Environmentalists and scientists have been sounding the alarm on climate change for a while now. And, it is getting louder and louder. We have been witnessing the disastrous effects of environmental degradation in recent years. It is no longer an issue to be dealt with in the future. It is high time we take action to stop and reverse the trend.
Renewable energy is considered one of the most effective tools in our fight against climate change. Renewable technologies like solar and wind power hold the key to our transition into sustainable energy.
Among the sustainable energy resources, solar energy has gained utmost popularity because of its availability worldwide. This has led to considerable advances in solar technology that has helped in bringing down the price tag of solar equipment.
As we are moving towards this cleaner and greener energy, it is essential to hit the pause button and analyze the pros and cons of solar energy. A spurt of recent actions taken by some of the pioneers in the solar energy sector needs to be understood and doubts alleviated before we take the plunge.
What are the benefits of solar energy? More importantly, what’s bad about solar energy?
Let us delve deeper and gather information to weigh the pros and cons of going solar.
Pros and cons of solar energy – An overview
An innovative energy solution that provides a host of benefits in addition to tackling climate change, solar energy is viewed by many as the messiah – a savior and the only way forward. However, like any other innovation, it also comes weighed down with disadvantages. However, in this case, the benefits far outweigh its shortcomings.
Let us take a quick look at the crucial ones.
|A sustainable alternative to fossil fuels||High upfront investment cost|
|Lower impact on the environment||Dependent on the availability of sunshine|
|Less dependence on the grid electricity||Requires suitable space for installation|
|Reduced electricity bills||Not easy to move the installation|
|Long lifespan||Scarcity of materials used in making panels|
|Protects from rising electricity rates||Environmental impact during the manufacture, transportation, and installation of panels|
|Easy to recover the initial investment cost|
|Easy to maintain|
|Improves the value of homes|
Read on to learn more about these points and more in detail.
Advantages of solar energy
The popularity of solar energy continues on its upward trajectory, thanks to the rising awareness about climate change and its impacts on our lives. The role played by governmental incentives cannot be denied in popularising the use of this sustainable energy.
1. Sustainable energy resource
One of the biggest drawbacks of non-renewable energy is that their supply is limited and it takes millions of years to form, aided by favorable circumstances deep down in the earth. The presently known deposits of coal and petroleum are expected to get used up in the next 50 years.
The advantage of sustainable energy resources such as solar energy is their unlimited availability. As long as the sun is around and shining, solar energy remains inexhaustible, making it a sustainable resource – a resource that is replenished constantly and doesn’t get depleted with use.
With our stock of fossil fuels running out rapidly and their replenishment in doubt, sustainable energy sources like solar energy offer us a beacon of hope for the future.
2. Reduced impact on the environment
The environmental impact is the change in the environment, both beneficial and adverse, as a result of the activities of humans.
When we burn fossil fuels, the pollution it causes creates irreversible damage to the environment. The emission of greenhouse gases and depletion of the ozone layer, in addition to the release of pollutants are attributed as the prime reasons for climate change.
The environmental impact of solar energy is minimal when compared to non-renewable energy. The power generation with solar energy system doesn’t involve fuel combustion and hence no greenhouse gas emissions and the consequential adverse side effects on the environment.
3. Independence from the power grid
Our reliance on the grid makes us vulnerable in many ways. In the event of grid failure, we are left stranded without power. The steady rise in electricity rates causes a big strain on the home budget. These reasons are prompting many consumers to go off-grid.
Solar installations are the perfect energy solution to power homes in remote locations with no access to the grid.
Solar energy offers the ideal opportunity for those looking for freedom from the grid. Not only does it allow energy independence and security, but it also offers a unique opportunity for homeowners with solar power systems to export power back to the grid and get paid for it.
Energy independence is not just at an individual level. With more and more consumers becoming energy independent with solar installations, the strain on the power grid is lessening. This is helping the country as a whole.
Besides, by switching to solar panels, individuals can help the nation reduce overall emissions and meet its clean energy goals by reducing the dependency on fossil fuel-generated power from the grid.
4. Diverse applications
Solar energy can be converted to electrical energy or heat energy to suit our needs. It is an ideal solution to the energy needs in remote areas without access to the power grid. Besides meeting our electricity demand, solar installations can be used to run solar home heating systems or to provide hot water round-the-clock.
5. Eliminate or reduce the electricity bill
Switching over completely to solar panels can help in eliminating electricity bills. Or if using the solar panel system in conjunction with the grid can substantially reduce the energy bill, if not make it zero.
When using power from the grid, soaring energy rates are a source of concern to many consumers. It can throw the monthly budget out of gear with unexpected increases.
Installing solar energy systems can help in eliminating our dependence on energy from the grid, and consequently the energy bills. If you install a solar panel system with the capacity to generate enough power to meet your energy needs, you can do away with your grid connection.
However, staying connected to the grid has other advantages like exporting power to the grid using the net metering arrangement or using it as community storage to draw energy from when the solar equipment is not generating power such as at night or on cloudy or rainy days.
6. Negligible maintenance cost
Once the solar energy system is in place and up and running, there is very little input it requires to run smoothly. This means the cost of maintaining a solar power system is incredibly low. One of the main reasons for its low maintenance cost is the absence of moving parts in the solar energy system.
The regular upkeep of solar panels involves keeping the surface of the solar panels clean. In areas where it rains occasionally, the cleaning process happens automatically without any extra effort. If this is not the case, manual cleaning may become essential.
Cleaning solar panels is not a hard task and can be easily done. Dust, leaves, and bird droppings are the common debris that accumulates on their surface. Hosing it down with soapy water does the trick.
Even by employing professional cleaners, the annual cost of maintenance would be in the affordable range.
As most solar installations come with long warranty periods, expenses related to repairing or replacing any of their parts would be minimal.
7. Lasts for a long time
The typical lifetime of a solar energy system is 20-25 years, which is long for a home installation by any standard. The advantages of its long lifespan are numerous.
Once installed, the solar equipment will continue to generate energy with minimal maintenance and expenses. This means you get to enjoy the freedom from the grid and savings on energy bills for decades by going solar.
The longevity of the solar power system makes it an attractive alternative to grid power. While the energy rates are increasing steadily, leading to a spike in energy bills, solar energy helps in keeping it steady during its lifetime.
Other than the upfront investment in solar installation, the periodic expenses are less due to its ease of maintenance. Due to this, the cost of energy remains almost the same during its lifetime.
8. Solar installation increases the home value
The big strides made by the solar industry in the past decade and the government incentives have raised awareness about the importance and advantages of solar power for homes. Homes with pre-installed solar systems are now being viewed in a favorable light in the real estate scene. In short, solar installation increases the value of homes considerably.
Having a solar installation raises the selling price of homes – often way more than the cost of the system. The reason for this is obvious. The buyer need not spend time solar shopping or put in the effort to find a local contractor to get it installed.
Another advantage of having a solar system installed in the home is that it sells faster than a non-solar home. Again, the awareness about its benefits comes into play.
This means that even if you are moving and selling your home, you need not dismantle and reinstall it in your new premises, which would be a costly affair. It is a win-win situation for the seller and buyer.
9. Earn back your investment and some more
The array of solar incentives available to individuals in the United States makes it possible to recover the investment amount within a short period of 7-8 years. Besides the substantial savings on the energy bills, a home solar installation makes individuals eligible for the federal tax credit to the tune of 26% of the project cost.
Another offer available for solar investments in the United States is the net-metering arrangement. This involves retaining the connection to the electricity grid using a bi-directional meter.
The net metering arrangement makes it possible for consumers to export power to the grid and get paid as credit or payment. This is an excellent situation for all concerned. When the consumer benefits from the extra income from the excess power generated, the country gains from lesser emissions, thus helping it meet the emission goals.
Disadvantages of solar energy
Even the best of things comes saddled with limitations and setbacks. The case is no different for solar energy.
1. High initial cost of investment
One of the most prominent deterrents for homeowners from going solar is the prohibitive price tag for solar equipment. This includes hardware costs and soft costs.
Solar panels are made of silicon, the same semiconductor material used in computers. Silicon is an abundant resource. However, converting it into high-grade silicon is expensive as it is an energy-intensive process. The cost of panels depends on the type of technology used in its manufacture. The more efficient the solar panels, the more expensive they are.
The rest of the paraphernalia in the solar equipment also does not come cheap. The inverter and mounting system for the panels also add to the overall cost. Again, it depends on the type of inverter and mounting system chosen. Again, as the efficiency level of the solar equipment goes up, the price tag also goes up.
Optional additions such as solar batteries can help in ensuring power supply 24×7 when coupled with solar systems. However, lithium used in solar batteries is expensive and ends up raising the system cost.
The soft costs include the cost of installation of the solar equipment safely and securely, ensuring compliance with the local rules and regulations to pass inspection. The manufacturer warranty for the equipment also adds to the cost.
Other related expenses include improving the existing electrical system and landscaping the yard to clear it of tree branches that can block the sunshine. The complexity of the rooftops also contributes substantially to the total expenditure.
Even with solar incentives, the upfront cost for solar installation is intimidating for most homeowners.
2. Dependent on weather
The efficiency of the solar equipment is mostly dependent on the amount of sunshine available in the location. Overcast weather brings down the energy output drastically. On cloudy and rainy days, the energy generated may not meet the demand. Again, a solar system cannot produce electricity during nighttime. This makes it an unreliable source of energy.
This hurdle can be overcome by pairing it with a solar battery or with the net-metering arrangement.
3. Unsuitable for some rooftops
Old homes with cedar or slate roofing may not be suitable for fixing the mounting system. The skylights and roof decks in some modern homes and apartments also may cause hindrance to solar installation.
However, these limitations can be overcome by opting for solar roof tiles and a ground-level mounting system. In case none of these options are viable, homeowners can choose to be part of community solar programs.
4. Availability of low-cost grid electricity
If the electricity rates are reasonably low in your location, it doesn’t make sense to put in the extra effort and investment in installing a solar system. The savings from the installation won’t be attractive enough.
5. Not ideal for those on the move
If your work involves moving around, a solar installation can become a liability. It is expensive to dismantle, transport, and reinstall the equipment in your new home every time you shift your residence.
However, this limitation can be overcome in many ways. A solar installation can improve the home value and help it sell faster. Choosing an off-site community solar program can also help in avoiding this issue.
6. Finding a suitable local installer is no easy
If you are not interested, you tend to find information about solar installation everywhere you go. But when you start searching for the right kind of information, you will have a hard time finding it.
You will have sales representatives badgering you with their sales pitches and trying to make you sign long-term contracts without revealing the fine print. The aggressive sales tactics adopted by many solar companies are confusing for a first-time solar shopper.
To avoid getting into sticky situations, you need to do thorough research on the topic and come up with at least three choices. Get quotes from all of them and compare before taking the plunge.
Solar power is by far the cheapest energy option, besides being clean and sustainable. Not all homes indeed qualify for solar installations but the issue can be overcome by opting for community solar programs.
Installing a solar energy system should be considered an investment rather than a mere addition to the list of home appliances. It remains a high capital investment, though with low risk and high returns.
Related Article: Are solar panels worth it?