Solar Panel Pros and Cons – Are Solar Panels Worth the Cost?

If you are one of the many homeowners considering the installation of solar panels on your home’s rooftop, then undoubtedly one of the burning questions on your mind is whether the pros of solar energy outweigh the cons when it comes to solar panels for homes.

A new asphalt shingle roof with PV solar panels

Let’s examine the main benefits and drawbacks of residential solar energy systems to help you make a well-informed decision.

Advantages:

  1. Dramatic reduction in price per watt installed
  2. Short payback period
  3. Reduced reliance on power grid
  4. Electric energy price security
  5. Ample federal tax credits and local incentives
  6. Mandatory net metering rules
  7. Solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs)
  8. Clean renewable energy source
  9. Increased property values
  10. It’s easy to find a quality solar installer

Disadvantages:

  1. May not be suitable for some homes
  2. Won’t work during a blackout or power outage (unless…)
  3. Poor installation may lead to fire hazards
  4. Poor quality installation may lead to premature roof leaks
  5. The weight of solar panels can put excessive stress on the roof-frame
  6. Pollution and environmental hazards
  7. The “bulky” look of solar panels may turn off some people
  8. No energy production at night
  9. Solar battery storage is expensive
  10. Use of rare earth metals

Benefits and Advantages:

1. Dramatic reduction in the cost per installed watt

One of the strongest benefits of domestic solar power today is that the solar price per watt (PPV) installed has come down from almost $9.00 per watt installed in 2008, to the current average cost ranging from $2.80 to $3.24 per watt installed, before the 26% federal solar investment tax credits (ITC) that apply to the full amount paid for a new solar system.

Did you know? Homeowners going solar today are paying almost 66% less than they used to pay for solar energy just a little over a decade ago! That’s a very significant reduction in the upfront cost of investment, especially if you take into account the rate of inflation since 2008.

2. Short payback period

Modern PV solar panels are boasting ever higher efficiency ratings and last longer than they did a decade ago.

Today, you can install high-efficiency solar panels that will pay for themselves in about 8 to 10 years, on average, thanks to the attractive unit economics of solar energy, especially with the help of the federal tax credits, resulting in a relatively short payback period aka break-even point.

What does that mean for you, the homeowner? After your solar panels pay for themselves, they will continue generating home electricity from solar energy for decades to come, with only minimal (practically negligible) annual loss of efficiency.

3. Reduced reliance on power grid

In a state like California where power grid blackouts are a common occurrence during summer AC usage peaks, solar panels can help maintain the comfort of having uninterrupted electricity at your home — this requires solar battery storage, even when the grid is not supplying sufficient power due to blackouts during peak summer hours.

When a solar system is also coupled with an energy storage battery, some of the excess electricity can be stored by the battery pack for use during night hours, when solar energy is not available.

4. Energy price security

When it comes to domestic electricity rates per kWh, homeowners are essentially at the mercy of local electric utilities and local governments that set residential electricity rates.

As a homeowner, you don’t have any say in what your domestic electricity rates will be next year. Case in point: Domestic electricity rate price hikes in states like California have been especially steep in recent years (rising 7% per year), making a home solar investment even more compelling and prudent.

5. Ample federal tax credits and local incentives

The 26% federal solar investment tax credits through the end of 2022 (after being extended by congress last year) are a very lucrative incentive to invest in solar energy production, but there are also numerous state and local utility (power grid) incentives that make residential solar investment even more attractive.

6. Mandatory net metering rules

Mandatory solar electricity net metering rules adopted by many states, enable homeowners to sell their excess electricity back to the power grid for credits, whenever solar-generated electricity is not being used by the system owner.

Net metering is especially valuable for homeowners who are not home during the day and don’t have a solar battery pack to store the excess electricity generated by the solar panels.

Today, there are more than 41 states that have mandatory net metering rules requiring local electric utilities to buy back excess electricity from the consumers.

7. Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs)

SRECs make it possible for homeowners in select states to earn solar renewable energy certificates for every 1,000 kWh or 1 MWh of electricity their system produces.

A typical 5kW PV solar system can generate about 5-6 SRECs annually. States like Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Washington DC have especially generous SREC rates, making it possible for homeowners to earn real money by selling SRECs to utilities that need them for compliance.

For example, in a state like New Jersey, where SREC rates currently hoover around $226 per certificate, making it easy for homeowners to earn over a thousand dollars annually from SREC sales.

8. Clean Renewable Energy Source

Solar electric power generation leads to cleaner air and more sustainable living for communities, especially in places like Los Angeles that used to be plagued by smog back in the day.

Since solar energy is a renewable resource, harnessing it can be a win-win for your pocketbook and the environment.

9. Increased Property Values

A well-planned solar power system can help increase the value of your home at resale. According to the latest research, a 5kW of solar-generating capacity can increase the property value by $29,555.

The research also suggests that homes outfitted with solar panels can sell 20% faster than regular homes because homes that generate their own electricity are often viewed more favorably by prospective buyers than ones without solar panels.

The above is especially true in states like California, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Oregon, Arizona, Washington, Texas, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Washington DC.

Homeowners can take advantage of having a solar power system supplying clean electricity, with the PV system paying for itself in about 8-10 years.

Since solar energy is a gift that keeps on giving, homeowners can continue to enjoy free or greatly reduced electricity, after the break-even period, while also enjoying the increased property value from having a PV system that will last for another 15 to 20 years.

10. Simple and Easy Process

Today, homeowners can explore solar options from the comfort of their homes, thanks to the robust online marketplaces like EnergySage (no affiliation) that make it easy to estimate solar savings, compare quotes, and check verified customer reviews for solar installers in the area.

Disadvantages:

1. Solar power may not be suitable for every home

In places with limited solar hours and on rooftops with limited solar exposure due to an obstruction by trees or nearby buildings, the economics of going solar may not be as compelling as they are for homes with rooftops that enjoy plentiful sunshine in states like California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and other areas with ample exposure to the sun.

Google’s project SunRoof can help you check whether solar energy makes sense for your home’s rooftop.

2. Doesn’t work during power outages

All grid-tied solar power systems will turn of during blackouts and power outages, unless you also have a battery storage backup system connected to your PV system, which would obviously make the solar system more expensive.

However, a solar storage battery upgrade may be worth the cost if you want to have access to uninterrupted electric power even during power outages.

3. Poor installation may lead to fire hazards

A Solar PV power system that wasn’t installed properly may cause a fire on a rooftop due to short circuit.

This normally is not an issue for most homes, but it can become a potentially hazardous issue if/when installers weren’t careful and either made an error or cut some corners during the installation of solar connectors.

That’s why it’s critical to only work with a proven and trustworthy solar company that takes pride in the quality of their work and takes solar electrical safety seriously.

4. Poor quality installation may lead to premature roof leaks

The installation of solar modules typically requires drilling holes in the surface of the roof, such as when installing panels over asphalt shingles.

Any “necessary” roof penetrations can become potential sources of leaks if they are not properly flashed. Even with proper flashing, the integrity of the roof can be compromised to some degree. A roof with the holes is not quite the same as one without.

However, with proper installation methods and techniques, and careful flashing of the holes that were drilled in the roof, the potential for possible roof leaks in the future can be greatly minimized.

Did you know? Some homeowners choose to install solar panels on standing seam metal roofs, thanks to the raised seams where solar panels can be mounted without drilling any holes in the roof surface.

A premium color standing seam metal roof with solar panels

5. The weight of solar modules can put excessive stress on the roof-frame structure

At roughly 40 pounds per panel or 3 pounds per square foot on sloped roofs and 5 pounds per square foot on flat roofs, on average, solar panels are not light-weight, and hence the roof frame must be strong enough to carry the extra weight of solar panels in addition to the weight of the roofing system.

If the roof frame is not strong enough, or if there are already a couple of layers of existing roofing, then solar may not be a viable option until the old roofing layers are completely removed and replaced.

6. Pollution and environmental hazards

Manufacturing of solar panels invariably causes some pollution, while their disposal in landfills can create environmental hazards due to the presence of lead and other toxic materials.

Unfortunately solar panels are not recyclable, so the industry needs to come up with a consistent way to reduce the amount of toxic materials used in the production of solar panels.

The environmental benefits of clean energy must outweigh the effects of pollution associated with the production and disposal of solar panels.

While there are some tradeoffs, the latest generation of high-efficiency and long-lasting PV solar panels like Maxeon from the likes of SunPower and Panasonic that have voluntarily adopted RoHS standards, and can produce more clean energy over-time to offset any negative effects of pollution associated with their production.

7. The supposed “bulky” look of the panels may not be for everyone’s taste

Some homeowners don’t like the bulky look of solar panels, which means that in some cases (not in all cases) it can be more difficult to sell a house with solar panels, especially if the panels are old and unsightly and/or the roof is due for a replacement, while solar panels may still have plenty of remaining service life left.

8. No energy production at night

While solar panels generate electricity from the sun during the day, they don’t produce any electricity during night hours, meaning that homeowners must rely on home energy storage materials like battery packs, should they want to store any excess electricity generated during the day for use during night hours. Otherwise, they would need to rely on the grid for nighttime electricity.

9. Solar battery storage is expensive

Unfortunately, home electricity battery packs are not cheap, meaning that most homeowners probably will have to think twice before deciding to pay some $7,000 to $12,000 extra for a battery pack to store the excess solar electricity generated during the day.

On the positive note, though, energy storage materials are becoming cheaper, ever so gradually, and there is already a promise of solid-state battery technology that may prove to be more effective and less-costly than lithium ion batteries.

We are probably still several years away from availability of the solid-state battery packs, whether commercial or for home uses, but the technology is certainly looking promising.

10. Use of rare earth metals

Manufacturing of solar panels is often reliant on the use of rare earth metals.

Approximately 80% of all rare earth metals are mined in China, which presents a certain geopolitical risk due to the arguably ongoing trade war between the US and China.

Takeaways:

On balance, the benefits of solar energy outweigh the potential drawbacks associated with residential solar power. Our view is that residential solar panels can be a viable option to reduce your reliance on the electric grid, while also helping reduce your electric bills.

The more solar exposure your home’s roof gets, the more attractive the investment in solar energy system can be. For homes in southern states like Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Texas, California, Hawaii, Florida, and South Carolina, solar payback (break-even) period can be shorter than 8-10 years.

The 26% federal solar investment tax credits have recently been extended by congress through the end of 2022, coupled with the state and local municipality and or utility incentives, such as those available in the state of New Jersey (very generous SRECs), or Massachusetts (Mass Save program), can make going solar especially compelling, even in a Northeastern state like Massachusetts that experiences a lot of snow during winter.

Lastly, harnessing solar energy is not limited to PV solar panels. In fact, solar energy can also be used for solar water heating by means of solar thermal panels mounted on the rooftop. In southern states, lower-cost passive solar hot water systems can work great for providing hot water for your home, while in northern states, you will likely need a more costly active solar hot water system.


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