Using solar energy to meet your power demands does not only make you more environmentally friendly, it may actually save you money. It’s a win-win situation, but only if you’re in for long-run. Of course, it all depends on where you live since how much energy your panels can harvest, and consequently save you money, depends on constantly changing factors such as time of day, season and weather, but also geographic traits such as climate and latitude.  With this in mind,  before you decide to grab solar panels to add to your home, look at these six pros and cons of solar energy to understand some basic facts about solar energy.

Consider these 6 points before making a purchase


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Pro: Your Electricity Bills are Reduced Greatly

This is one of the main pros and cons of solar energy that people look at. When you use solar energy, you rely less on electric companies to give you electricity, your monthly bills go down, and you even earn a credit on your statement. Electricity companies also pay customers for using panels for their extra energy they don’t use in a month, so you make money. According to a new report by the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, backed by the SunShot Initiative, a fully financed solar PV system costs less than the energy purchased from a residential customer’s local utility in 42 of the 50 largest cities in the United States.

Figure 1: Ranking of 50 Largest Cities Based On Where Solar Offers Best Financial Value. Source: Going Solar in America (report)

Figure 1: Ranking of 50 Largest Cities Based On Where Solar Offers Best Financial Value. Source: Going Solar in America (report)

Con: They are Expensive to Install

While you save money by using less electricity, you spend a lot of money upfront buying solar panels. The bigger your energy needs, the more your cost is, and you can spend thousands of dollars. The government can give you credits for adding solar panels, but manufacturing and installing panels are still high. Nevertheless, some providers are actually offering interesting ways to fund your PV installation, so you don’t need to invest a massive initial capital to get going. Depending on where you live and your payment plan, your energy savings could equal your monthly payment. Also, thanks to advances in energy conversion and manufacturing, solar panels are cheaper than ever. According to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the median cost of a residential solar project fell from $12 per watt in 1998 to $4.70 per watt in 2013. EnergySage reports that the average cost of a 5-kilowatt rooftop system in the third quarter of 2014, before incentives, was as low as $3.70 per watt.

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Con: It doesn’t work very well everywhere in the world

Areas closer to the equator have far greater potential for producing solar electricity than those closer to the poles, and areas with consistent sun have greater solar potential then areas that are frequently overcast. Luckily, most of the United States has a great potential for solar energy, as you can see in this map of global solar radiation from the United Nations Environment Programme. For the absolute best solar resources in the United States, think southwest.

New Mexico and Arizona are red hot with solar potential, and California, Nevada, Texas, Utah and Colorado also have large areas highly favorable for PV development. If you live in one of these states, consider this point as a “pro” on your checklist. Also, another point you should consider at this point is air pollution. Using solar power, you disconnect from the grid, thus generating less demand which is generally met by coal power plants. In effects, this ultimately reduces pollution. But if you’re living in a polluted area in the first places, you’ll experience poorer performance than otherwise because  black carbons spewed by power plants combine to form haze and smog. These greatly reduce the amount of available sunlight by blocking the sun. In 1985, Atsumu Ohmura discovered that the amount of sunshine on Earth had dimmed by 10% between the 1960′s and 1980′s.  In addition, over the past 50 years, the average sunlight reduction was 3% per decade.

Pro: They’re Quieter than a Heartbeat

Solar panels make no noise whatsoever since they don’t contain any moving parts, unless you order a PV array with a rotational axis that follows the sun throughout daytime. Even in this case, however, the noise and annoyance is minimal to the point that’s unnoticeable.  Another alternative energy source, wind turbines, might make noise because it is like a large fan blowing in your backyard. As winds pick up, the speed of the moving parts increase, and so does the noise. This is a reason why wind turbines are mostly located near farms or other remote locations because there aren’t many residences nearby to complain about the noise.

Con: Storing Solar Energy Costs a Lot (for now)

You use solar energy during the night hours through batteries charged during the day, so you don’t worry about not having electricity in the evening. These batteries run from a few hundred dollars to over $1,500 and weigh from 60 to 420 pounds. Find a place to store them that will not get wet and damage the battery, get accessories such as a cord and replaceable cells, and replace them about every 15 to 20 years. Consider, however, that now we have Tesla batteries! Tesla’s Powerwall battery comes in 7 or 10 kilowatt modules, and costs $3000 and $3500 respectively.

Pro: Solar Energy is Accessible in Remote Areas

The cost of installing and maintaining solar energy panels is high in the beginning, but for areas that aren’t able to receive electricity the traditional way, adding these is a huge benefit. Some areas are remote and off the grid, so electric companies cannot add a grid matrix to install electricity. These areas use the solar power so that they might use devices such as a microwave, washer and dryer, and the Internet. If in some states it’s debatable whether or no solar can beat the grid in terms of cost, when remote off-grid locations are concerned solar almost always beats a diesel or gas-fired generator.

Although the upfront cost of installing solar energy panels is high, over time you will save money on your electricity bills. Some even sell the energy back, and earn a profit. You rely less on fossil fuels that pollute the environment, and the sustainable energy gives you what you need without harming the planet for future generations to use.

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Copyright 2015 ZME Science

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