The Benefits & Drawbacks of Using Solar Power
Solar power is one of the most environmentally friendly and practical sources of clean energy. This renewable energy source is generated using a solar panel system that harnesses and transforms the sun’s energy into electric power. Solar energy systems can be installed on roofs by solar companies or even on racking systems like the ones used on solar farms.
The use of solar energy can easily reduce or fully offset your electric bill by generating enough energy to power your entire home. Installing solar panels at home can be both beneficial for the environment and your budget, especially considering the high electric costs these days.
In this article, we will go over the most popular advantages and disadvantages of solar power when using it to energize your home. Here we will talk about how it reduces your electric bill, how installing solar panels can increase the overall value of your home, the most beneficial federal and local incentives for using solar energy, and we even answer some of the most frequently asked questions about solar energy.
Advantages of Solar Energy
Using solar energy as the main energy source for your home can be quite beneficial. In this section, we go over some of the most game-changing advantages of solar energy.
Helps Reduce or Eliminate Your Electric bill
One of the main solar energy pros is the cost reduction for the electricity bill. Using solar power allows you to partially or fully supply the energy needs of the home, consuming solar energy instead of grid-delivered power. Living without electricity from the grid throughout the month or reducing the consumption of that high-cost electricity will result in a much-reduced energy bill at the end of each month.
The average cost for monthly electricity bills in the U.S. rounds the $115, but energy bills go as high as $136 – $168 for states like South Carolina, Connecticut, Alabama, Mississippi, and Hawaii. Considering these high costs for the electric bill, the average U.S. household ends up expending up to $1,380 in annual energy bills, which is a considerable amount, in the long run, up to $13,800 in 10 years and $27,600 in 20 years.
Different homes mean different energy needs. Most homeowners looking for energy independence install solar panels ranging from 4 – 8 kW DC, which cost on average $9,620 – $16,872 after the Tax Credit Incentive. With a solar power system this size, you can partially or fully offset the energy bill for your home, making solar panels a great investment. Homes that are fully powered by 4 – 8 kW solar systems concerning the average electric bill, have an average return on investment period of 7 – 13 years.
Since solar systems last on average up to 25 years, the 7 – 13 years for the return of investment means that by the time the solar system is fully paid, you still get 18 – 12 years of free energy. A solar system fully offsetting the $1,380 monthly electric bill, will save you $34,500 during its lifetime, allowing you to save a larger amount of money than the upfront cost of investment for the solar panels.
Even if a solar system does not generate enough power to offset 100% of the electricity bills, solar panels can highly reduce electric costs for living. This increased energy independence will ensure you only pay a fraction of the price of your old electric bills since you do not consume as many kilowatt-hour as before installing the solar panel system.
Increase the Value of Your Home
One of the best advantages of solar energy is increasing the value of your home. As a general rule, investing in your home increases your quality of life alongside the value of your home. This is true for kitchen renovations, door or window renovations, and of course, the installation of solar panel systems.
Solar panels can increase aesthetics for a home, making it look technologic, energy-efficient, and at the same time making it partially or fully energy independent. Some studies suggest that homes with solar panels can increase their value by 4.1% in the real estate market, while others suggest an overall value increase of $4,020 – $5,911 by each kilowatt-hour installed.
This property value increase allows homeowners to make profits from their investment when moving out of their homes. While many consider this a benefit, others worry that the increased value means a higher property tax. There is no need for worrying since there are tax exemptions in place for most states.
The usual rule for the increasing value of homes is that the higher the value, the higher the property and sale taxes. But this is not always the case with homes with a solar panel installation. States like Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, and others, have a solar incentive that fully exempts homes from an increase in property and sales taxes by the added value of solar panels at the home.
Earn Tax Credits, & Rebates
Some of the major solar energy pros are the state & local credits, rebates, and incentive programs. These mean rebates and discounts when installing solar panels, low-interest loans, and the possibility to sell excess power generated by solar panels.
Solar Investment Tax Credit
The Solar Investment Tax Credit known as the Residential Renewable energy Tax Credit is the largest and most profitable federal solar incentive. This credit ensures a 26% dollar-by-dollar tax deduction over the whole cost of the solar system against federal taxes liability. If there is any excess credit after applying for the credit, the amount will be carried forward for the following years.
Even though the solar tax credit started at 30%, it has been gradually being reduced. By 2020 the solar tax credit was reduced to 26% and it will be reduced even further to 22% by 2023 until it is dropped out entirely by 2024. Homeowners that want to take full advantage of all the solar energy pros, should consider going solar before 2023, to get the full 26% tax discount over the cost of the solar system, including installation.
Solar Renewable energy Credits
One of the greatest advantages of solar energy in the U.S. is the usage of Solar Renewable energy Credits (SRECs), which is a type of Renewable energy Certificates (RECs) or Credits. The need for RECs is a consequence of the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which demand that a certain percentage of the energy sold in the state comes from a renewable energy source.
To achieve the goal of acquiring enough RECs, each state tries to generate electricity in large amounts from renewable sources, but for most states, this is not enough. To acquire the remaining RECs, the states pay someone to generate that renewable power or failing that, it pays someone who generated it for the right to claim that clean energy as their own, which is where the SRECs markets come to place.
The way SRECs are sold can vary from state to state, some have SREC markets in place while others use brokers to trade SRECs. Each 1 x SREC is equivalent to generating 1 MWh = 1,000 kWh in solar energy, with the cost for SRECs varying between states. The value for SRECs is usually defined by:
- Supply & Demand
- Alternative Compliance Payments (ACP) – this is a penalty that some utilities have to pay to the state if they do not generate the demanded quota of RECs.
Depending on the state, selling SRECs can give you a small income or even be highly beneficial. By January 2021, SRECs were sold in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania for $10 and $21, respectively. Instead, Maryland traded SRECs for $75 and Washington D.C. for $425 per SREC.
Solar net metering
Solar net metering is a system measuring how much excess solar energy goes from the solar panels to the grid and how much the house demands from the grid. By measuring this in-and-out of energy to and from the home, electric utilities pinpoint exactly how much power has to be charged at the electric bill for the home at the end of the month (if any).
When the net metering system determines that the residential customer has an overall excess generated energy, there are two commonly applied methods to account for this excess power:
- Credits to be used at a later date: The first and most popular option is the credit system. This allows customers to accumulate credits equal to the excess solar power generated, with those credits being creditable to future electric bills.
- Payment for the excess generated solar energy: The second option is the payment for that excess generated solar energy, usually credited to the residential customer at the end of the billing year.
Homeowners with homes that have more solar panels than necessary or having a great generation year, can make a profit from their solar system in a state that pays that excess energy. This ensures that solar panels get a faster payback period in states paying for that energy produced.
Limits the Effect of Rising Electricity Cost
The price for energy in the U.S. increases on a year-to-year basis, meaning that yearly you pay a small increase in percentage for the power you consume. Electricity prices increased 1.4% in 2020, 1.1% in 2019, and up to 2.7 in 2017. From 2010 to 2020 alone, the cost of electricity increased up to 16.67%. This also means that for future years, you can expect the electricity to keep on rising at the same rate.
Installing solar panels at home can bring energy independence, allowing homeowners to enjoy a carefree life without worrying about high electricity prices. This is especially true for homes with solar panels that produce enough solar energy to offset the electricity bill or even homeowners living off-grid.
Being energy independent is not the only benefit of solar energy. A home with a large solar system can get a profit that increases yearly due to the effects of rising electricity costs. Selling the excess energy will ensure a profit that constantly rises year by year. By installing a larger system, you will produce more electricity and make a higher profit, ensuring an even better return of investment and a higher profit.
A Better Environmentally Friendly Renewable Energy Source
The traditional methods to produce electricity involve burning fossil fuels that release greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide (CO2) and others, causing a great environmental impact and air pollution. The emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause of global warming, which has generated a worldwide climate change still going on to this date and especially present these last few years.
To help the Earth, there is a need for energy sources that produce zero emissions, are sustainable in the long term, and reduce the burning of fossil fuels. Society is also in constant development and modernization, causing a constantly growing demand for more energy, which is why entities like the International Energy Agency (EIA), are helping countries worldwide shift into renewable energies like solar energy.
By installing solar panels at a large scale in solar farms or a solar power plants, countries can ensure the increase of solar energy usage and the reduction of burning fossil fuels. These large installations can benefit apartment owners and homeowners that do not have the required conditions to install solar panels.
While these large investments mean an increase in costs for electricity, homeowners with the right rooftop conditions can install solar panels and enjoy solar energy at a much lower cost. This way, they will enjoy cheap energy, help the environment, and fight global warming, all at the same time.
Requires Low-Cost or Minimal Maintenance
A solar system requires little maintenance to stay in top shape. After the upfront cost, you might only have to pay very low maintenance costs to ensure the 25-year lifespan and optimal efficiency for the panels, but in most cases, you can perform this maintenance yourself, keeping your panels in optimal conditions.
Sometimes a solar panel can accumulate dirt, leaves, bird droppings, or dust particles, all of these decrease the efficiency of the panel. Under these conditions, you might want to perform maintenance 2 – 4 times a year, depending on your climate conditions. States with regular rains might require maintenance only every six months, while states with dry climate conditions require maintenance more often.
If you do not feel like performing maintenance yourself or feel afraid to do so, you can hire a solar company to perform the regular checks with very low maintenance costs. Most solar installers have packages providing you with several yearly maintenance sessions, to keep your panels in top shape.
Disadvantages of Solar Energy
While there are many pros and advantages, there are also some disadvantages to solar energy. In this section, we will explain the most important cons of solar energy.
Solar panels Cost a Lot of Money
Electricity has always been relatively expensive and solar panels tend to follow that trend with a high upfront cost, but as for the investment, solar panels have a small-medium payback period. When purchasing the 4 – 8 kW DC solar panel system under average cost for electricity with a payback period of under 7 – 13 years, you will get more than 12 – 18 years of free energy, which is quite the deal.
While the high upfront cost is one of the disadvantages of solar power, this is less perceivable in states with high costs for electricity, since the return of investment period varies depending on the cost of electricity per state. For instance, solar panels at a home in Hawaii with electricity prices of 0.3274 cents/kWh would ensure a payback period 3 times faster when compared to the payback period for panels in an Idaho home with the same energy needs paying 0.0995 cents/kWh for electricity.
To ease the cost of a solar panel installation, homeowners on a budget can ask for a solar loan. These are loans with low-interest rates, allowing homeowners to install solar systems without worrying about the high upfront cost, paying the loan each month until it is fully paid. These loans can be found for states like Florida, Colorado, Massachusetts, and many others. You can look at the type of loans at your state in the Programs section of the DSIRE website.
Solar Panel Efficiency Depends on Multiple Factors
Among the solar energy cons, one important one to consider is how much the solar panels depend on multiple factors to function on ideal conditions or similar ones. Some factors include location, season or weather type, and time of the day.
The location includes both latitude and the area or space available for the panels. Each state is located at a certain latitude, states at lower latitudes receive more solar radiation, and states at a higher latitude might get the least sun’s energy. The space available for the modules is very important since solar panels should be fully exposed to the sun and free from foliage or obstacles that reduce their efficiency.
Depending on the season, solar panels vary their energy generation. In summer and seasons with high solar radiation, solar panels generate electricity at full efficiency. The cons of solar energy can be seen in rainy and winter seasons, when the efficiency for panels is highly reduced, especially on cloudy and rainy days when there is barely any solar radiation at all.
Weather and time of the day also define the efficiency of solar panels. On sunny days, panels can produce power all day long, especially in sun peak hours, but on cloudy and rainy days this efficiency is highly reduced or in some cases, there is no energy production at all. At night time, panels do not generate power since there is no solar radiation. You should consider these disadvantages of solar energy concerning the weather in your state when sizing the system for your home.
Storing Solar Energy is Expensive
The high cost of a solar battery storage system is among the major cons of solar energy. Some homes with hybrid systems (grid & solar) and net metering systems might not require batteries, but these are necessary to acquire full energy independence, especially for off-grid homes.
Homeowners in a state that due to bad weather or other conditions might expect poor grid reliability, can acquire a small-medium battery storage system and save some money. Off-grid homes, on the other hand, need large battery banks to ensure power stability during night times and rainy days when the panels are not producing any power.
While this is one of the cons of solar energy, there are also some states with incentives that reduce the overall cost of battery banks. Homeowners in states like Oregon, Massachusetts, Arizona, Maryland, and many others, might enjoy incentives for battery systems installed at home. You can look up the battery incentives for your state at the Program section at DSIRE.
To fully understand all of the pros and cons of solar panels, we should dive into the most frequently asked questions for this technology. In this section, we aim to answer some of the most popular questions.
What Appliances Can Run On Solar Power?
Solar power can deliver electricity just like power coming from the grid, meaning that you can virtually run any appliance using solar panels as long as you have enough generation capacity. The most important factor to consider is the power consumption of the appliance (given in kWh or Wh), comparing this against how much power the solar panels produce.
For instance, a 49’’ LED TV consumes up to 85Wh, meaning that a 100W solar panel can power it and still divert 15Wh for other appliances when generating at full capacity. You can calculate how many devices you can run with solar panels, by calculating their power consumption and relate this to the generation capacity of your system.
What Are The 2 Main Disadvantages To Solar Energy?
The 2 main solar energy cons are definitively the high cost for solar panels alongside other components in the system, and the many factors that define the efficiency for solar panels.
The first disadvantage is the high cost of solar technology. Solar panels can be expensive, especially since they represent a high initial cost, but they can pay for themselves and allow you to enjoy costless energy after the payback period. States with higher energy costs can benefit better from this since they have a much faster payback period.
The second disadvantage might vary from state to state. Locations with higher sun peak hours and fewer rainy days can profit better from the generation capacity in the system than those with frequent rains and regular cloudy days.
How Do You Store Solar Energy At Night?
To store solar energy at night you need solar battery storage or a battery bank. To have enough solar energy to use at night, you need a home with a large system that can generate excess energy, supplying part of this energy to the battery bank.
When the night hours come, the solar panels will stop generating and the energy you use will come from the batteries. In off-grid homes, the solar battery bank is very important, since this will be your energy backup system for every day.
Do You Still Pay Electricity Bills With Solar Panels?
You might choose to have a hybrid system that allows you to use electricity from the grid and your solar panels or to live off-grid. Homeowners with hybrid systems that generate enough energy to power their entire home throughout the month might get a minimum electric bill that accounts for the use of a net metering system and interconnection to the grid, but there will not be any charge on power consumption in the bill.
Off-grid homes live entirely from solar energy generated by solar panels. These homes need to generate enough solar energy to store at the battery bank for the home to be powered at night when the panels are not generating electricity. Living off-grid allows you to live entirely free from paying an electric bill.
Solar energy definitively has many advantages with very few disadvantages. Solar panels are reliable, powerful, and depending on the state, they can have a very small payback period that provides energy with zero cost for many years.
After knowing all the advantages and disadvantages of solar panels, you can fully know what to expect of solar systems and the benefits you will get from them. If you are installing solar panels at your home, you can now know consider how your solar panels will behave concerning the state, weather, and seasons.
It is important to have all of the information before acquiring solar panels. Consider the benefits you will get from solar energy, factoring the cons, and always remember to look into the solar incentives for your state. Federal & Local solar incentives will allow you to highly reduce the cost of solar panels, installation, and the battery bank, allowing you to get more solar energy at a lower cost.