Solar panels at sunrise
After a good sleep, these solar panels are ready to generate electricity!

As a solar-generated electricity provider, Chariot Energy often hears all sorts of claims and questions about solar energy:

  • “Solar energy is great for the environment!”
  • “…wait, now people are saying solar energy is bad for the environment?”
  • “Well, the news told me you don’t actually save money with solar energy…”
  • “…or do you?”
  • “Ah, what you’re actually saving is the planet… right?”

With this article, we want to settle this squabble and finally clear the air about solar energy. Yes, there are many advantages to solar power:

But, admittedly, solar also has its limitations, such as its inability to generate electricity at night and the difficulty of relocating solar panels once they’re installed.

Let’s explain the principal pros and cons of this renewable energy resource. We can help you decipher whether it’s worth the investment or simply educate you about this awesome power source!

Benefits and Drawbacks of Solar Energy

Pros of Solar Energy

Cons of Solar Energy

Reduces your carbon footprintInstallations can be expensive
Saves you money on your electric billsDoesn’t generate electricity at night
You receive federal assistance for solar panelsDifficult to move once installed
Generates electricity anywhere on EarthSolar energy storage is costly
Lessens the strain on the electric gridRequires rare earth metals

5 Advantages of Solar Energy

Woman peering into the horizon as the sun rises
Solar has so many advantages! We just hope she’s wearing sunglasses.

Solar Energy Reduces Your Carbon Footprint

Whether you know it or not, generating electricity produces a lot of carbon emissions. In the U.S. alone, electricity generation from fossil fuels accounts for 28% of all greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases.1 Known as “brown power,” this coal- and natural gas-powered electricity enters the grid to provide your home with electricity.

Solar energy systems carve out a giant slice of the greenhouse gas emissions pie and replace it with clean energy. Photovoltaic technologies (solar panels) like we use at Chariot and concentrating solar power (CSP) plants both produce this clean energy. Those systems produce no emissions and no pollution when creating electricity. Thus, when you power your home with solar energy, you’re reducing your entire household’s carbon footprint and overall environmental impact.

As of Sept. 2019, the U.S. had 69.1 GW of solar generation capacity online. That’s enough to power 13.1 million American homes.2 In terms of emissions, the number of carbon emissions the U.S. solar energy reduces is equal to the amount of carbon stored in 1.3 billion trees.3 That’s 1,300,000,000 trees. A lot of zeros, if we do say so ourselves.

Solar Energy Can Save You Money

Yes, installing solar panels on your home is a significant investment. However, because solar energy is essentially free, the system will pay for itself and save you money on your electricity bill for decades! This savings is in the form of a significantly lower or no electricity bill at all.

In approximately 7.5 years after installation, your solar panel system will have completely paid for itself by providing free electricity to your home.4 After that, you’ll begin to earn money by simply doing nothing other than having solar panels. And these solar power systems often last decades — around 25 to 30 years, on average.5

Solar Energy Slashes Income Taxes w/ Solar Investment Tax Credits (ITC)

In 2006, Congress enacted the Energy Policy Act, which created the Solar Investment Tax Credit. Known as the ITC, this very subsidy gave rise to the massive solar industry you see today. Since the ITC was passed, the U.S. solar industry has grown by more than 10,000%, hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created, and billions of dollars have been injected into the economy.6 All because of a tax rebate!

The ITC hacks 30% off the taxes of any solar installation, from a small-scale rooftop array to a large-scale utility solar farm that powers thousands of homes. However, the credit’s value will begin to gradually decrease after 2019, and by 2022, ITC credits will only available for utility-scale solar projects.

Infographic on the ramp down of the U.S. Solar Investment Tax Credit
Source: Solar Energy Industries Association

There’s no need to worry right now. You can still take advantage of this money-saving opportunity by investing in a home solar system that will pay for itself in a few years — or take advantage of the credits by switching to a solar electricity plan.

Solar Energy Can Generate Electricity in Any Climate

Snowfall covers a solar form in the mountains
Believe it or not, solar panels actually produce more electricity in colder weather.

Despite hearsay, one of the great benefits of solar panels is they work anywhere and in any climate on Earth. Whether it’s rain, snow, light hail, sleet or even a hurricane, solar panels still generate electricity if even a slight amount of sunlight hits the panel.

In fact, snow is actually beneficial to solar panel efficiency. While heavy snowfall can present a weight problem for solar panels, light to moderate snow has actually proven to slide the dirt, grime and debris off of the panels as it melts. Plus, solar panels are more efficient in cold weather, meaning that they are able to generate more electricity with greater effectiveness than solar arrays in hotter areas.

Solar Energy Lessens the Strain on the Electric Grid

Solar power generators like Chariot help lessen the strain on the energy grid by adding electricity when it’s needed most to prevent blackouts. What you may not know is that residents with solar panels can also help the grid — and get compensated for it!

Depending on the state you live in, you have the option of net metering. When your home is “net metered,” you can be compensated by your utility company if your solar panels produce more electricity than your home needed at that time. Chariot, for example, buys the excess energy from our customers’ solar panels.

5 Disadvantages of Solar Energy

While we believe solar energy has the power to transform our world, we realize it’s not perfect. We want to discuss a few of the important cons to consider.

Solar Panel Installations Can Be Expensive

As we’ve mentioned in a previous blog, investing in home solar panels is a bit like buying a car. Rooftop solar panels are a size-able investment. But, if you do your research, test drive a few, and make a smart and informed decision, your investment will provide great returns for many years.

However, for some, the end result might not worth the investment of time and money, which is totally understandable. Even with the reduced 26% investment tax credit (ITC) credit, an average solar panel installation in 2020 can cost around $13,000.7 This is why Chariot Energy offers solar electricity plans for people who still want the benefits of solar but can’t afford the upfront costs of installing panels.

Solar Energy Doesn’t Work at Night

Solar panels absorbing the last bit of light before the sun sets
Sorry, solar. When the sun sets, you can’t produce electricity anymore.

“Thanks, Captain Obvious!” But seriously, you have to consider the reality that your rooftop solar panels won’t create electricity at night. Yes, a tiny fraction of sunlight is reflected off of the moon and absorbed through solar panels, but it’s essentially pitch black at night. And when there’s no light, solar panels don’t produce electricity.

This becomes especially relevant if you want to be completely “off the grid” and have your home 100% powered by solar panels. If you aren’t tied to the electric grid, you need energy storage devices to house the energy your solar panels produced earlier in the day so you have power at night. Otherwise, you’ll be lighting oil lamps to illuminate your home.

Energy Storage for Solar is Expensive

Here’s the hard reality: Storage devices for rooftop solar panels cost thousands and thousands of dollars. Perhaps the most advanced product on the market today, Tesla’s Powerwall costs around $6,500 for one solar storage unit — and they recommend two. That’s now $13,000 on top of the cost of installing your solar panels.

The reason why storage is so expensive is that it’s uncharted territory. Just think of the cost of solar panels 10 years ago. An average installation would have cost you $40,000.8 Today, they’re less than half of that price. We’re optimistic that 10 years from now, solar storage will follow suit and drop in price.

This is why most rooftop solar owners currently opt for a net metering setup. With this arrangement, your retail electricity provider agrees to buy excess solar power off your hands. Chariot Energy happens to be one of those providers! During peak generating hours, the excess solar energy you generate and don’t use is added to the grid. In turn, your electricity company will pay you for the energy you supplement to your local area.

Solar Panels are Difficult to Move Once Installed

Technically speaking, you could transfer your solar panels to your new home. But realistically, this almost never happens. Why? Because solar panels are custom-tailored to fit your roof, so moving them to a new location doesn’t make sense.

In most cases of people moving to a new home, the value of solar panels they had installed is tacked onto the home price. One study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory revealed that an average solar array increases home value by $15,000.9 So, even though you would have to break up with your beloved solar panels, they’ll practically pay for the next set you install on your new home.

Some Solar Panels Use Rare Earth Metals

Tellurium, a rare earth element used in solar panels
Tellurium (above) is a rare earth element often used in the production of solar panels.

The name “rare earth metals” is a bit misleading — these elements are actually in ample supply. However, it’s the extracting of these elements for use in wind turbines and solar cells that has negative impacts on the environment and the humans that mine them.10

Additionally, these rare earth elements carry a political weight to them. From 2014 to 2017, China supplied the U.S. with 80% of its rare earths imports.11 With trade tensions only rising, these materials, which are critical to the creation of most modern technology, could be used as leverage and raise costs.

Luckily, leading technology companies, such as Apple, are exploring methods to recycle these rare earth elements to maintain a steady supply, which keeps costs from inflating because of ever-increasing  demand.12

Is Solar Energy Worth the Investment?

Chariot Energy is a solar power company, so of course we’d say yes! But we also know this isn’t always the case for everyone. You have to consider these pros and cons and determine for yourself whether you want to go solar.

And remember that rooftop solar system is not the only option you have! While it may seem like the most popular option, there are so many other ways you can go solar. Take our solar electricity plans, for example. Chariot Energy offers 100% solar energy plans for those with or without panels. We make the going green part easy — without having to spend a ton of green.


Sources:

[1] https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks

[2] https://www.seia.org/us-solar-market-insight

[3] https://www.seia.org/initiatives/climate-change

[4] https://news.energysage.com/understanding-your-solar-panel-payback-period/

[5] https://news.energysage.com/how-long-do-solar-panels-last/

[6] https://www.seia.org/initiatives/solar-investment-tax-credit-itc

[7] https://news.energysage.com/how-much-does-the-average-solar-panel-installation-cost-in-the-u-s/

[8] https://www.seia.org/solar-industry-research-data

[9] https://emp.lbl.gov/publications/appraising-sun-six-state-solar-home

[10] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kensilverstein/2019/07/10/china-has-a-powerful-trade-weapon-rare-earths-used-in-green-energy-products/#4041f0144e4c

[11] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-rareearth-explainer/u-s-dependence-on-chinas-rare-earth-trade-war-vulnerability-idUSKCN1TS3AQ

[12] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-apple-rareearths/apple-taps-recycled-rare-earth-elements-for-iphone-parts-idUSKBN1W31JG