What are the pros and cons of solar energy?


As technology has advanced, the cost to install and use solar energy has gone down. Solar energy technology has been around since the early 1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that it began to see mass use. 

Solar energy accounts for around 2 percent of total U.S. electricity. Commercial businesses and homeowners across the nation are slowly 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. Consider the financial investment, your carbon footprint, and the reliability of service before deciding on solar energy for your home or business.

Cost analysis

Pro: Low monthly electric bill
Depending on how much of your home’s energy needs are covered by the solar panels, your monthly bill can become negligible once the system is paid for. Over the last decade, energy costs have increased 3 percent every year. Rising energy costs can increase your savings, since the costs associated with solar energy won’t change.

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’ll 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. 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 offers tax incentives as a way to offset the upfront costs (factored into the estimated cost). 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, it’s a predictable expense and will typically be lower than your pre-solar electricity bill.

You can sell unused electricity back to the power grid in some states through Social Renewable Energy Certificates, which can help reduce your payback period. These are created for each megawatt-hour of electricity generated from solar energy systems, according to the EPA. 

Energy independence

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.

Using solar power reduces the strain on aging power lines and infrastructure, too.

Con: Dependent on sunshine
While they don’t need to be in direct sunlight, lack of direct sunlight will affect how much electricity is produced by your solar powers. 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
There are no emissions, greenhouse gases or pollution connected to solar power — other than when it’s being produced and distributed. That can reduce your carbon footprint significantly.

The average household of three people produces 49 tons of carbon per year by doing everyday things like driving, running appliances, and buying groceries, according to the Nature Conservancy. By converting to solar power, that footprint is offset by an average of 6 tons. You can calculate your carbon footprint using a calculator on Nature Conservancy’s website.

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.

The negative environmental impact of solar energy is minimal compared to other energy sources, even when transportation, production, installation, water use and recycling issues is included. Most negatives associated with solar energy can be offset by strategic planning and high standards in the workplace and during production. Like other renewable energy sources, solar energy produces a small carbon footprint and is an excellent source for environmentally-friendly energy. 

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. 

Author:  Crystal Huskey is a content writer at PTACUnits.com, an online distributor for PTAC units, along with a full range of parts and accessories. 

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