While you are looking at solar energy pros and cons, perhaps the biggest solar energy disadvantage that sticks out is the expense with the best solar panels often demanding a premium. Beyond that, there are several other potentially negative factors you should consider before moving ahead.
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Despite Rebates and Incentives, Solar Panels Are Expensive
Many people consider solar panels because of the long-term savings potential. However, that comes with a steep upfront price: On average, residential solar panels cost $16,000—with $3,500 on the low end and $35,000 on the high end.
These costs depend on factors such as the amount of solar panels needed, the type of solar panels used and where you live. The cost of solar panels can vary significantly even within the continental United States. For example, the starting cost for a six-kW system in Wisconsin is $17,580 compared to a $13,101 starting cost for a comparable system in Tennessee.
Currently, the federal government provides a 26% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for systems installed in 2022. However, that rate is set to dip to 22% for systems installed in 2023. Unless the credit is renewed, it is due to expire in 2024. If you’re considering installing solar panels in a year or two from now, that means you may want to anticipate it costing even more.
If you don’t have funds available to pay for solar panels outright, there are numerous solar panel financing options available. The catch is that the average interest rate for loans like these is more than 6%, which means you will ultimately spend quite a bit more money while paying the interest.
To Power a Big Home, You’ll Need Ample Panels
To determine how many solar panels you need, you’ll first need to understand how much electricity your home uses on a monthly basis. Your personal sum should be listed on your utility bill as “kWh used” for one month’s demand. If you are building a home and aren’t sure of your energy demands, keep in mind that the average household needs 867 kilowatt-hours (kW/h) per month in electrical power.
Once you know your kW/h number for the month, divide that by 30 to get a daily kW/h number. For example, if you use 900 kW/h per month, that translates to roughly 30 kW/h per day. As a rule of thumb, one solar panel generates one kW/h per day. So, for this example, you would need 30 solar panels on your home.
This can be a disadvantage both because of cost and the logistical challenges presented by having so many solar panels on your roof. Solar panels can complicate home repairs—especially if you need to repair the roof. That could result in an average expense of $2,500 to remove and reinstall solar panels. The best approach is to thoroughly repair and reinforce your roof before installing solar panels, although this too adds to the cost.
Some Homes Are Not Well-Suited to Solar Panels
Not surprisingly, solar panels rely on the sun. If your home doesn’t receive a consistent amount of sunlight, this may not be the option for you. What is surprising is that even homes in seemingly sunny areas still may not be good candidates for solar energy: The biggest factor determining the potential efficacy of solar panels is the latitude at which a home is situated.
For example, even if a home at a high latitude has mostly sunny weather, the overall effect for the year is that there are fewer hours of sunlight. Unless you are able to “bank” solar energy with a battery or buy-back program from your local utility company, homes up north may not get enough solar energy during darker winter months to sustain themselves independently.
Even closer to the equator, homes in places that experience a lot of cloudy, rainy days may not get enough sunlight. The same goes for homes in densely shaded areas.
If you are going off-grid, you will need to budget for solar batteries to bank the energy you get during the day for use overnight or during darker seasons. With installation, home batteries for solar panels cost roughly $10,000 to $20,000.
Solar Panels May Not Help With Resale
For the right buyers, solar panels on the home can be a benefit. However, you don’t always know who will be looking at your home—so it’s best not to assume the solar panels will help with resale value in any significant way.
Solar panels are also difficult and costly to move: On average, it costs $3,750 to remove and reinstall solar panels. Beyond the expense, if you remove solar panels from a home after a long period of time, you will need to repair the roof. Solar racking systems can leave holes in the roof while there may also be noticeable discoloration from the places where panels were removed.
Solar Energy Is Not Entirely “Clean”
Unless you are willing to stop using electricity altogether, there is no option that is entirely “clean and green.” But, although solar is definitely one of the cleaner options out there, it is still a pollutant to some extent.
This starts with the production process when greenhouse gasses are emitted while manufacturing solar panels. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, it takes between one and four years to “payback” the energy that was used to create the solar panel system.
If you need to dispose of solar panels, it’s not as simple as taking them to the landfill. Solar panels are made with substances such as cadmium and lead-acid, which are fine when they are contained within the panels. However, they are dangerous pollutants if allowed to leach into the ground. For that reason, you must plan to properly dispose of solar panels and there currently are not widespread recycling options.