As temperatures continue to rise with climate change, it has become brutally obvious to many people that humanity can no longer rely upon traditional power generation sources like coal, gas, oil and other fossil fuels or hydroelectric dams that are dangerous for the environment and expensive to harvest or maintain. The former creates byproducts that pollute the air and exacerbate global temperature problems. As water sources dry up, especially in the West, the latter has become unreliable.
Whether you’re a home or business owner or renter, you have more power generation options than the local electric power grid in your region. Many renewable resources exist that can produce the same amount of, if not more than, power you’ve received through traditional utilities. This guide covers the benefits of solar energy.
As noted by the U.S. Department of Energy, solar is “sustainable, renewable and plentiful.” What are the benefits of solar energy and associated technologies like solar panels? Read on to learn more about how you can take advantage of the power generated by the Sun:
It’s Time to Reconsider Geography
In the past, experts warned consumers that solar panels had little value in geographic locations that featured overcast skies most of the year and were useless during winter months in cold regions. Yet, newer solar panels have been designed to make the most of any type of sunlight. As a result, you can reap benefits from these technologies even if the panels don’t receive direct sunlight.
During winter, for example, you might use the solar panels on sunny or partially sunny days to charge a whole-home backup battery so that you have a backup power source during a regular power grid outage. In rainy areas, such as the Pacific Northwest, you can actually use solar power on sunny days instead of the grid and sell any remainder that you generate back to the traditional utility to offset your grid-based electric bills for those times you can’t rely on the panels.
Solar Panels Offer High Financial Returns
Power bill savings alone make solar panels worth any upfront investment and maintenance costs over time. You can lower monthly utility bills by as much as $1,500 annually by using solar to provide a home or business with electricity that isn’t directly from the grid. On warm and sunny days, you can use your solar panels as your primary energy source, and on overcast or cold days you can use the grid if you can’t disconnect from it entirely.
Yet, these panels offer a lot of other financial returns as well:
- As noted earlier, you can sell your excess solar energy to a traditional utility provider in a solar buyback or net metering contract. The company affixes a smart meter to your system and subtracts the amount they pay for excess power from your grid utility bill balance every month. If you’re not reliant on the grid but still sell the excess, they cut you a check.
- Many federal and state programs exist that offer rebates and other incentives to home and business owners to invest in solar panels. For example, the federal solar tax credit for income tax is a dollar-for-dollar amount through the end of 2023. It’s 26% of the final cost credit in 2022 and 22% in 2023.
- Modern property buyers consider solar panels a valuable upgrade, which means that they’re usually willing to pay much more for a home or business property if solar panels are included in the sale. According to Energy.gov, a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study found that solar panels increase home value by at least $15,000.
- Insurance companies also consider solar panels an environmentally friendly and responsible, valuable investment. They often provide home and business policyholders with a monthly, quarterly or annual insurance premium “green” discount. They might even increase the amount of the discount if you also invest in a whole-home backup battery.
Solar Technologies Protect the Environment
The initial raw material acquisition and manufacturing processes when completing solar panels for sale do generate greenhouse gas emissions and other toxic pollutants like heavy metals and fine particulates. These processes also use water. When parts and completed panels ship, they’re often involved in fossil fuel consumption during transportation, such as the burning of gasoline in trucks when shipping the panels and parts.
That said, solar panels don’t general nearly the same amount of emissions as traditional power plants after they’re installed on or near a home or business. Instead, they significantly reduce dangerous emissions during their typical lifespan.
Solar panels can last up to 30 years when well-maintained by a property owner, and whole-home batteries can last 10 to 20 years. During that time, these technologies positively offset the amount of pollution a single home or business would normally create when connected to traditional power plants or on-site fossil fuel equipment like oil furnances and portable gas-powered generators. Since they don’t need to be replaced for years, they don’t add to the local or global environmental pollution problem as much as other technologies that require more frequent replacement.
Solar Panels Require Little Maintenance
Modern solar panel manufacturers design their products to be as long-lasting as possible and resistant to light scratches and impacts. After all, a decades-long lifespan is one of the most attractive benefits of solar technologies. Solar panels specifically must stand up against the elements, including strong winds, heavy rain, hail, snow or dust storms and impacts from flying debris.
To maintain the panels, you typically only need to wash away any dust and debris that block the internal photovoltaic cells from collecting sunlight with soapy water and a non-abrasive sponge tool. You then rinse with water from a hose and allow them to dry in the sun. Tough stains require a manufacturer-approved cleaner that you apply and then gently rub away.
If the panels require minor or major repairs during their lifespan and you own the system, they’re typically covered with extremely long warranties. Unlike other energy-generation products, such as furnaces and portable generators, the warranties go beyond limited parts coverage. The only parts not usually covered as long as the panels are the energy-conversion inverters that switch the DC to AC electricity.
A professional installer who offers high-quality parts and services typically also offers their own operations and maintenance plans for solar energy systems depending on the size and type of system. These plans usually cover the cost of yearly inspections and labor related to repairs. If you decide to lease a system, then you should negotiate to have the inspection, repairs and parts replacement costs included in the lease.
Important Investment Considerations
As with any power generation technology, pros and cons both exist. The number and level of benefits you experience from solar panels can vary based on a wide range of factors. Before you invest in solar energy technologies, you need to make certain you understand the following by researching and considering your unique situation:
Solar technologies only work optimally with direct exposure to sunlight. As previously noted, you can still benefit on overcast days, but the fastest way to reap benefits from them and offset the initial costs is through higher usage via direct sun exposure. You need to make certain that you have a good spot on your property to take advantage of direct light as much as possible during peak sunlight hours.
You also need to make certain that you have the right amount of space for the appropriate number and size of panels to generate enough power for your needs. Additionally, you need to make certain that you have space for the rest of the system that’s attached to the panels and any other associated technologies installed outside and inside of the building. How you evaluate the space depends on other factors as well, including any rules for your neighborhood about solar installation, as seen with HOAs, and any costs to remove trees and other landscape elements.
If you’re planning on placing panels on the roof of your home, you also need to make certain that you’re not setting yourself up for future unnecessary expenses related to the roof’s age. On a new home, you don’t need to worry about installing solar panels. On an older home, you might need to perform extensive repairs or a total replacement before you can have the panels installed or otherwise risk high additional costs in a year or two to remove and re-install them.
Your electric bill has the kilowatts per hour or kilowatt-hour (kWh) details that you need to understand your average monthly electricity consumption. When searching for a solar panel product, always compare your current grid usage to the kWh associated with the solar energy equipment. You can find your current consumption details usually on the back of the electric bill.
You might discover that you can save more via local grid electricity rates than the cost of purchasing a system that meets your power consumption needs. If this happens, then you should compare upfront purchase prices to leases. Many companies now offer solar panel lease options that help reduce the costs so you can save enough money to eventually make an investment purchase.
You might also invest in a community or shared solar system or solarize negotiation scheme if you can’t afford to own or even lease solar equipment on your own. With a shared system, you pay a smaller amount for a community level system that connects to the community power lines and pay a monthly additional bill for your solar energy usage. With a solarize negotiation scheme, you and your neighbors or community members negotiate a community-level deal for purchase of systems for every home or business at a money-saving, bulk-purchase rate.
Top Questions to Ask a Solar Energy Tech Professional
As you can see, solar panels and associated energy technologies can provide you with years of savings. When trying to determine the best system to fit your unique situation, you need to do more than research manufacturers and products. You also need to make certain that you’re picking the best installer.
This short list of questions can help you narrow down your list of professionals to one who can provide you with premium professional services today and for years to come:
- What is the number of your business license?
- How long have you been performing installation in the region?
- How many solar panel systems have you sold and installed?
- Are you certified with the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP)?
- Do you have electrical and general contractor licenses through the state?
- Are you fully bonded and insured?
- Do you have references and testimonials from other customers?
- Are you listed with the Better Business Bureau?
- Is your company dealing with any active court cases, investigations or other negative consumer matters?
- Do you know how to obtain local building permits for installation?
- Do you have experience working with the local utility provider and know the appropriate interconnection processes?
- What is the estimated total upfront cost in money and time to handle this request, including installation, panels and other equipment, building permits, grid connection, sales tax and any extra warranties or maintenance and repair plans?
- What is the maximum generation capacity of the system in both watts and kilowatts?
- What is the estimated amount of energy in kilowatt-hours that the system should produce monthly and annually?
- What are the terms of the warranty in writing?
Finally, if the installer uses subcontractors for any part of the process, you need to ask them questions about those contractors, including the first nine questions above again for the subcontractors and the following:
- What oversight do you perform while they work?
- What sort of guarantee or warranty do you provide if they perform a bad job?
When narrowing down your list of installers at the end of your search by requesting quotes, there is a minimum amount of information you should always request so that you can easily make side-by-side comparisons between quotes. Beyond one or more makes/models and numbers of panels and standard or smart systems that they recommend for your unique situation and estimated energy generation in kilowatt-hours per system, they should also provide the make/model of the inverter, makes/models of associated equipment, including information about mobile remote apps, a diagram or photo of their proposed layout for the panels, estimated utility rate increase and solar savings differences over time, and estimated solar and utility costs over time. If you’re interested in a whole-home backup battery, they should also provide you with pictures, makes/models, specs and costs.