If you’re considering installing a solar panel system, you’ve probably already had your share of exposure to solar marketing, whether through spammy ads promising free solar panels or a knock at the door signaling an eager solar salesman ready to convince you why you should go solar. To make the right decision for your home, you need to be able to distinguish between the real pros and cons of solar energy and the solar myths that are sometimes communicated in the media.
Is solar a smart long-term investment that can reduce your carbon footprint? Absolutely – and everybody from the U.S. Department of Energy to Leonardo DiCaprio can back it up. But even something as trendy as solar can have downsides (scroll down for the top 5). Let’s break down the pros and cons of solar energy.
The Main Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy
|Pros of solar energy||Cons of solar energy|
|Lower your electric bill||Doesn't work for every roof type|
|Improve the value of your home||Not ideal if you're about to move|
|Reduce your carbon footprint||Buying panels can be expensive|
These pros and cons of solar energy are some of the top-of-mind issues for solar shoppers. Below, we’ll talk about these points and more and break down the full list of solar energy pros and cons.
The pros of solar energy
There are many advantages to solar energy. Here are our top ones to keep in mind:
1. It can either drastically reduce or totally eliminate your electric bills
This top benefit of solar panels is pretty straightforward – when you install solar power for your home, you generate your own electricity, become less reliant on your electric utility and reduce your monthly electric bill. A solar panel system typically has a 25-30 year lifespan, which means that you can cut your electricity costs for decades to come by going solar. Use this instant estimate tool to get a customized estimate of your long-term electricity bill savings and review personalized projections for up-front cost and 20-year solar savings.
2. It improves the value of your home
Millions of U.S. homeowners are interested in solar panels but haven’t taken the time to figure out what it takes to install them. This consumer reality, and the undeniable benefits of having solar panels on a home, complements recent studies that found property values increase after solar is installed. Thus, the second “pro” of solar can help to level out one of the cons that we discussed earlier – even if you’re planning on moving in the near future, you’ll earn back your solar panel investment and then some when you sell your home. To learn more about the increased resale value of solar homes and find out just how much solar adds to the market value of your property, check out this article on solar and property values.
3. Solar can pay you money while you’re earning back your investment
Due to a number of awesome solar incentives in the U.S., solar panels can actually turn you a profit in addition to generating bill savings that pay off the cost of the system. Solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) and net metering are two key benefits of solar that allow you to earn bill credits (or even extra cash) as your system produces electricity. In these scenarios, you are being compensated for the electricity that your solar panels generate. If you live in a state where either of these incentives apply, you can expect both immediate and long-term returns from your solar investment.
4. Going solar gives you control over rising energy costs
Many homeowners face anxiety when it comes to their electricity bills because, in most scenarios, there is nothing you can do to control your utility electricity rate. While the cost of solar has decreased by more than 70 percent in the past decade, the cost of electricity has risen by about five percent, and that trend in rising electric cost is expected to continue. Going solar puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to energy generation. Utilities are quickly adapting to the rising adoption of renewable energy and the U.S. government is quickly increasing its goals for greenhouse gas emissions reduction, which means there’s really never been a better time to be energy autonomous.
5. Solar reduces carbon emissions and helps the U.S. move towards energy independence
Perhaps the most admirable and patriotic advantage of solar power is the fact that it benefits our environment while simultaneously helping our country to make the necessary transition away from fossil fuels. In pursuing energy solutions to help the U.S. reduce overall emissions, our nation is also establishing independence in order to cease being heavily reliant on fossil fuel producers abroad. As the world searches for the most cost-effective ways to reduce our carbon output in the face of global climate change, solar energy has become a trendy resource for good reason and perhaps a bragging right for Earth Day and the Fourth of July.
What are the disadvantages of solar energy? The top 5 cons of solar power
Solar isn’t perfect – here are five things to keep in mind when considering solar:
1. Solar panels don’t work for every type of roof
Rooftop solar panels are installed by connecting a mounting system (also known as “racking”) to your roof. Certain roofing materials used in older or historical homes, such as slate or cedar tiles, can be difficult for solar installers to work with, throwing up a roadblock for solar power. Additionally, many homes and apartment buildings have skylights or other rooftop additions like roof decks that can make the solar installation process difficult or costly. In the long run, however, this shouldn’t be a barrier to the mass adoption of solar power in the U.S. If your home doesn’t qualify for a rooftop solar installation, you still have options: ground mounted solar panels or buying a share in a community solar garden can get you around this disadvantage of solar energy.
2. Solar isn’t ideal if you’re about to move
Solar is a great financial investment, but it can take some time to reach the break-even point so often heralded by industry sales reps. The average solar panel payback period in the U.S. is around seven and a half years. For a young homeowner who may be moving in the coming years, putting solar panels on his or her roof might feel like an unworthy investment. But, as you’ll learn later in this article, solar can actually improve your property value and thus increase your return when you do sell your home. So as long as you plan to buy your system with a cash purchase or loan, this disadvantage of solar power can be easily avoided.
3. If your electricity costs are low, so are your solar savings
The ultimate benefit of solar energy is that it will reduce your use of utility-provided electricity and save you money every month as a result. However, that condition assumes a homeowner has sizable electric bills to begin with. For a homeowner in a state like Louisiana where the cost of electricity is 27 percent lower than the national average, installing a solar panel system isn’t nearly as attractive as it is to a Hawaii homeowner who pays more than double the average electric rate.
4. If you can’t access solar financing, up-front costs can be intimidating
There’s a nationwide debate going on about how much homeowners have to pay out-of-pocket for solar. The total out-of-pocket price tag for a solar panel system depends on tax credits, rebates, and the financing option you choose. Though you can easily get a figure for the average cost of solar in your state or even a personalized estimate for your home, the simple answer is that the up-front cost of solar is sizable if you don’t qualify for a zero-down solar loan.
The disadvantage here is clear: not everyone has the cash on hand to make an investment of this size with an up-front payment. That being said, there are a number of solar financing options to help you get around this solar con such as state-backed loan programs, leases and power purchase agreements.
5. Finding quality, local installers and easily comparing quotes can be difficult
There’s a common association that many homeowners have with solar. It has to do with pushy door-to-door solar sales reps that pressure consumers to sign a 20-year solar contract before they explain the full scope of the offer or the credibility of the solar company. Solar is one of the fastest growing markets in the world, and there are plenty of companies that are deploying aggressive sales tactics to get their fair share of the market. As a result, for many people, shopping for solar can be a stressful and confusing scenario. Luckily, there are easier ways to shop for solar that puts the homeowner in control. The EnergySage Solar Marketplace is a 100% online comparison-shopping platform that allows you to compare solar quotes from top pre-screened installers in your area.
Key takeaways: comparing the disadvantages and advantages of solar panels
After reviewing our pro/con comparison of solar energy, there are some clear takeaways here:
- Rooftop solar panels aren’t the perfect fit for everyone, but that’s okay. Like any other home efficiency product, solar panels provide clear benefits to homeowners that are in need of energy upgrades and electricity bill reduction. Not everyone fits that description.
- Solar energy should be thought of as an investment: a low-risk investment with major returns, but a hefty investment nonetheless.
- The U.S. is moving towards clean energy, and solar is our cheapest option. There’s nothing unclear about America’s energy future: the U.S. is transitioning towards renewables and away from fossil fuels. Solar is the most scalable, consumer-friendly solution.
Three Tips for Solar Shoppers
1. Homeowners who get multiple quotes save 10% or more
As with any big ticket purchase, shopping for a solar panel installation takes a lot of research and consideration, including a thorough review of the companies in your area. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recommended that consumers compare as many solar options as possible to avoid paying inflated prices offered by the large installers in the solar industry.
To find the smaller contractors that typically offer lower prices, you’ll need to use an installer network like EnergySage. You can receive free quotes from vetted installers local to you when you register your property on our Solar Marketplace – homeowners who get 3 or more quotes can expect to save $5,000 to $10,000 on their solar panel installation.
2. The biggest installers typically don’t offer the best price
The bigger isn’t always better mantra is one of the main reasons we strongly encourage homeowners to consider all of their solar options, not just the brands large enough to pay for the most advertising. A recent report by the U.S. government found that large installers are $2,000 to $5,000 more expensive than small solar companies. If you have offers from some of the big installers in solar, make sure you compare those bids with quotes from local installers to ensure you don’t overpay for solar.
3. Comparing all your equipment options is just as important
National-scale installers don’t just offer higher prices – they also tend to have fewer solar equipment options, which can have a significant impact on your system’s electricity production. By collecting a diverse array of solar bids, you can compare costs and savings based on the different equipment packages available to you.
There are multiple variables to consider when seeking out the best solar panels on the market. While certain panels will have higher efficiency ratings than others, investing in top-of-the-line solar equipment doesn’t always result in higher savings. The only way to find the “sweet spot” for your property is to evaluate quotes with varying equipment and financing offers.
For any homeowner in the early stage of shopping for solar that would just like a ballpark estimate for an installation, try our Solar Calculator that offers upfront cost and long-term savings estimates based on your location and roof type. For those looking to get quotes from local contractors today, check out our quote comparison platform.