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Solar energy pros and cons

What are the disadvantages and advantages of solar panels?

Profile picture of Kathryn Parkman
by Kathryn Parkman ConsumerAffairs Research Team
house with solar panels

Should I install solar panels?

You should install solar panels if you’re looking for a way to save on energy expenses in the long run. While upfront installation costs can be high, the cost-benefit is clear: Installing solar panels on your home is financially and environmentally responsible. Using solar power will lower your electricity bills and earn you tax incentives. Solar panels are also great investments because they add value to your house and are exempt from property taxes.

Solar energy advantages and disadvantages

Benefits of solar panels

There are many advantages of solar energy to consider when you’re deciding whether or not to install solar panels, such as:

  1. Reduced electricity bills
    Using solar energy instead of traditional energy sources can result in financial savings. Over a 20-year period, you could save anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000, depending on your state, home size and electricity usage. Unlike paying utility bills, paying off a solar panel system gets a return on investment. Solar energy can also be sold back to the grid, so you have the potential to earn while you save.
  2. Financial support from the government
    Federal and state tax benefits are available when you install solar panels in your home or business. Taxpayers could potentially claim 30 percent of installation costs, with benefits varying by state. In some instances it may be possible to get a solar home installation with no out-of-pocket costs. This may take some time to research, but it is possible.
  3. Energy independence
    The sun is an infinite source of energy, unlike coal and natural gas, and solar panels can be installed practically anywhere. The electrical energy output of the panels depends on exposure to direct sunlight; anything that gets in the way of this reduces the output. Using solar panels allows you to reduce dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels, leading to a more stable and predictable energy bill, especially during times when the demand for energy is high.
  4. Reduced carbon footprint
    Solar energy is able to generate power without giving off any dangerous emissions. While there is some carbon footprint from producing and distributing solar panel infrastructure, the energy produced from solar panels is clean and free of pollutants, and it emits no greenhouse gases. The average American home produces 14,920 pounds of carbon dioxide each year. By installing solar panels, you can reduce your carbon footprint by more than 3,000 pounds annually.
  5. Longevity and little maintenance
    Most systems last for 20 or more years. During that time, solar panels and equipment require little maintenance. The company you choose can help you understand what exactly is required for maintenance. Some providers offer self-cleaning systems for their panels, because dirt and dust can reduce the output significantly. Plus, solar energy technology is always improving, so the same size solar panels from last year are even better today.

Disadvantages of solar panels

As with most things, where there are advantages, there are also disadvantages to consider when thinking about installing a solar energy system. Some disadvantages associated with solar energy systems include:

  1. High initial cost
    While a reduced electric bill is an advantage, initial costs for the equipment, panels and installation could be more than $20,000. If you have direct-current devices operating from alternating-current sources, they’ll need a transformer. These transformers aren’t 100% efficient, though, so the operating cost is higher with an AC source than with a DC solar panel.
  2. Weather dependence
    The most important element for solar panels is the sun. If you live in an area prone to cloudy days for an extended period, this will negatively impact how the system runs. Your system will likely be less productive in winter months than summer months.
  3. Inability to move with you
    Practically speaking, once a solar energy system is installed on a home or business, it's nearly impossible to transport. Theoretically, it is possible to transfer PV solar panels if you move into a new home, but it’s rarely advised. The system would have to be dismantled from your roof and retrofitted to your new property, which would likely cause extensive damage to both your panels and your roof. The value of the house also increases with the solar installation, so you should be able to recover most of the cost if you leave your solar panel system for the next owners.
  4. Limitations from your surroundings
    As the solar energy industry continues to grow and offer more nationwide services, most solar energy companies service a particular geographic region or even just one state. So, if you live outside solar energy companies' coverage area, you could have difficulty finding solar options near you.
  5. Inconvenience in inner cities and other areas with limited space
    A solar system requires a decent amount of space to install the equipment and have everything run smoothly, and so solar panels might be inconvenient in inner cities and other areas with limited space. About 100 square feet of roof space is required for every 1 kW of conventional solar panels. If you have limited space or a small roof, you might not have the space for all the solar panels needed to power your entire house.

Bottom line

Many of the advantages and disadvantages of installing solar panels seem to present a tradeoff. Solar panel technology is constantly improving, which means it’s not perfect yet. You’ll get a return on your investment, but it can take a long time. Energy produced from solar panels is abundant, clean and renewable, though, and its carbon footprint is a one-time occurrence — a solar power system will continuously reduce the carbon footprint for years to come.

Pros

  • Reduced electricity bills
  • Financial support from the government
  • Energy independence
  • Reduced carbon footprint
  • Little maintenance required
  • Longevity

Cons

  • High initial cost
  • Weather dependence
  • Inability to move with you
  • Limitations from your surroundings
  • Inconvenience in inner cities and other areas with limited space

After you understand how solar panels work and what makes the best solar panels, you will need to talk to a solar energy company to find out what makes the most sense for your home and climate. Depending on where you live, you could qualify for government subsidies and tax incentives that could help offset the initial high cost of installing a solar energy system. It’s often wise, to protect the investment, to hire a good electrical engineering consultant to look over the system you choose.

Find a Solar Energy partner near you.

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    Profile picture of Kathryn Parkman
    by Kathryn Parkman ConsumerAffairs Research Team

    As a member of the ConsumerAffairs Research Team, Kathryn Parkman believes everyone deserves easy access to accurate and comprehensive information on products and businesses before they make a purchase, which is why she spends hours researching companies and industries for ConsumerAffairs. She believes conscious consumption is everyone's responsibility and that all content deserves integrity.