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The Pros and Cons of Solar Energy

Solar energy is an increasingly popular home energy solution. It offers the promise of a cheap renewable energy source that can save you a significant amount on your electricity bills while reducing the amount of electricity you derive from non-renewable polluting fuels.

But I’ve also read some negative things about solar power, questions about how clean an energy source it really is, and uncertainty about whether a solar system will save you enough money to justify the initial expense.

To make an informed choice we must look at all the positive aspects of solar energy and weigh them against the negatives. To help you get the full lowdown on the pros and cons of solar energy, I’ve listed them below, so why not have a read-through and judge for yourself.

pros and cons of solar energy

Solar Energy Pros

1) Saves on electricity bills

From the day you install your solar system and connect it to your power supply, you start saving money on your electricity bills. How much you save depends on the system size, but a big enough solar system could reduce your electricity bill to zero.

The system size you need varies depending on the amount of energy you use and your home location. Estimates suggest installing between 21 and 34 solar panels can provide enough energy to reduce your electricity bill to zero.

2) Protects against future electricity price rises

The cost of electricity in real terms has been rising for decades. It will only become more difficult to get gas, oil and coal these non-renewable energy sources are exhausted, so it’s reasonable to expect this trend of increasing electricity costs to continue.

benefits of solar energy

Setting up a home solar system as a renewable and constant source of power is a great way to ensure against these future increases in electricity cost.

3) Renewable

The sun is going to keep shining for another 6 billion years. It’s the ultimate renewable energy source because all you need to do is point a solar cell at it to draw from a regular and free energy supply. Solar power is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and provide your home with a constant and renewable energy supply.

4) Long-lasting

One of the beauties of generating electricity using solar panels is that there aren’t any moving parts. The photovoltaic solar cells in a solar panel generate power through a chemical reaction in a sealed unit and so solar panels are exceptionally long-lasting.

Most home solar panels have a twenty-five-year warranty, and their efficiency only reduces very slightly over this lifetime.  A solar system is an investment that will reap returns for many years into the future.

5) Pay-off period

Calculating the payoff period of a solar system spreads out the initial investment over the life-cycle of the panel. It’s a calculation that looks at the annual electricity savings you get from solar panels and then calculates how many years of savings you need to pay off your initial investment.

Payoff Period = Cost of system ÷ Annual Electricity Savings

advantages and disadvantages of solar energy

A typical payoff period for modern solar systems is around eight years. That means, assuming a twenty-five-year life, your solar system will provide you with free power for seventeen years.

6) Cheap to maintain

Because of the lack of moving parts, home solar systems are straightforward to maintain with occasional cleaning if needed and an annual service. This means the ongoing running costs of home solar are minimal.

7) Incentive schemes

Countries are increasingly making commitments to reduce their carbon footprint and generate energy from renewable sources. To achieve these goals, the US  federal government offers generous tax rebates for investing in solar energy.

solar energy advantages and disadvantages
Solar Investment Tax Credit Schedule

Many states, towns, and utilities offer further discounts, promotions and incentives for investing in solar power. Taken together these incentives can substantially reduce the cost of a home solar system and make the proposal even more attractive to homeowners.

8) Selling power back to the grid

As well as covering powering devices in your home, grid-linked solar systems connect to your mains electricity. If you generate extra electricity, you can sell it back to the grid. Sometimes you can sell this excess power at subsidised premium rates and this provides valuable income to set off against your energy bill.

9) Environmentally friendly

Despite a few environmental issues over the construction of solar systems, it’s safe to conclude that they are much healthier for the environment than traditional fossil fuel methods of generating electricity. Your solar system saves you money and helps the environment. What could be better than that?

10)  Scientific advances

Just five years ago, home solar systems weren’t really commercially viable due to their cost and inefficiency in converting solar energy to power. All that has changed now as prices have fallen and energy production has increased. These improvements are ongoing as promising new technologies move from the laboratory into your home. The cost-effectiveness of home solar keeps getting better.

solar energy cost
Solar panel cost over time

Solar Energy Cons

1) Not available to everyone

A solar panel installation takes up a lot of space. The amount of space required is reducing as the efficiency of solar panels improves, but if you want to generate a meaningful amount of electricity from your home solar system, you’re going to need a lot of roof space.

Not everybody has a roof or a big garden in which to install a solar system. This is especially the case in cities where small homes and apartments lack the space to install solar power.

There isn’t much that we can do about this except incentivize people with a large amount of space for solar power to produce more than their own needs. This is already happening as homes with on-grid solar connections capitalize on the earnings potential of selling excess electricity production back into the grid.

Solar will never be a renewable energy solution for all homes but by rewarding production, it’s possible to share out all the solar energy benefits more equitably.

2) Weather and location-dependent

Solar energy works better in clear dry places than cloudy and wet climates that see less sun. This means that home solar produces better returns in some states and locations than others.

us Peak Sun Hours Map

3) Initial cost

Despite government incentives and falling system costs, your initial home solar system investment will still be substantial. We’ve established that you can expect excellent long-term returns from your investment, but the fact remains that you need to come up with the money to get it installed in the first place.

4) Battery costs

On-grid solar systems don’t need battery storage, although it’s handy to have if you want to power your home during power cuts. Cheap, high-capacity batteries would significantly improve solar electricity storage. But at the moment battery technology is the Achilles heel of solar systems. Batteries that can store a meaningful amount of electricity are extremely expensive. But battery technology is improving and costs are falling all the time.

5) Not portable

Solar systems are specially tailored to the place where they are installed. This means that if you move home, you can’t just pick up and transport your home’s solar system.

However, a solar installation increases the resale value of your house, and this offers you the chance to recoup your investment if you move.

6) CO2 emissions of production and transport

The mining, assembly, and transport of solar panels and the other components of solar systems have a marked environmental impact and CO2 footprint. But this is the case with most manufactured products. The long-term benefits of renewable solar energy more than makes up for the environmental impact of solar panel manufacture.

disadvantages of solar energy

7) Disposal of Toxic materials

Some components of solar systems are toxic and difficult to dispose of, particularly the materials that go into batteries. The difficulty of safely disposing of toxic components must be considered when assessing the environmental impact of solar systems.

The long lifespan of solar systems acts in their favor here since the volume and frequency of disposal of toxic material waste are low.

To conclude

Looking at the pros and cons of solar energy can help you decide whether a solar system will provide you with an energy solution. If you have the space and the budget for the initial investment, it’s clear that solar technology has advanced to a degree where you will almost certainly benefit from installing a solar system.

Of course, you should consider the negatives but the sheer abundance of positive aspects of solar energy emphasizes the increasing contribution of solar energy to households and nations.

As the world continues to move from non-renewable to renewable energy sources, more and more people are starting to appreciate the benefits of home solar energy.

Pros and Cons of Solar Energy

Solar Energy Pros

Solar Energy Cons

Saves on electricity bills

Not available to everyone

Protects against future electricity price rises

Weather and location dependent

Renewable & Long-lasting

Initial cost

Pay-off period

Battery costs

Cheap to maintain

Not portable

Incentive schemes

CO2 emissions of production and transport

Selling power back to the grid

Disposal of Toxic materials

Environmentally friendly

If you have any comments or questions about the pros and cons of solar energy, then please share them with us here.

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