Solar energy technology has been around since the early 1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that it began to see mass use. That’s partly because as technology advanced, the cost to install and use it has gone down.
Courtesy of NREL
These days, solar energy accounts for around 2 percent of total U.S. electricity. Both commercial businesses and homeowners across the nation are embracing solar power, increasing usage 10.9 percent between May 2018 and May 2019, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Solar energy has many benefits, but it isn’t the best choice for everyone. Think about the financial investment, your carbon footprint and the reliability of service before deciding on solar energy for your home or business.
Pro: Low monthly electric bill The goal for most people who install solar energy systems is to lower the power bill. If your bill is $100 on average per month, that’s $1,200 per year and $24,000 directly to the utility company over 20 years.
Depending on how much of your home’s energy needs are covered by the solar panels, your monthly bill can become negligible. Over the last decade, energy costs have increased 3 percent every year. Because of that, rising energy costs can increase your savings, since the costs associated with solar energy won’t undergo a substantial change.
And if you plan to sell, you’ll recoup your costs quickly. Solar panels increase a home’s value by around 4 percent, according to a study by Zillow. (While you can remove your photovoltaic panels and install them somewhere else if you move, it isn’t recommended. You could damage your roof and most likely the panel as well.)
Con: High upfront costs
Installing solar panels on your home is a long-term investment. Although technology is constantly evolving, the most common way to use solar energy is through photovoltaic panels. While your power bill will be significantly lower, it can take a while to see a return on investment.
On average, the cost to install solar panels is around $12,000, although it varies by state. The U.S. government does offer tax incentives — those were taken into account in the estimated cost — as a way to offset the upfront costs. Still, it would take an average of 10 years to recoup your costs. That can take even longer if you’ve taken out a loan and are paying interest on it to cover your costs.
Even if you’re taking on a loan, though, that’s a predictable expense and will typically be lower than your pre-solar electricity bill.
There are opportunities to reduce your pay-back period. You can sell unused electricity back to the power grid in some states through Social Renewable Energy Certificates. These are created for each megawatt-hour of electricity generated from solar energy systems, according to the EPA.
Pro: Freedom from nonrenewable resources
Besides cost savings, freedom from the power grid is often a major factor in the decision to go solar. Coal and natural gas are not only finite resources, they’re not good for the environment. Solar power is renewable and it isn’t dependent on foreign oil or fossil fuels.
Con: Dependent on sunshine
For solar power to be reliable, you need to live in an area with a lot of sunshine. Obviously, solar panels generate the most electricity on sunny days. While they don’t need to be in direct sunlight, shade will affect how much electricity is produced. Your solar energy system will be less productive during the winter months and if you live in an area with more rain and clouds than sunshine, it may not be the best option.
Solar power and the environment
Pro: Much better for the environment
Installing a solar energy system reduces your carbon footprint significantly. There are no emissions, greenhouse gases or pollution connected to solar power — other than when it’s being produced and distributed.
Con: There are still some negative environmental impacts
Creating solar panels requires chemicals like sodium hydroxide and hydrofluoric acid, and of course a lot of power is generated while manufacturing them. That creates waste and emits greenhouse gases.
Also, solar farms take up a lot of physical space. This can result in habitat loss for animals and it can have a negative impact on the landscape visually.
Converting to solar energy is a big step and multiple factors should be taken into consideration. If you’re looking at it from a purely environmental standpoint, it’s a great choice. Financially, however, it can take a while to recoup your costs.
Crystal Huskey is a content writer at PTACUnits.com, an online retailer of new and reconditioned PTACs, along with a full range of parts and accessories.