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

As a solar-powered 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, such as its ability to lower your carbon footprint and lessen the strain on the electrical grid. But, admittedly, solar also has its limitations, such as the 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 clean energy resource. We can help you decipher whether it’s worth the investment or simply educate you about this awesome power source!

The Top 11 Pros and Cons of Solar Energy

Benefits of Solar Energy

Disadvantages of Solar Energy

Reduces your carbon footprintSolar installations can be expensive
Saves money on your electricity 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
You can sell back your excess solar energy

The Top 6 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.

1. Solar Energy Reduces Your Carbon Footprint

Whether you know it or not, generating electricity produces a lot of carbon emissions. In the United States, electricity generation from fossil fuels accounts for 25% 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, making them the two most environmentally friendly energy sources we have today. Thus, when you power your home with solar energy, you’re reducing your entire household’s carbon footprint and overall environmental impact. 

At the end of 2020, the U.S. had 97.7 GWdc of solar generation capacity online, having installed more than 19 gigawatts (GWdc) just in the past year. That’s enough to power nearly 18 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 2 billion trees.3

That’s 2,000,000,000 trees. 

2. Solar Energy Can Save You Money

While the cost of solar panel systems are declining, installing solar panels is still 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 literal decades! This savings is in the form of a significantly lower or no electricity bill at all. 

In approximately 8 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 cells often last decades — around 25 to 30 years, on average.5

There are also leasing options available for those who want to try solar panels out but do not want to buy just yet. 

3. Solar Investment Tax Credits (ITC) are Available for Solar Energy Installations

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! 

In 2019, the tax credit was 30%, and like wind credits, the government has plans to wind the tax credit down. However, it has been extended by two years since 2019 for residential customers. Today, the ITC is 26% 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. By 2024, ITC credit will only be available for utility-scale solar projects. 

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 right now and switch to a solar electricity plan.

4. 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

5. Solar Energy Lessens the Strain on the Electric Grid

The power grid is really complex, but underpinning the entire system is the simple economic principle of supply and demand. Supply must always meet the demand, but there are times when demand is greater than the amount of electricity the grid has to give. If demand overtakes supply, long-term damage and widespread blackouts can occur. 

That’s why solar energy is so important to diversifying the energy grid. If any one energy source fails, as was seen in the February 2021 Texas energy crisis, having a wide variety of energy sources is one answer to preventing power failures like we saw. 

As of March 2021, the U.S. has enough solar capacity to power 17.1 million homes,7 approximately 2.3% of the total U.S. share of utility-scale electricity.8 We clearly still have a long way to go. However, over the coming years, it’s only going to get bigger, with the U.S. Energy Information as of April 2021 estimating that solar will rise by 16.1 GW in 2021 and 5.8 GW in 2022.9

6. Get Paid by Selling Excess Solar Energy to the 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. Our customers get paid in the form of bill credits.

The Top 5 Disadvantages of Solar Energy

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

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. 

1. 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 sizable 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 be worth the investment of time and money, which is totally understandable. Even with the reduced 26% investment tax credit (ITC) credit, the average price a solar installer will charge for a 10 kWh system in 2021 is about $20,000.10 

This is why we offer solar electricity plans for people who still want to benefit from going solar but can’t afford the initial cost of installing panels. 

2. Solar Energy Doesn’t Work at Night

“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 into the 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 (the most common being a lithium-ion battery) 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.

3. Solar Energy Storage is Expensive

Here’s the hard reality: Energy 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 $7,200 as of April 2021 for one solar battery — and how many you need depends on your current electricity bills Additionally, Tesla only sells the Powerwall to those who also buy solar panels. 

The reason why solar storage and energy storage in general is so expensive is that it’s uncharted territory. In 2010, you would have paid $40,000 for an average residential solar system, whereas today—the price is half that.11  We’re optimistic that 10 years from now, solar storage along with the panels themselves will cost even less than they are today. 

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. 

4. 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 $15,000.12 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. 

5. 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.12

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.14 These materials, which are critical to the creation of most modern technology, have the potential to play a giant role in shaping economies around the world. 

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.15

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 systems are 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://www.seia.org/us-solar-market-insight 
  8. https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3 
  9. https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/steo/report/electricity.php 
  10. https://news.energysage.com/how-much-does-the-average-solar-panel-installation-cost-in-the-u-s/
  11. https://www.seia.org/solar-industry-research-data 
  12. https://emp.lbl.gov/publications/appraising-sun-six-state-solar-home 
  13. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kensilverstein/2019/07/10/china-has-a-powerful-trade-weapon-rare-earths-used-in-green-energy-products/#4041f0144e4c
  14. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-rareearth-explainer/u-s-dependence-on-chinas-rare-earth-trade-war-vulnerability-idUSKCN1TS3AQ 
  15. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-apple-rareearths/apple-taps-recycled-rare-earth-elements-for-iphone-parts-idUSKBN1W31JG