Recent climate changes, as well as worrisome predictions about the future of our planet have rushed us all to consider the requirements of a more sustainable lifestyle. Solar energy is just one step we can take to reduce our carbon footprint, but is it worth the investment?
Just what are the pros and cons of solar energy? Are there any bad things about solar energy that you should be aware of before you make the switch? Is solar power as expensive as they say or is it actually something you can afford?
To answer these and many more questions about solar pros and cons, let’s first take a look at what exactly a solar energy system is made of.
What is a Solar Energy System?
A solar energy system harnesses the power of sunlight and converts it into electricity for your home and/or business. A few essential components are necessary for such a system to function correctly. These include:
These panels are made of several dozen solar power cells and are either mounted on the roof of your home or supported by standing frames. To power an entire household, you’ll need upwards of 20 panels, depending on your monthly energy consumption, but also on the quality of the panels and the amount of sunlight exposure they will get throughout the day.
One of the bad things about solar energy is that solar power systems can only produce electricity throughout the day when panels are exposed to sunlight. To provide electricity for your household during the night or in case of emergencies, you’ll need to connect one or several batteries to the system.
Solar charge controller
This component will ensure that the DC (direct current) power transferred from solar panels to your batteries does not overcharge and thus damage the latter.
An essential component of any solar power system, the solar inverter converts DC power from the system into AC (alternating current), the type of current that can be used to run modern appliances. The inverter also fulfills several monitoring functions that help you keep track of how much power you use and how much excess power you feed back into the electricity grid.
Environmental Pros and Cons of Solar Energy
Now that we have a better idea of what you need in order to harness solar energy, let’s take a closer look at the primary reason why solar energy is on the rise. In other words, what are the pros and cons of solar energy from an environmental point of view?
Arguments for solar energy
Solar power is widely considered to be the environmentally-friendly solution to our current global electricity needs. This is the case because solar energy is:
- Renewable. Fossil fuels used in the traditional production of electricity are becoming increasingly scarce worldwide, whereas we cannot run out of solar energy. So long as the sun is alive (about 6.5 billion years, give or take, says NASA), we can benefit from solar power.
- Abundant. Solar energy is not scarce. In fact, enough photons hit the surface of the earth to satisfy global energy needs for a year in just one hour.
- Sustainable. Because it is renewable and abundant, solar power is a means for us to satisfy our electricity needs without compromising the ability of our children and of future generations to satisfy theirs.
- Pollution-free. We do not need to burn fossil fuels or pollute the atmosphere with harmful CO2 emissions and greenhouse gases in order to harness solar energy. This is an important reason why going solar is viewed as a potential solution to our current climate crisis.
- Widely available. Not all people around the world currently benefit from electricity in their day-to-day lives. In many developing countries, tying a household to a nearby power grid is extraordinarily expensive and therefore not feasible. Solar energy, on the other hand, can become available everywhere in the world. It is much easier to install and virtually effortless to maintain.
Arguments against solar energy
Some concerns regarding pollution have been raised in relation to the conversion of solar power. These include:
- Pollution during manufacturing. Sulfur hexafluoride and nitrogen trifluroide, two greenhouse gases that are far more potent than CO2, have been associated with the production of solar panels.
- The use of batteries. Most solar generators and solar power systems require batteries in order to provide electricity during the night or during cloudy days. These batteries are difficult to manufacture, have a relatively short lifespan, and can become environmentally hazardous if not disposed of properly.
Overall, there are some bad things about solar energy when it comes to protecting the environment. However, it is noteworthy that the polluting effects of solar energy systems is negligible compared to burning fossil fuels, which makes solar energy the best, if not the ideal, solution to our current climate crisis.
Financial Pros and Cons of Solar Energy
While it is relatively clear that solar energy is preferable to traditional sources of electricity from the standpoint of environmental safety, to decide whether going solar is an option for you, you must first become aware of the solar energy pros and cons in terms of budget. In what follows, we’ll breakdown the financial costs and benefits.
The cons of solar energy: How much will it cost to go solar?
When you put together the cost of solar panels, other components, and installation, then divide the total by the amount of power the system will produce once installed, you get the so-called cost-per-watt, a convenient way to evaluate how expensive going solar actually is.
The average cost-per-watt in the United States is currently between $4 and $6, while the average home will require a 6kW system to function entirely on solar power. This means that, to go solar, you’ll have to invest upwards of $20,000 for a medium-sized household. Although you can claim a federal solar tax credit for up to 50% of this cost once the system is installed, the initial investment remains fairly high.
How much can you save when you go solar?
True enough, going solar can be a financial hurdle to begin with. Once your solar power system is installed, however, your electricity bills will immediately decrease. In addition, if you produce excess power, you can choose to feed it back into the grid and the state will pay you for your contribution.
How much you can save on electricity once you go solar depends entirely on the size of your system and its average exposure to sunlight during the day. The larger your solar array and the longer it is exposed to the sun, the more it will save during its lifespan.
To give you an idea of the sums involved, an 8kW installation in Washington will save up to $33,000 during its expected lifetime, while a 6.5kW system in California can save upwards of $72,000 during the same timeframe. Regardless of where you live, however, your solar energy system will undoubtedly pay for itself in the long run.
The Utility of Solar Energy: Pros and Cons
If going solar is something you can afford and you would like to make the change for a more sustainable future, you’re probably also interested in whether solar energy can keep up with traditional sources of electricity when it comes to utility and convenience. In other words, what are the pros and cons of solar energy for conventional use?
Advantages of solar energy
Aside from environmental and financial advantages, solar power presents no significant edge when compared to traditional sources of electricity for homes. There are, however, a number of applications of solar energy outside the home that far exceed other sources in utility. These include:
- Lighting and landscaping. It is much easier to install solar lights in your garden or back yard, primarily because they do not require a connection to your main power grid. These lights usually come equipped with small, in-built solar panels and batteries, and can therefore function wherever you place them (so long as they benefit from some exposure to sunlight).
- Electricity in remote locations. If you own a remote cabin or wish to travel to remote locations in your RV, getting your place connected to an electricity grid can be exorbitant, as well as inconvenient. A portable solar generator or solar energy system, on the other hand, can be far more affordable and only takes minutes to install.
- Travelling and camping. Small solar generators are more than enough to power devices such as phones, tablets, and even laptops. The advantage of going solar when you travel as opposed to using a traditional electric generator is that you do not require fuel to recharge your batteries. As a result, you will worry less about safety, while the solar generator will emit no fumes, will operate silently, and will not run out of power so long as it will be exposed to the sun.
Disadvantages of solar energy
If there are any bad things about solar energy in terms of utility, these have to do with the fact that solar electricity systems are intermittent generators. In other words, solar power can only be harnessed during the day and must be stored for use during periods of time when solar panels are not exposed to sunlight.
At the same time, rechargeable batteries are not powerful enough to ensure that a household can run on solar power for extensive periods of time in the absence of sunlight. This is why, for the time being, homes that have already gone solar remain connected to the power grid and sometimes depend on electricity from fossil fuels.
Nevertheless, solar energy is ideally suited for light applications and is expected to become more reliable for home use in the near future.
Solar Energy: Pros and Cons for Businesses
Everyone touts the benefits of switching to solar energy for your business, but is the investment actually worth it? Below, we provide a more detailed cost and benefit analysis that does not shy away from the bad things about solar energy. With these expenses in mind, you can establish whether solar power is a good choice for your business.
The cons of solar energy: Initial investments
Although the cost of purchase, installation, and maintenance for solar panels has gone down considerably, the initial investment is, by far, the most significant of the cons of solar energy. For a small business, a system of 25kW will require an initial feed of around $72,000. You can, however, take 30% straight off this sum with the help of the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) program, which was extended until 2023.
At the end of the day, 25kW will cost you around $50,000. The exact price can vary quite a bit from this sum, depending on your location. More vendors who ship and install in your area usually means a lower price, which can result in another reduction of around $5,000.
Projected long-term savings from solar energy
The very reason why so many entrepreneurs praise the advantages of solar energy is the expected long-term benefits of this venture. Statistics show that you can offset your power consumption by as much as 76%, while saving up to $1,500 on your monthly power bill. In the best case scenario, you’ll recover your investment in no more than 5 years, while the total amount of savings you’ll benefit from over the entire lifetime of the system is upwards of $580,000.
For an investment that is also good for the environment, a nine-fold return on your initial feed is not bad at all. As such, when considering the pros and cons of solar energy for businesses, you can have no doubt about the superiority of the benefits. The only thing you need in order to reap the benefits is time. The federal ITC rebate is the sweet frosting on your solar power deal, making it all the more enticing and worthwhile.
Solar Power Pros and Cons: Maintenance
As an experienced entrepreneur, you’re obviously thinking about the costs associated with the maintenance of solar panels. Although you’re not wrong to think that some upkeep will be necessary, this element is not exactly among the most expensive cons of solar energy. Quite the opposite, since solar power means you can sit back and let the sun shine.
The cost of maintenance
You definitely don’t need to keep an eye on your solar panels, but some gears will require oiling from time to time, so to speak. The inverters, those components which convert the energy harvested by the photovoltaic cells into electricity that can either be used or stored, need to be replaced from time to time. On average, they will cost you $200 per year.
To this you should add solar panel cleaning every one to three years, particularly if there are long periods with no rain, as well as the insurance of your PV system. Depending on your insurance, your total operational costs for solar energy can vary in-between $500 and $700 per year.
An overall low-maintenance system
Ruling out the procedures above, solar panels are one of the most low-maintenance sources of energy currently available, which is definitely a winner in terms of solar energy pros and cons. All you need to do is install the panels and you’re good to go – no supervision, no daily check-ups, and no re-fills. Any information on the current state of the system can be obtained in real time through the monitoring system.
Furthermore, you can also install an automated cleaning system or learn how to do it yourself if you want to skim off some of those yearly expenses. A couple of times, solar panels should be visually inspected for accumulation of dirt and debris. Other than this, all you have to do is to make hay while the sun shines.
Solar Energy Pros and Cons: The Balance
Main advantages of solar energy
There are three main advantages of solar energy as available to the wider public at present:
- Solar energy is sustainable and our best, most viable solution to the existing climate crisis. Its conversion into electricity does not require the burning of fossil fuels, nor does it produce pollution of the caliber of traditional sources of electricity. Some issues regarding the manufacturing process of solar panels do exist, but they are negligible compared to other alternatives and likely to be resolved in the near future.
- Solar energy is financially sound in the long run. Especially in the case of businesses that pay significant amounts on electricity prior to going solar, but also in the case of the average household, the cost of acquiring and installing a solar array are covered in five to ten years. In addition, both businesses and individuals can choose to sell excess power to their respective states, which can contribute to considerable long-term profits.
- Solar energy is easy to use and maintain, while portable solar power systems can be installed at any location in a matter of minutes.
The cons of solar energy
There are a few bad things about solar energy to consider before making the switch. These revolve around the following two main disadvantages:
- Solar energy is intermittent. In other words, a solar energy system can only produce electricity when exposed to sunlight. Due to the current state of development of both solar panels and batteries, this means that you are more likely to be a good candidate for solar energy if you live in regions that get lots of sun and relatively cool temperatures throughout the year. Otherwise, you might need to invest more in a wider solar array, as well as in additional batteries.
- Solar energy systems can be expensive to acquire and install. Despite the fact that the cost of solar panels has decreased by more than 70% over the past decade, going solar for an entire household or business remains fairly expensive. One way to overcome this obstacle is by claiming a federal solar tax credit for your initiative, which can save you up to 50% of the cost.
All in all, if you put together the pros and cons of solar energy, you’ll notice that if the investment is something you can afford, the rewards are considerable. Yes, solar energy is still at an early stage in its development, but any issues currently affecting its efficiency will likely be resolved in the proximal future.
Otherwise, by going solar, you will not only save money in the long run, you will also contribute to the very survival and preservation of our planet.