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 residential solar powers systems for homes.
Let’s examine the main benefits and drawbacks of solar energy systems to help you make a well-informed decision:
- Dramatic Reduction in the Price per Watt Installed: One of the strongest benefits of solar energy 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 $2.78 to $3.22 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 in solar, especially if you take into account the rate of inflation since 2008.
- 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 years, on average, thanks to the attractive unit economics of solar energy (especially with the federal solar investment tax credits), resulting in a relatively short payback period (break-even point).
— 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.
- Reduced Reliance on Power Grid: In states like California where power grid black-outs are a thing, solar panels can help maintain the comfort of having uninterrupted electricity at your house, even when the grid is not supplying sufficient power due to block-outs 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.
- Ample Federal Tax Credits and State Incentives: The 26% federal solar investment tax credits through the end of 2022 (after the recent federal solar ITC program extension by congress) are a very lucrative incentive to invest in solar energy, but there are also numerous state and local utility (power grid) incentives that make residential solar investment even more attractive.
- Net Metering: Mandatory solar electricity net metering rules adopted by many states, enable homeowners to sell their excess electricity back to the power grid for credits, when it’s not needed. This is especially useful for homeowners who don’t have a battery pack to store the excess electricity generated by the solar panels during the day.
— 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.
- Clean Renewable Energy Source: Solar electric energy generation leads to cleaner air and more sustainable living for communities, especially for places like Los Angeles that used to be plagued by smog back in the day. Since solar energy is a renewable resource, harnessing the solar energy is a win-win for your pocketbook and the environment.
- 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 may be viewed more favorably by prospective buyers than ones without solar panels. This seems to be especially true in states like California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Oregon, Arizona, Washington, Texas, Massachusetts, and Washington DC.
— Homeowners can take advantage of having a solar power system supplying clean electricity, with the solar system paying for itself in about 8 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.
- Solar Power may not be suitable for every home: In places with limited solar hours (and on rooftops with limited solar exposure due to obstruction by trees), the economics of going solar may not be as compelling as they are for homes with rooftops that enjoy ample 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.
- Poor Installation Quality Can Lead to Fire Hazards: A Solar PV power system that wasn’t installed properly may, in rare, cases 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 for those PV solar installations where the installers weren’t careful and either made an error or cut some corners during the installation of solar connectors. Therefore, 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.
- Poor Quality Installations Can Lead to Roof Leaks: During the installation, Solar panels often require drilling holes in the surface of the roof, such as asphalt shingles. These “necessary” roof penetrations can become potential sources of leaks if these penetrations are not properly flashed. Even with proper flashing, the integrity of the roof can be compromised to some degree, as the roof with the holes is not the same as the one without.
— However, with proper installation methods and techniques, and careful flashing of the holes that were drilled in the roof, these concerns with the future potential roof leaks, can be greatly minimized.
— 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.
- Increased Weight Can Put Stress on the Roof-Frame Structure: 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.
- Pollution and Environmental Hazards: Producing solar panels 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 population associated with their production.
- The Bulky Look of Solar Panels is Not to 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 service life left.
- No Energy Production at Night While solar panels generate electricity from the sun during the day, they are not producing 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.
- Solar Electricity 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 $6,000 to $10,000 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.
- Rare Earth Metals: Manufacturing of solar panels is 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.
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, and Florida, solar payback period can be shorter than 8 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 those available in the state of 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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