Every hour, the Earth receives enough energy from the sun to meet global energy needs for one year. What is more astounding is that solar energy produces less than two percent of the electricity used in the United States, making solar energy a massively underused resource.
Solar power is worth it if you live in an area with high energy rates, enough exposure to the sun, and if the installation of solar panels fits your budget, home, and plans for the future.
Electricity is expensive, and with an increase in demand and rising prices, alternative energy sources are becoming more important. This article will explain the benefits of solar power and when it is worth using.
Is Solar Power Worth It?
Solar power is a reliable, environmentally friendly energy source with boundless potential. Better yet, it not only has the ability to provide clean, renewable energy but can do so while saving the average homeowner money. But that does not mean that it is always worth it. In fact, it is not even always possible.
However, for many of those interested in solar energy, it is a viable option that is worthwhile under various circumstances. In order to figure out whether solar power is worth it for you, it is important to understand how and when solar power can fit into your life. When can you expect to gain and when is it more trouble than it is worth?
When Is It Worth It?
Do the benefits outweigh the costs? That is the single question that determines when solar power is worth it for the average person. Perhaps it is not always as simple as that, such as when discussing the value of its low environmental impact. However, costs and benefits are an important factor, even for those looking for a green solution.
Regardless of the motivation, there are times when solar power is clearly worth it. Some of the instances in which solar power is worth using are:
- When it can save you money
- When it brings value
- When you want to reduce your carbon footprint
- In large-scale applications
- When the power grid is not an option
Often, solar power is a good decision and worth investing in. There are even convenient applications that are worth the extra money, a market that only grows as the technology advances. However, solar power has disadvantages as well. In fact, there are two major disadvantages that influence whether it is worth it at every turn.
The Two Main Disadvantages of Solar Energy
When it comes to solar energy, the pros seem to outweigh the cons, but there are times when that is not the case. For instance, when cost and circumstance simply do not allow for it. Out of the disadvantages and challenges faced with solar energy, how expensive and inefficient it is sit firmly on top.
Solar power is most worth it when it saves you money, but how much and over what period are big factors. Before one can even begin saving money, however, they must first pay off the solar power system they purchase. With high upfront costs, solar power is simply not a viable option for everyone, especially in the short term.
Likewise, the inefficiency of solar energy can be a major detriment under many circumstances. What this means in the context of solar panels may not be what you are thinking, though. What inefficiency refers to is the space needed to provide power. This means that a large amount of space or smaller, more expensive panels are required.
For many homeowners looking to incorporate solar power, the space needed to accomplish anything significant may not be possible, or the costs may skyrocket to meet demands. Additionally, implementing large solar panels into other solar projects can be difficult, greatly impacting how worthwhile and affordable a solar energy solution will be.
Solar energy comes from the sun, meaning it does not work at night. While this may seem obvious, it can actually be a costly problem. If a solar power system is connected to the electric grid, then excess power can be fed back into the system, but if it is not, then using any excess energy requires batteries, which are costly additions.
There is also an issue with using solar power in certain climates since solar panels rely on sunlight to gather solar energy. While solar panels will still work under these conditions, there are a number of things that affect just how well they gather energy:
- Indirect sunlight
However, while these conditions impact just how well solar panels collect solar energy, they do not mean solar panels are not worth it. In fact, places like New York and Massachusetts, known for their long, cold winters, have a high number of solar installations. This is because of how much they can save despite the climate.
It Is Worth It When It Can Save You Money
When most people think about solar power, they do so because it is an option to help save money. So, for most, whether it can do that for them defines whether it is worth it. The answer to the question of whether it can save someone money depends a great deal on the individual’s home and location, however.
The principle behind saving money with solar power is actually quite simple. Solar panels work by capturing solar energy and converting it directly into electricity. The produced electricity can then be used immediately, reducing the amount needed from your electric company and thus reducing your monthly bill.
Furthermore, if excess electricity is produced, it can either be stored in a battery or fed back into the electric grid. When energy is fed back into the grid, it is essentially you selling power to the electric company, reducing your bill by that amount or earning you money if it exceeds what you would have needed to pay otherwise.
However, whether that is worth it depends on how much you can expect to save or net in a month and how much you have to put in at the start. The first barrier to entry for most looking at solar power is the upfront investment.
Hefty Upfront Investment
The upfront costs of solar power are a major disadvantage. In 2020, the cost of installing an average-sized system of solar panels ranged between around $11,000 and $15,000, making it something not to be considered lightly. After all, even in areas with lower energy rates and less to gain, a solar panel system remains expensive.
Furthermore, there are other factors that can increase the upfront costs further:
- The specific needs of your home
- The installers doing the job
- The type of solar panels used
Fortunately, there are certain factors that mitigate the costs. For instance, the ITC, which is a federal solar tax credit. The federal credit reduces solar costs by 26%, taking some of the sting out of the upfront costs of purchasing solar panels. Moreover, some states and local governments provide rebates to those interested in solar power.
Tax credit or not, the upfront costs are still high. However, there are a few options to pay for your solar panels, though some are more worth it than others.
How You Pay
When purchasing solar panels, the price is important for a few reasons. One is the affordability, while the other is how quickly you can get a return on your investment and see a net gain. However, how you pay for the system also affects the time needed to see a gain. The options include:
- Paying out-of-pocket
- Getting a loan
- Leasing and PPA
Paying out-of-pocket comes with the greatest benefits. It will take time to see a return on your investment, likely years, but it will have the greatest long-term value. More than that, you own the solar panels, meaning you reap all the benefits.
Getting a loan is similar, giving you ownership while costing you essentially nothing out-of-pocket. However, loans require interest payments, and having to pay interest means not reaching the break-even point nearly as quickly.
Finally, there is leasing or signing a PPA, which is a power purchase agreement. This option gives you no ownership and will likely only save you a small percentage of your monthly bill, though it comes at no cost to you. Keep in mind that this option will likely include a long contract.
When You Save
So, when do you actually save money? Since that is what makes it worth it or not, the bottom line is important. Assuming your roof supports solar panels and the upfront costs are not unmanageable, what really matters is how much you can expect to save every month, something highly dependent on what area you live in. Consider these factors:
- Depending on where you live, the price of electricity will differ, and those energy rates directly coincide with how much you stand to save. After all, solar panels generate the same amount of electricity regardless of the energy costs in an area, meaning areas with higher rates stand to save a larger amount of money.
- Since solar panel systems have a relatively fixed price before installation fees, more savings equals recouping your investment faster. The opposite is true for those in low energy rate areas, meaning it takes longer for them to reach their break-even point and start seeing a net gain.
- Additionally, rates rise over time to meet increased demand. However, no matter how much electricity prices rise, solar energy stays the same. So, take rising energy costs into account, considering that it might even mean making you more money if prices rise and you produce excess energy.
Do the Savings Make Solar Power Worth It?
Even with the upfront costs, there is no doubt that solar panels will save you money. However, whether or not it is worth it mostly depends on how quickly you can reach your break-even point, something determined by how much you pay upfront divided by the expected savings per month.
If you live in an area with low energy rates, where it will take you far more time to get a return on your investment, it is likely not worth it for the minimal future gains. However, if you live in an area with higher energy rates and will be able to reach your break-even point in somewhere around four to eight years, it is an excellent investment.
So, is it worth it? Absolutely. While those in low energy rate areas may not benefit much from utilizing solar power, those in areas with mid to high energy rates stand to gain a great deal. However, how much you stand to save is not the only thing you need to consider, even if it is the most impactful.
It Is Worth It When It Brings Value to Your Home
Solar power requires solar panels, and for most people, that means placing panels on their roofs. While this may not seem like a benefit, considering solar panels are not the most attractive feature, it can actually increase the value of a home, a fact that can offset some of the initial costs.
However, when putting solar panels on your roof, there are a few things you need to consider, such as whether it is possible and whether you should. After all, we have already come to the conclusion that solar panels are worth it when they save you money, but the payout is not quick by any means.
How Solar Panels Affect a Home’s Value
We discussed one benefit in detail already, which is the financial aspect, both saving and potentially earning money from the production of electricity, especially in areas with high energy rates. However, solar panels also add direct value to a home, increasing its value by approximately 4%.
That is not to say that there are no detriments to adding panels. While the value of the home increases, it also presents several obstacles for homeowners to navigate:
- Solar panels cannot move with you
- Solar panels may affect buyer interest
- Solar panels require some maintenance
While none of the above obstacles negatively impact the value of a home, they do need to be considered when determining whether the added value is worth it for you. For instance, if you do not plan on living in the home for long, adding solar panels could mean a net loss, even after the added value on the home.
The same is true for buyer interest. It does not directly impact the value, but it could incur more costs if you sell in the future, keeping it on the market longer. Fortunately, while maintenance can be an issue, with leaves and other debris needing to be kept off solar panels to ensure effectiveness, it is a minor concern.
Putting Down Roots
Time is not a new concept in this article. From the very beginning, the worth of solar power has been tied to the amount of time one is willing to invest, along with the financial costs. You must wait until the break-even point to see any net gain, and you must similarly plan on spending a number of years in the home.
For those with unsure futures or with an impending move, solar panels may not be a good investment. However, for those who plan on putting down roots and living in a house for the long haul, solar power is a worthwhile investment. Not only can it save you money, but it can also add value to your home, making it an ideal long-term investment.
It Is Worth It for Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
The creation of solar panels, like most industrial products, does involve some pollution. In the case of solar panels, the toxic element cadmium is required. However, it is negligible, especially if the panels are used over a long period of time and the toxic materials are handled properly.
In fact, solar power systems do not produce air pollution or greenhouse gasses, unlike many other forms of energy production. It is actually the cleanest and most abundant energy source available. Therefore, as a homeowner or even a business, if you are looking for a way to reduce your carbon footprint, solar energy is more than worth it.
That being said, there are some drawbacks to solar energy where the environment is concerned. Though, the drawbacks are mainly seen when dealing with solar energy on a large scale.
Large-Scale Solar and the Environment
Large-scale solar power, also known as solar power plants, can affect the environment near them. It is important to keep in mind one of the two main disadvantages of solar energy when thinking about solar power plants, which is its inefficiency. Mainly, utilizing solar panels requires a great deal of physical space.
Since solar panels require large amounts of physical space and direct sunlight, it involves clearing out large stretches of land for construction. Furthermore, unlike solar panels placed on rooftops, the large-scale panels of a solar power plant take up the entirety of the space by themselves. But what does this mean for the environment?
- May require the use of large volumes of water
- The removal of all trees and grass to avoid blocking sunlight
- Beams of concentrated sunlight can actually kill birds and insects
Effectively, long-term solar power plants destroy the surrounding habitats. All plants are uprooted, the water and homes of the local wildlife are taken away, and those creatures unlucky enough to fly through the cleared area face death at the hands of sunlight, something not easy to detect. However, are large-scale solar systems worth it anyway?
The Worth of Large-Scale Applications
Large-scale applications, either known as solar power plants or solar farms, do have their environmental drawbacks, but those negatives are not unique to solar energy. Any large-scale energy production has drawbacks, and many of them disturb the environment in one way or another. Does that make it not worth it?
Even with the inefficiency of solar energy, it is still worth it. In fact, large-scale applications are more efficient in the energy gathering aspect than their rooftop counterparts.
Why It Is Worth It
The energy source is still clean, but with a large-scale application, there is more room to perfect the solar energy system. There are also a number of factors that improve efficiency and lower costs when utilizing a large-scale solar power system.
- Being able to position the solar panels perfectly, without the difficulty of navigating different rooftops and their directionality.
- It is cheaper to make larger products efficient than it is to make smaller products efficient, including solar panels.
- Storing energy is cheaper due to more cost-effective storage options.
While this may not apply to most people, large-scale applications for solar energy are more beneficial with fewer disadvantages. Not only that, but there have been some instances of alternative solar farms, such as those on water. The possibilities are endless, and utilizing a clean energy source on a large scale is very worthwhile.
When the Power Grid Is Not an Option
Another time when solar power is completely worth it is when there are few other options. Without access to a power grid, the options for sustainable energy are reduced, and this is not just a problem faced by homes or larger devices. The problem is also one faced by smaller, battery-operated devices.
Consider a building in an isolated area, such as a cabin deep in the woods or a facility in the arctic. Both places will be away from a power grid and thus rendered powerless. However, that does not mean they have to go without power. Solar energy can provide a solution. After all, it works just as well in cold, isolated areas as anywhere else.
For situations such as those, where a reliable energy source is nowhere close, adding a renewable energy source as reliable as the rising of the sun day by day is worth it. But what about smaller products, such as those reliant on batteries?
Worth It on a Smaller Scale
The same logic can be applied to smaller devices. Nowadays, technology has advanced to the point of being able to fit almost anywhere. What would have been impossible previously, such as putting a small solar power system on a watch or other device, is no longer impossible. A few examples of solar-powered devices are:
- Phone chargers
- Outdoor lighting
Many devices can have a solar power system, even if it is only a backup energy source. While there may be an additional cost for the convenient features, there are many situations in which it could prove useful, even vital. For instance, using a solar-charged refrigerator to move temperature-sensitive products on a slow journey.
The answer to whether solar power is worth it is ever-changing, but it is only going up. With more advanced technology, the addition of self-reliant power is becoming easier to incorporate and cheaper to get. There is no doubt that solar power is worth it, especially with items and locations that cannot benefit from any other source of renewable energy.
Tips for Potential Solar Customers
For most, solar energy will be an addition to the home, a way to produce their own energy and save money. In order to get the most out of it and make it as worthwhile an investment as possible, there are a few things you can keep in mind:
- You can save more by shopping around. Not all installers offer the same prices, especially the bigger companies, so look into all of your options. Pay particular attention to smaller companies and those that are local. Remember, initial investment matters a lot in making solar power worth the trouble.
- Equipment is important. While only mentioned briefly, the type of panels matters. Whether you are looking for panels suited to your roof or wanting panels that do more with less space, it is important to look at your options. Pay particular attention to warranties since many come with warranties of 25 years or more.
- Solar panels are not DIY projects for most people. It requires being on a roof and working with wires. Additionally, hiring a contractor to install a DIY kit can be more expensive and less reliable than hiring a professional installation company. Considering panels can last upwards of 40 years, make sure it is done right.
While some areas may not be suited for solar power, for many, it is a viable and worthwhile option, providing many benefits with relatively few drawbacks. So, if you are looking for a safe and clean source of energy that can fit into your life and save you money, then give solar energy a look.