Are you considering installing photovoltaic solar panels on your home’s rooftop to generate clean electricity for your home? If so, read on to learn more about key advantages and disadvantages of harnessing solar energy by means of PV solar panels, thin-film laminates, solar thermal panels, and more!
The benefits of going solar are numerous, but here are the main points to consider when making a buying decision:
- Versatility – Solar arrays can be mounted on rooftops or arranged on the ground in a way that makes sense for the layout of the property. For roofs with limited exposure to the sun, high-efficiency solar panels (300 to 400 watts) can be used, while larger roofs can be outfitted with the standard less-costly panels of approximately 250 watts each.
- Very generous tax incentives from the government – Federal government currently provides a very generous 26% solar investment tax credit rebate (not just a deduction but a full rebate of whatever taxes you would normally need to pay) on the full amount of a qualified solar purchase including the cost of the panels, mounting equipment and supplies, building permits, and professional installation.
- Dramatic Reductions in Cost – The price of solar panels and the cost of going solar has fallen dramatically since 2010 and even more so if you go back to the beginning of the third millennium. Installing PV solar panels on your home today will cost approximately 80% less than what you would have paid back in year 2000. The cost per watt today can be as low as $3.00-$3.50 per installed watt vs. more than double that amount back in 2010.
- Long lasting — Modern solar panels are designed to continue to deliver over 80% of their initial efficiency after 20 years in service. A minimum 20 years of expected service lifespan is the finding from the FTC study for solar panels that have been in service for a couple of decades or longer. Modern, high-end PV solar panels are typically warrantied for 25 years or longer, with a maximum expected degradation in energy generation capacity of .5% per year. With proper care, you can expect solar panels installed today to last for 25 to 30 years.
- Attractive payback period – Average solar payback period is approximately 8 to 10 years, depending on the system size and your home’s location.
- Net Metering makes it possible to sell excess electricity back to the grid for credits – Any excess electricity your system generates during the day can be sold back to the electric grid for credits, thanks to the net metering rules enacted in some 40 states.
- Reduced reliance on electric grid – Solar panels coupled with a battery storage pack can help reduce the reliance on the electric grid, which can be especially helpful during blackouts.
- Increased property value – PV solar power system can increase property value by approximately $15,000 at resale.
- Require very little maintenance – Once solar panels are properly installed there is practically no maintenance to worry about aside from occasional dust cleaning.
- Reduced carbon footprint – By installing solar panels on your home’s rooftop, you can reduce your carbon footprint by more than 3,000 pounds per year.
- High initial upfront cost of investment – Even though solar equipment costs have decreased significantly since 2010, getting a new 5kW or 6kW solar power system installed at an average cost of $3.00 to $3.50 per watt will set you back $15,000 to $21,000 before the 26% federal solar investment tax credits rebated at tax time, and local renewable energy incentives.
- Snow affecting energy generation – In regions with heavy snow fall, solar electricity generation can be diminished due to panels being covered with snow. However the snow is likely to melt on the dark surface of the panels or simply get dust off by the wind.
- Roof size and orientation – Rooftop size, layout, and exposure (whether the roof is facing north or south) can make solar investment less attractive for homes with limited exposure to the sun.
- Not all locations are equal – Solar panels installed in northern states, Canada, and Alaska will not deliver the same level of solar electricity generation compared to places like California, Arizona, and New Mexico, Texas, and Nevada, especially during winter.
- Also Need a New Roof – Modern PV solar panels are designed to generate solar electricity for 25 to 30 years, typically requiring the installation of a brand-new roof before solar panels can installed. This makes for an even costlier upfront investment when “going solar”.
- Faulty Installation can be costly – Improper installation of the solar panels can cause roof leaks down the road, as drilling holes in the roof can disturb the integrity of a roofing system. One way to mitigate any and all roof integrity issues, is to install solar arrays over the raised seams of a standing seam metal roof, without needing to drill any holes in the roof. Improper installation of electric connectors can also create the potential for an electric fire hazard down the line.
- Rare Earth Metals – Manufacturing of some solar panels requires rare earth metals, which presents some geopolitical challenges for the US, as 80% of the rare earth metals are currently being supplied by China. Not only that but majority of solar panels are currently being manufactured in China and shipped to the US and globally.
- No power generation at night
- Battery storage can be costly – an additional solar battery storage bank or two may add between $6,500 to $12,500 to the upfront cost of a solar system, depending on the size of the system, thus greatly extending the payback period well beyond the average of 8-10 years.
Why harnessing solar energy makes a lot of sense?
Sun generates enormous amounts of energy every second and it will continue to do so for billions of years. Every hour, some 122 Petawatts of solar energy gets delivered to earth from sun. What do these numbers even mean in human terms? To help put this in perspective, this is around 10,000 times the amount of power generated and consumed by all humans on earth in one year!
From the humble perspective of human existence, tapping into and harnessing even a tiny fraction of the energy generated by sun makes a whole lot of practical and economic sense because sun is a sustainable, renewable, and abundant source of clean energy.
Photovoltaic solar panels provide an easy and scalable way to harness the power of the sun by converting sunlight into clean electricity for domestic or commercial uses. Modern high-efficiency monocrystalline solar panels from leading manufactures like LG SunPower, can offer up to 22.8% solar energy to electricity conversion rate. And while 22.8% efficiency is not anywhere close to 100%, it’s still very impressive compared to what was available to us less than a decade ago.
But incremental improvements in the solar energy conversion efficiency of the crystalline solar panels will continue marching forward. In fact, scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have recently achieved nearly 40% real-life conversion efficiency of the 6-layer multi-junction solar cell . That’s almost twice as good as the high-efficiency crystalline solar panels available on the market today. Under the lab conditions, the efficiency of the multi-junction cell was almost 50%. It’s not clear when the new technology could become commercially available, but it does help to demonstrate the dynamic nature of continuous improvements in the efficiency of solar cell technology and reductions in cost.
And, thanks to the wide adoption and global scale of solar panels manufacturing coupled with improved efficiencies, the cost of solar cells today is dramatically lower than what it used to be just a decade ago.
More ways to harness solar energy
Other ways in which solar energy can be harnessed include greenhouses, solar thermal panels for domestic hot water, incorporating passive solar design elements like sunrooms commonly used in residential homes, thin film laminates for standing seam metal roofs, outdoor solar lights, and more.
There are many very desirable benefits and several drawbacks that homeowners should consider before installing PV solar panels on the rooftops of their homes. On balance, a strong argument can be made that the positive aspects of harnessing solar energy outweigh the negatives, although there are certainly some important tradeoffs to consider. That said, solar panels are becoming increasingly more efficient at converting solar energy into clean electricity to power homes and commercial buildings. With the improved energy efficiency, homeowners and building owners are realizing attractive payback periods, which is currently approximately 8 years, on average, in the US. Highly attractive tax credits from the federal government and local incentives make the investment in clean solar energy even more attractive.
- Solar cells can be used for energy generation in many different applications like outdoor lighting
- Very generous tax incentives from the government
- The price of solar panels has fallen dramatically over the last decade.
- Long lasting product for clean energy generation
- Attractive average payback period
- Ability to sell excess electricity back to the grid for credits
- Reduced reliance on electric grid
- Increased property value
- Require very little maintenance
- Reduced carbon footprint
- High initial upfront cost of investment
- In regions with heavy snow fall, solar electricity generation can be diminished due to panels being covered with snow
- Rooftop size and layout can make solar investment less attractive for homes with limited exposure to the sun
- Solar panels installed in northern states, Canada, and Alaska will not deliver the same level of energy efficiency like southern states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada will, especially during winter
- Solar panels typically require a brand-new roof, making “going solar” an even costlier upfront investment
- Improper installation can cause roof leaks down the road, as drilling holes in the roof disturbs the integrity of a roofing system
- Production of some solar panels requires the use of rare earth metals, which presents some geopolitical challenges for the US, as 80% of rare earth metals are currently being supplied by China
- No power generation at night
- Battery storage can be costly
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