s rooftop, without the need for any additional space (apart for the batteries in a garage, for instance). However, if you’re really burning a lot of energy, the rooftop might not be enough.

Con: It’s Weather Dependent

Solar energy works during cloud and rainy days but its efficiency drops significantly. Just a few cloudy or rainy days could have a noticeable effect on your energy bill’s bottom line. Most importantly, solar energy cannot be collected during the night, which forces you to install batteries to store energy.

Con: Storing Solar Energy Costs a Lot (for now)

You use solar energy during the night hours thanks to batteries charged during the day. These batteries run from a few hundred dollars to over $1,500 and weigh from 60 to 420 pounds. You also require a place to store them that will not get wet and damage the battery, as well as buy accessories such as a cord and replaceable cells, which you’ll have to replace every 15 to 20 years. Consider, however, that now we have Tesla batteries! The list price for a new 13.5-kilowatt-hour (kWh) Tesla Powerwall 2.0 battery, which offers twice the storage capacity of the original Powerwall, is $5,900. Supporting hardware adds another $700 to the equipment costs, bringing the total to $6,600. Installation can add anywhere from $2,000 to $8,000 to the final bill.

Because Tesla Powerwalls aren’t available to the mass market yet, you’ll have to settle for other commercially available alternatives. In 2018, solar batteries range from $5,000 to $7,000 and from $400 dollars per kilowatt hour (kWh) to $750/kWh, cost of installation and additional equipment not included.

26 thoughts on “What are the pros and cons of solar energy? Here’s everything you need to know

  1. Bryan

    There’s a lot of gimmicks hitting the solar energy market. Now that expensive solar leasing/PPA schemes are losing their popularity, the solar leasing companies want you to try their new 30 year balloon payment loans with a 2.9% annual payment increase. You read right, a 30% balloon payment that ‘s due on June 1st the year after installation, regardless of the amount claimed in the tax credit and you’ll have a 2.9% annual payment increase!

    Pricing for solar has dropped to historically low levels. Today a name brand, average sized 4.75 kW grid tie solar system that will produce up to 600 kWh per month with only 5 hours of peak sunshine per day.can now be purchased for less than $2.20 a watt after applying the tax credit or less than $11,000.

    Solar has truly become affordable today. Just make sure that you compare quotes from at least 6 dealers before you commit to a system. Don’t just shop the big leasing companies or even the small local dealers. Use a search engine such as Yahoo to (enter the name of your state followed by the word solar) and you’ll come of with hundreds of results to compare pricing. Pricing can vary by tens of thousand of dollars for the same system. Be smart, shop before you buy or lease.

  2. david_mayes

    My wife and I live in Cape Town, South Africa where we have a Mediterranean like climate. It is cool (8-18C) and frequently rainy in the winter but dry and relatively hot in the summer. I find solar heating to be problematic to manage outside of the summer months, especially. (We probably don’t have the best quality system installed in our house, though.) We currently have scheduled the system to heat for 2.5 hours in the morning, and it provides enough hot water for at least one of us to shower and for usage the rest of the day, if we have lots of sun . If it’s cloudy, we have to boil some water in a kettle to do the evening dishes in spring, winter and fall. In the winter, we haveto put the system on for another couple hours if we need hot water in the evening. I’m sorry that I don’t have any specs on the system, although I believe it has a 150 liter tank and it is a 3 kva heating element. I don’t know what the energy consumption would be with a conventional water heating system In short, if I owned this house, I would have seriously considered evaluating a heat pump which doesn’t depend on the sun and used a better insulated tank.

  3. David H

    Huge pro left out: the cost of the energy vs the cost of the converter. We currently use propane or wood to heat our homes (or electricity made by propane, coal, oil, etc). In each of these cases, the cost of the converter (the stove, be it wood, or coal, or propane) will always cost less than the cost of the fuel source (the wood, or the coal), over the life of the converter. My father in law spent $2000 on his wood stove, and has spent nearly $9000 on wood in the last 15 or so years. With solar, your only cost is in the converter and battery. The energy I’m converting is literally free, falling all the time from the giant fusion reactor we call the sun. And since the cost of technology drops over time (such as with my cell phone, computer, and microwave), the since PV efficiencies keep going up, the second set of panels I buy will cost less and be more efficient than the first. *drops mike*

  4. mxpower

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  5. Charlie Munro

    http://www.Solarpiper.com created a calculator to assist in making decisions about how to add solar power to your property. It can be used to find out how much solar energy can be collected on your property, what your needs and requirements are, and how much it will cost you.

    We, at Solar Piper, have a mission. We are looking to educate the world on residential solar energy, and we will stop at nothing to make sure that all of the information in this industry is made available to you on a real time basis. We pride ourselves on providing the best resources in the world for you on this topic. We will make it our daily mission to ensure that our site is the go to resource for the latest on the world of solar energy. We look forward to serving you through the resources that we bring to you on our website. Let's all move forward in creating a new world of high efficiency solar energy for everyone around the world!

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  6. Loria

    If you installed a 3kW system, you can approximate that, based on an average amount of sunlight, the system would create 450 kWh per month—about half of your monthly electric bill. Estimating that bill at $100, your initial investment will save you approximately $50 a month for the life of your <a href="http://freedomsolar.com/">Solar panel</a> system.

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  8. ccagle8

    What about Pittsburgh? I am looking across the web for good information on whether PA is viable for solar energy and I am having a hard time getting a real answer. The only place I found was https://ThinkSolar.co and SolarPowerRocks. Are there any other good resources?

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  10. Hunter51

    I have a company saying they will install me a system that only cost a small monthly fee (less than monthly electric bill) I pay them all the Fed. tax credit in 16 months which they say will be $10, + which lowers pay off and loan at 6.45%. I'm in North Florida in rural area with plenty of land around me. $33,000 is they installed price. If I make monthly payments loan paid off in 20 yrs.

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