How solar energy pros and cons have changed in 2020
If you’re looking to install solar panels on your home, you’ll find a wide range of information. This can make it difficult to figure out whether or not solar panels are the right fit for you.
To help you out, we’ve put together a conclusive list that weighs the pros and cons of solar.
Solar energy pros and cons
Looking at the advantages and disadvantages of solar energy from a homeowner's perspective is an important step in the research process when considering installing solar panels for your home.
Here are a few that come up most often:
Main solar energy pros and cons
|Pros of solar energy||Cons of solar energy|
|Reduces electric bill||High upfront cost|
|Insurance against rising power prices||Intermittent energy source|
|Solar is cheaper than ever||Manufacturing panels has some impact on the enviroment|
|See return on your investment||Requires space|
|Enviornmentally friendly||Not the best if you're planning to move|
The argument for the average American homeowner to install solar panels for their home is now better than it has ever been, as the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these solar energy pros and cons.
Advantages of solar energy
1. Reduces your electric bill
One of the biggest benefits of solar panels is that they can provide you substantial savings on your electric bill. Many states require utilities to offer net metering, which allows homeowners to offset their electric costs with the energy their solar panels produce.
They can then sell that excess energy to the utility. This will usually be added onto their electric bills as a credit that can then be used to offset future electricity costs.
In many states, adding solar panels to your home can bring in electric bill savings of well over $1,000 per year. Residents of California who go solar save an average of $99,181 over the lifetime of their solar system!
2. Insurance against rising power prices
One thing most homeowners know is that electricity keeps getting more expensive. The price of electricity has increased steadily over the past 10 years, with an average increase of about $0.2 per year. The cost of electricity will continue to rise into the future, meaning your electric bill will continue to go up too.
Solar panels protect you from these rising electricity costs. Because you are producing your own energy, you don’t have to buy that expensive power from your utility. So, rising electric costs are a worry of the past! In fact, rising prices might actually be a good thing when you install solar.
For example, let’s say your utility charges 12 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity. That means with net metering, your utility would pay you 12 cents for each excess kWh of electricity your solar panels produce and send to the grid.
If your utility raises its electricity price to 13 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity, that means the power you send to the grid would also be worth 13 cents.
So, net metering is saving you more money each time your utility raises their prices!
3. Solar is cheaper than ever
While electricity prices continue to get more expensive, the cost of solar has continued to fall. Solar is now cheaper than ever; in fact, the cost has fallen over 70% in the past decade. These low prices make solar more accessible to more homeowners than ever before.
Installing solar can be even cheaper when you take advantage of solar incentives. For example, if you install a solar system before the end of 2020, you could be eligible for the 26% federal tax credit.
This tax credit is equal to 26% of the total cost of your solar system and is applied to your income taxes. In addition to the federal tax credit, there are many other solar incentives offered locally.
4. See return on your investment
Solar panels not only eliminate your electric bill, they can also be a source of extra income. As we mentioned before, net metering allows you to earn money by selling excess power your solar panels generate to your utility.
Some states have other performance-based incentives, like Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs), that have the potential to earn you hundreds of dollars a year, depending on where you live.
The money you earn from net metering, combined with your electric bill savings and other incentives, go towards paying back the cost of your system. In areas that have all of these incentives, the payback time for a solar panel system can be as little as four years.
Once your system is paid off, your solar panels will continue to generate free power for your home for the lifetime of the system!
5. Environmentally friendly
Another big selling point for solar is that it is a renewable energy. This means that as you use the resource, it doesn’t deplete the source. So, by using the sunlight that hits the earth and turning it into electricity, we don't deplete the sun’s energy.
Plus, electricity created with solar panels does not produce any greenhouse gas emissions. Nothing is being released into the atmosphere when we produce electricity with solar panels. The only thing that's created is clean energy!
6. Energy independence
Having solar panels allows homeowners to create their own energy, thereby giving them energy independence. Essentially this means a solar home isn’t as dependent on the traditional electric grid. This allows you to take power into your own hands and control where your home is getting its energy from.
On a larger scale, the United States making the switch to solar and other renewable energies would allow the country to achieve energy independence. The US would not have to rely heavily on other countries to get oil, gas, and coal like we do now.
Using energy created right here in the US and not relying on foregin sources is great for national security and for the country’s economy.
Disadvantages of solar energy
1. High upfront cost
The large upfront cost is one of the biggest drawbacks of solar panel systems. Right now, the average cost of solar in the US is about $3.18 per watt. So, a 6 kW solar panel system would run you around $19,080, on average, before the federal tax credit.
The actual cost of a solar system will vary by state, and by the incentives that you qualify for.
Luckily, there are solar financing options available. In many cases, you can qualify for a zero-down solar loan, which allows you to still save money on your electric bill and reap the benefits of owning a solar system.
2. Solar energy is an intermittent energy source
There are three main reasons why solar is considered an intermittent source of power:
- The sun doesn't shine at night. Therefore solar panels don't generate power at night.
- The intensity of the sun varies based on the location, the time of year, and the time of day.
- Cloud, snow, and foliage cover can have a significant effect on the amount of energy produced by solar panels.
All of these factors have been used to argue that solar power cannot be relied on for base load or mission-critical applications. However, this is changing with the emergence of cost-effective battery solutions. Batteries allow homeowners to store their solar power and draw energy from the battery when their solar panels aren’t producing energy.
The most popular residential solar battery is the Tesla Powerwall, a 13.5 kWh lithium-ion battery. Other manufacturers, such as sonnen, LG, and BYD, offer great solar batteries for home energy storage, as well.
Ongoing advances in battery storage are a sign that intermittency may not be a limitation on solar power for long.
3. Solar panel manufacturing has some environmental impact
While the power that solar panels generate is emission-free, it is important to note that there is some pollution associated with the manufacturing of solar panels.
Some solar panels contain harmful pollutants, like sulfur hexafluoride, which is more potent than carbon dioxide. However, the impact of carbon dioxide on the climate is much greater than that of sulfur hexafluoride.
The environmental impact of solar panels is minimal compared to the amount of damage associated with the mining and burning of fossil fuels.
4. Solar panels require space
Solar panels require space in order to meet energy needs. For residential installations, a roof will almost always have enough space. However, when you look at large grid-scale solar installations, space can be a bit of an issue.
This is because solar panels have a lower power density. Power density is how much power can be derived from an energy source within a certain area, measured in watts per square meter (W/m2). The power density of solar panels is low compared to those of fossil fuels.
This means that you need a larger area of solar panels in order to produce the same amount of energy that a coal plant would. However, the amount of land that was mined for fossil fuels is not considered in this measurement.
So although you would need a large solar power plant and a small coal plant, the mining of coal destroys acres upon acres of land, whereas the solar power plant does not.
5. You can’t take solar with you
One of the disadvantages of installing solar panels on your home is that it can be expensive to move them, should you decide to move. The net metering agreement with your utility is fixed to the property. Also, finding someone to remove and reinstall your solar panels can be costly.
But, solar panels do add value to your home, so even if you do move, you are likely to see the value of your solar panels reflected in a higher sale price.
If you do plan on moving in the near future, it is best to purchase your solar panels outright. If you have a solar lease or a power purchase agreement (PPA), you will need the new owner to take over your agreement, which can be a hassle.
Related discussion topics
Author: Andrew Sendy | Home Solar Journalist
Andy is deeply concerned about climate change but is also concerned about cost of living pressures on American families. He advocates for solar energy and solar battery storage only to the extent that they make financial sense for homeowners. He is not affiliated with any particular solar company in the United States.