Solar Power

Pros and Cons of Choosing Solar Energy

Solar energy is a fully renewable energy resource that offers a sustainable alternative to pollutant fossil fuels. If you’re concerned about the environment, there are few things you can do that will make as significant and long-lasting an impact as switching to solar energy. (Which is not to say that you shouldn’t also recycle and take short showers.) However, as with anything else, solar energy has its share of pros and cons. Here’s your chance to weigh them yourself.

Con #1: High upfront cost. While solar investments pay for themselves in about 10-15 years and continue producing solar energy for an additional 10-15 years, the upfront cost of solar continues to be a significant barrier. Generous state and local incentives and a 30% federal tax credit can help mitigate the cost. Some solar companies also offer system leases and power purchase agreements that offer you lower energy costs without the initial installation fee. Even so, a high quality solar power system is going to require some financial output on your part.

Con #2: Conditions of installation. Not everyone is a good candidate for solar power. Eligibility is dependent on on roof orientation and shading. Ideal solar candidates have south-facing roofs with little or no shading. The daisy-chain pattern in which solar modules are connected means that even slight shading from neighboring trees, telephone poles, and buildings can compromise the productivity of your system. Additionally, if your electricity bills are already very low, your solar power system will take longer to pay for itself and may not be the best financial investment for you.

And the pros:

Pro #1: Significant savings. Solar power systems pay for themselves within 10-15 years and keep producing free energy for years after. They offer reliable and fairly high returns on your investment. Depending on your energy usage and system size, they can also zero out your monthly electricity bills. Some utility companies will even pay you for any excess energy you generate in a process called net metering.

Pro #2: Environmental benefits. Solar energy is indisputably cleaner and more sustainable than coal or nuclear based energy. Unlike fossil fuels, sunlight is a totally renewable resource: it is estimated that the Earth absorbs enough energy from the sun in one hour to cover all human needs for a year. And solar panels produce energy without giving off harmful greenhouse gases. Over its lifetime a medium sized 2.5kw/h solar power system is equivalent to planting 500 trees or not driving 270,000 miles.

Pro #3: Low maintenance. Solar power systems generally contain no moving parts and need very little maintenance over their 25-40 year lifespans. Inverters and panels from brand name manufacturers such as Sharp and GE come with extended warrantees in the off chance that anything does go wrong. General maintenance is limited to hosing off the solar panels every now and then, which means that your lawn is officially more work than a solar power system — a lot more work.

For a free solar consultation or information pack about solar energy, please visit . Jennifer Mo is a longtime treehugger, vegetarian, and proponent of all things that are good for your body and for the planet.

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