What Are The Pros And Cons Of Solar Energy?
9 - Minute Read
Sep 15, 2022
If you’re looking for ways to reduce your carbon footprint, you may be researching the pros and cons of solar energy. There are plenty of advantages to using solar energy, including lowering your utility bills and reducing your overall environmental impact, but it also has a few drawbacks. Here’s what you need to know about the pros and cons of upgrading your home to produce your own renewable solar energy.
Solar Energy Pros And Cons At A Glance
Let’s go over the high-level pros and cons of solar energy.
- Reduce your environmental impact
- Reduce or eliminate utility bills
- Improve your home’s resale value
- Take advantage of government incentives, if eligible
- Help the power grid
- Spend significantly on the up-front cost
- Update your existing electrical panel
- Understand utility company policies
- Realize you might not get power during a blackout
Advantages Of Solar Energy
Owning solar panels is a great way for homeowners to produce fewer emissions. But there are other benefits, too — one of the biggest pros of solar energy is that it can reduce or even eliminate your energy costs. Here is a look at some of the biggest potential benefits:
Reduce Your Environmental Impact
Solar owners have a positive impact on the environment. Here are some ways that going solar can reduce your overall environmental impact:
- Solar power uses less water than coal, natural gas or nuclear energy sources. Nearly all of your energy will come from the sun.
- Generating solar energy does not contribute to global warming. Because the energy comes from a renewable source, you potentially are not using any fossil fuels.
Make Your Home Better And Cheaper To Own
Another benefit of solar power is that it can improve your home:
- Improve resale value – according to Zillow, homes with solar panels are worth around 4% more than comparable homes without solar.
- You will almost certainly reduce your electric bill. And, depending on your city and state laws, you may be able to “sell” energy back to your utility company through net metering.
- Provide extra protection for your roof.
Improve The Grid
Solar panels add energy to the utility grid during peak times. If you live in an area where demand is straining the amount of electric supply, adding solar power can help avoid brownouts or other strains to the utility grid. Every kilowatt-hour that is added to the electric grid from solar is one less kilowatt-hour produced by fossil fuels.
Different utility companies have different policies and regulations about how you can connect your solar installation into the grid. If you are planning to connect to the grid, make sure to contact your local energy provider before installing solar energy at your home. Your energy provider will let you know the process for connecting to the grid and the policies for continuing to receive power from the grid or selling excess power back.
Cash In On Incentives
There are also government incentives that can make home rooftop solar more affordable and shorten the payback period of your investment. These tax credits and incentives can lower the upfront cost of your solar energy installation, shortening your payback period.
- The Residential Clean Energy Credit is a federal income tax credit that allows eligible solar homeowners to claim a tax credit for systems installed during a certain timeframe. The amounts are 30% for systems installed through 2032, 26% for systems installed in 2033 and 22% for systems installed in 2034.
- Many states and local jurisdictions also offer various incentives that you might qualify for.
- Check with your local city, township or state to see what incentives for solar power may exist in your area.
Get Clean Energy For Electric Cars
Plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles can also be a great match for solar systems.
- It allows plug-in hybrid and EV owners to charge overnight using clean energy.
- If your utility charges different prices for peak and off-peak usage, having a solar power installation can give you more control over when you charge your electric car, saving you money.
- At some point, EVs may be equipped with Vehicle To Grid (V2G) capabilities, allowing them to power homes or feed energy into the grid during peak times, as needed.
Influence Brands To Be More Sustainable
Consumers also have the power to influence brands to be more green. As an example:
- Nearly 71% of global emissions are the result of just 100 companies.
- According to the Harvard Business Review, 65% of consumers said they want to buy from purpose-driven brands that advocate for sustainability.
- While individual choices make less impact on reducing pollution than corporate choices, a large number of consumers collectively installing solar panels sends a powerful message about what matters to them.
- Companies recognize that going green can be a way to earn your business, but they have to see measurements that show that you’re committing your own resources.
- Adding solar panels to your home is one of the most-significant ways to send a signal that going green matters to you. It’s a large financial investment on your part that signals your willingness to spend money on improving the environment – i.e., you’re willing to vote with your wallet and will support companies that align with your values.
Disadvantages Of Solar Energy
While installing a solar energy system at your home comes with a lot of advantages, there are also disadvantages of home solar systems. You'll want to weigh these solar energy cons with the positives to make the best choice for your unique situation.
Overcoming The High Initial Cost
One of the big disadvantages to installing solar energy is that there is a high initial cost to add solar panels to a home. This large upfront cost can be a deterrent to installing solar energy at your home, since you may not have the money needed to install even a smaller solar energy system at your home.
- A modestly sized 5kW solar system for medium-sized homes ranges from $15,000 to $25,000 before tax credits or incentives.
- The average payback period for a home solar system is 6 to 9 years, although some systems take longer to “pay for themselves.” The payback period is defined as how long it takes for the reduction in monthly energy bills to equal the upfront costs of the installation. It is different for every situation.
- You may be able to use a home equity loan or HELOC to help finance the installation, but that’s still a large upfront investment.
- If you do get a loan to pay for your solar installation, it may complicate things if you try to sell the property before paying off the loan in full.
Upgrading Your Home For The Solar System
Depending on the age of your home and other factors, adding solar panels may require some upgrades to your home as well.
- If you have an older home, you may need to upgrade, replace or add new electrical panels to your home's electrical system.
- Some solar installations include a power inverter as well as batteries for power storage. You need to make sure that your home has a place to put these peripherals.
You’ll need to ensure that your roof can handle the added weight of a solar installation and that your installer knows how to avoid damaging your roof.
- Having solar panels on your roof can complicate things if you end up needing to repair or replace your roof. Make sure that your roof is in good condition before you install solar panels.
Navigating Utility Company Policies
Utility companies don’t always make it easy for customers who want to generate their own electricity. Check with your local utility to see what you have to do in order to connect your solar installation to the existing utility grid.
- Some utilities don’t offer net metering, which is when a utility company pays you for excess energy that you produce. Net metering can be the route to a faster payback period, so if your utility doesn't offer it, that can lengthen the amount of time to pay off your upfront costs.
- It’s not unusual for utility companies to charge a fee for solar customers to be connected to the grid.
- Requirements from the utilities and local municipalities can add delays to your system going online, which typically takes about 3 months. Make sure to plan for that time when planning your solar energy installation.
Getting Power During Blackouts
In many cases homes that rely on solar power won’t have power during blackouts. When you are designing your solar energy installation, you'll want to decide how you want to handle power blackouts and plan accordingly.
- Typically, homes with solar are grid-tied, meaning they feed their power into the utility grid. This means the home still won’t have power in the event of a blackout.
- If providing power during blackouts is a priority for you, consider a backup battery for energy storage. Many solar energy system designs include a battery system to store extra energy produced during the day for use during the nighttime, on cloudy days and when there are power blackouts from the grid.
- Some utilities offer incentives for backup batteries. Check with your local utility provider to see what incentives exist in your area.
- As more electric vehicles are equipped with Vehicle To Grid (V2G) capabilities, your car may be able to power your home.
Fitting The Environment
It’s important to determine if your house is good for solar power. Not all geographic locations are well-suited for solar power. Cloudier areas and places at extreme latitudes may not be as suitable. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has a calculator where you can enter your address and get an estimate for how much energy your home can produce.
Other Thoughts To Consider
There are a few other common questions people should ask about solar energy.
Are Solar Panels Bad For The Environment?
Some people say that building solar panels isn’t environmentally friendly because of their construction or difficulties in recycling them.
- Even considering the environmental impact of manufacturing solar panels, the emissions that solar panels generate is 3 – 25 times less than those generated by fossil fuels for the same amount of energy throughout their lifespan.
- Most solar panels last for 20 — 30 years, meaning that it takes quite a while for the panels to become obsolete.
- Because solar panels do not contain any moving parts, they break down less frequently than other forms of energy.
- As more solar systems go online, recycling solar components will become more prevalent. Check in your local area to see where you might already be able to recycle solar panels and their associated components.
Is My House As Efficient As It Can Be?
Besides installing solar panels in your home, there are some steps that homeowners should take to make their homes more efficient before they decide to purchase a solar system. Many people who are considering solar power want to be more sustainable, and reducing energy consumption can be an important first step. It will also help you to get more out of your solar system if you do decide to make the investment.
- Replace your lighting with LED bulbs that require less energy for the same brightness.
- Make sure you have the most energy-efficient appliances. Appliances like your hot water heater, washer and dryer or stove use a significant amount of your energy. If you replace your appliances with high-efficiency models, you won't need to generate as much power.
- Update your insulation to save on heating and cooling costs.
- Seal any HVAC ducts that you have.
- Install multi-paned windows.
Should I Go Off-Grid?
If you are considering using solar power to go completely off the grid, here are a few things you might want to consider:
- Unlike grid-tied systems, you won’t be able to use your utility as to supplement power at night or on cloudy days.
- You will need a backup battery system large enough to provide power overnight and during cloudy days (though solar systems do still provide some energy when it’s cloudy). This will add considerable expense to your system.
- Check with your local municipality for any relevant regulations to make sure you are legally allowed to go off-grid and that you get the necessary permits.
The Bottom Line
While there are lots of advantages to installing solar energy in your home, there are also some disadvantages that you'll want to be aware of. Before installing a solar energy system, make sure you know how much energy a solar installation will generate in your area. Consider how much it will cost upfront, what tax credits you might qualify for and what the payback period will be. That should give you the information you need to make an informed decision about whether solar energy is right for you.
Ready to dive further into our library of solar content? Check out our article about how long solar panels last!