As you may know, sun is the most powerful source of energy there is and the amount of power that it radiates in an hour could potentially power the entire Earth for the whole year. Unfortunately, with our current technology, we can only harvest about 0.001% of that powerful energy, and the best way we know how to do so right now is through solar panels. Here we discuss the solar energy pros and cons.
The good news is that if trends are anything to go by there’s still hope for solar energy despite the challenges that it has faced in the past. While many have criticised solar energy as an inefficient and expensive form of renewable energy, constant innovations and developments in the field have led to a significant drop in solar panel prices over the years coupled with an increased demand and a larger array of options – all of this without sacrificing performance. In fact, current models of solar panels perform much better and are way more efficient than their predecessors.
With all that said, there’s still room for improvement and there are still a few solar energy pros and cons that need to be addressed moving forward.
Here’s a comprehensive look at the advantages and disadvantages of solar energy to help you make an informed decision when you do eventually decide to go off-grid.
Solar Energy Advantages
Zero Marginal Cost of Generation
For all the solar energy pros and cons, perhaps the most attractive aspect of solar energy is the fact that aside from the actual purchase and installation costs of the solar panels, it’s quite literally free. This is a far cry from the days when homeowners were reluctant to invest in solar energy because of the high upfront costs.
Nowadays you don’t have to wait for a certain period of time before you can experience the savings offered by solar energy. The returns are instant because it has become significantly cheaper to install solar panels and on top of that, you get to save on a lifetime of electricity bills.
If you don’t believe us, do some research online to get an accurate estimate of what your return on investment will be based on the available solar offers in your region. There are many websites that will give you a good indication of what your payback period will be, after which you’ll be able to enjoy pretty much free electricity.
Protection Against Energy Price Hikes
Most solar panels come with a 25-year warranty because that’s pretty much the amount of time that they last for. This means that you won’t have to worry about the ebb and flow of electricity prices for over two decades! As soon as you get a price quotation for your solar panel setup, you’ll have a good indication of how much you’ll be paying for each kilowatt of energy over the 25-year lifespan.
Most people experience savings of $150 to $300 per month in electricity bills just by investing in solar energy. That’s because solar energy usually costs about $0.10 per kilowatt hour, which is a tiny fraction of most people’s current energy bills.
Solar Energy is Renewable
Solar energy is an abundant and sustainable power source that certainly won’t run out any time soon. In fact, according to NASA scientists, the sun will be around for another 5.6 billion years and it emits amount 120,000 terawatts of radiation onto the Earth’s surface each day. That amount of solar radiation is enough to power the Earth 20,000 times over.
Solar energy is a clean source of power that doesn’t lead to the kind of environmental devastation caused by fossil fuel powered electricity. Sure, the manufacturing process of solar energy equipment does lead to some minor emissions but it’s a tiny amount when compared to conventional energy.
Plus, a 2014 report by the Australian government research agency called CSIRO stated that solar panels actually return the power that was used to make them within 1.5 years, which is probably an even shorter time period when you consider the advances that have been made in improving solar panel efficiency since then.
The great thing about solar energy is that it’s completely pervasive. That means that you can harvest and benefit from it no matter where you are geographically on the planet. Whether you’re close to the equator or live in the mountains somewhere in the northeast America, you can still get access to enough solar power to meet your daily energy needs.
Lowers Electricity Costs
In most cases, homeowners don’t get to use all of the solar energy that they harvest. That’s why schemes like feed-in tariff (FIT) and net metering were invented so that homeowners can effectively sell the electricity that they don’t use whenever they get a surplus. This is another way that going solar can lead to significant savings.
According to research studies, homeowners can potentially save up to $28,000 over the 20-year lifespan of their solar array thanks to the schemes mentioned above. Add this to the fact that the initial cost of solar panels is much lower than ever before, and it’s clear that your overall electricity costs will get significantly reduced over time when you switch to solar energy.
Some of the most common barriers to solar energy availability in America, for example, are shading and ownership issues, while some homes just don’t have the right conditions for solar energy.
The good news is that homeowners with such issues can still benefit from solar energy by using shared solar in the form of community solar gardens. This involves subscribing to a solar array that produces energy for a particular area so that solar panels don’t have to be installed on individual homes.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, perhaps you can group together with your neighbors and create a community solar garden from a centrally located piece of land that you all can benefit from. Just be sure to consult with your local councilman to make sure that the location, installation and operation of your communal solar array are done according to the local regulations.
It’s Quiet and Requires Very Little Maintenance
Unlike wind turbines that make quite a bit of noise when generating energy, the photovoltaic process that’s used by solar power systems is virtually noiseless. This means that solar energy doesn’t produce any noise pollution because it doesn’t have any moving parts.
Rebates from Government/State
Installing solar panels in your home can also qualify you for tax credits, rebates and lots of other money-saving incentives. Just make sure to do your research and find out what types of rebates you qualify for at the state or county level, and you could even qualify for rebates from your utility company too. Keep in mind that your location will have an impact on the types of tax rebates that you qualify for, and it differs from one region to the other.
Thanks to constant research and development, the manufacturing processes of solar energy systems are constantly improving, leading to a more powerful and efficient product each year.
For example, manufacturers are making smaller solar panels that actually produce more energy than larger previous models because the cells which make up the solar panels are more efficient. If current trends are anything to go by, these advances are just the beginning and solar energy is set to become even more efficient in the future.
Solar Energy Disadvantages
Although the cost of buying and installing solar panels has decreased over the years, setting up a solar energy system is still a bit expensive. You have to pay for equipment like the solar panels, batteries, an inverter, wiring and of course the installation service as well. All of these costs add up to make the upfront cost of solar energy a bit steep for some people.
However, as renewable energy continues to be a priority for governments all over the world, there might be some discounts to the upfront cost of solar panels. Plus, the easier it becomes to produce solar energy and the more competition there is among solar manufactures, the lower the prices will become.
Dependent on the Weather
While your solar energy system might still work on cloudy days, it won’t be as efficient as it can be when the weather’s hot and sunny. That’s because, by definition, solar panels require sunlight to function optimally so you can expect to experience a drop in performance on rainy days and your solar panels will take a break at night too because there’s no sunlight radiation.
With that said, there are thermodynamic panels that are able to work through winter and at night without a problem so that you can have access to hot water at all times.
It’s Expensive to Store
If you don’t use all of the solar energy that you collect during the day, you’ll have to store it in large batteries. The problem is that storing energy in these batteries for use at night is a costly exercise because they are expensive. Alternatively, you could just try to use up as much solar energy as possible during the day and then supplement with grid energy at night. This means that you won’t be 100% off-the-grid but you will still have dramatically reduced your overall energy consumption.
Takes Up a Lot of Space
Other solar energy pros and cons to consider include the fact that solar panels can take up a lot of roof space that most people simply don’t have. And if you want to satisfy all of your energy needs with solar then you have to install a considerable number of solar panels.
That’s why some people end up installing their panels in strategic places in their yard because they simply don’t fit on their roofs. However, it’s possible to install fewer solar panels than originally planned while still fulfilling all the energy requirements.
Can Cause Some Pollution
While the pollution associated with solar energy production is significantly lower than that associated with other forms of energy, it still causes pollution nonetheless. For example, the toxic chemicals used in the production of solar photovoltaic as well as the greenhouse gas emissions that are emitted when transporting and installing solar energy systems can add up over time. But even then, the pollution caused by solar energy production and use is considerably lower than traditional forms of energy.
There Will Be Fewer Financial Incentives in the Future
There are certain incentives that come with transitioning to solar, like the 30% federal tax on renewable energy which is aimed at promoting solar energy adoption. However, this will be phased out in 2019 as solar energy costs are expected to decrease as the demand and supply increases. There are also similar programs at the local and state level that you can take advantage of for now but they’re expected to undergo a reduction over time as well.
- The State of California no longer offers the $15,000 rebates that it used to on solar energy, and it’s all because of the increased demand for solar within the state.
- The State of New York offers rebates on solar energy system installations through the Megawatt Block Incentive Structure, but the size of the rebate depends on the size of your solar system. The downside is that this rebate is being reduced in value as the number of solar system owners in the State increases.
- While the Massachusetts rebate system used to offer discounts of up to $9,000 for solar system installations, that number has gone down to a $1,000 tax credit due to the increase in demand.
As you can see, each state offers a different incentive program and there’s no telling how the chips will fall on these rebates in the future as the demand for solar panels goes up. So make sure you do your own research on this regard and you might end up saving even more in solar installation costs than you initially thought. Yes, there are a few solar energy pros and cons to consider but all in all, solar energy is a solid option.