Even though solar is a great, renewable resource, it’s not without certain drawbacks. Learn the pros and cons of solar energy before making the swap.

pros

We will never run out of solar energy

We’re not saying there will never be a cloudy or rainy day, but rather that solar energy is renewable. This means that unlike fossil fuels that will exhaust themselves in just a few decades, solar energy will continue on as long as the sun keeps shining. And according to estimates, it’s going to be with us for a long, long time.

The sun is going to last another 6.5 billion years, according to NASA, and there is no way that we could over-consume it. On the contrary, the U.S. Energy Information Administration says global supply of oil will be depleted in about 25 years.

Solar energy is sustainable

“Sustainable” means to be able to meet present needs without compromising future generations’ needs. The sun is a non-exhaustible resource, so your children and grandchildren and generations to come will be able to use the power of the sun.

We have a moral obligation to leave our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged.”

– White House statement on 2015 Clean Power Plan
The Sun: Available everywhere on Earth

Not only is the sun inexhaustible, it is also an abundant resource, meaning its power can be harnessed from anywhere on the planet. It’s also free and, barring any unforeseen tax on sunlight, will continue to be so.

1.2 billion people worldwide lack access to power, according to the International Energy Agency. Solar creates an affordable alternative to building an expensive electric grid in developing countries.

Solar energy = environmentally friendly

Solar energy is renewable, sustainable and abundant, and it produces zero harmful emissions to the environment as it creates power. That big yellow sun is as “green” as they come. Solar panels have the ability to harness energy while not causing air pollution, which makes them ultra-environmentally friendly. Solar panels won’t contribute to the global warming problem, and a “solar spill” is just an exceptionally sunny day.

Solar energy can save you money

Switching to solar power at your home can greatly reduce, or even completely eliminate, your electricity bill. No longer will you have to buy your energy from an energy company. Renewable energy start-up costs should continue to drop thanks to falling installation costs; cheap, long-term financing; and a healthy number of tax incentives offered by many states. Current federal incentives include a 30 percent investment tax credit.

By the end of the decade, solar energy could become cheaper than conventional electricity in many parts of the country.

– Natural Resources Defense Council
Solar energy can make you money

Net metering is a system where solar panels are connected to the public utility power grid. If surplus power is transferred onto the grid, customers can offset the cost of power drawn from the utility or even be paid for their contributions. More on net metering

Solar energy is adaptable

If there’s a will, there’s a way. Most often residential solar arrays are installed on roofs, so the system doesn’t take up any additional space. But if the roof isn’t suitable for solar, the panels can be configured to fit any space available that gets optimal sunlight.

Building-integrated photovoltaics – such as solar windows – are just one way researchers are hoping to increase solar’s potential, according to a Yale Environment 360 report.

Solar is low maintenance

On average, solar panels will last 30 to 40 years. Solar panels have no moving parts and are completely silent, easy to operate and rarely need maintenance. As long as the panels are free of debris and trees are kept trimmed to minimize shading, the panels will do their job effortlessly.

Solar energy is an investment, not an expense

The main reason people don’t switch to solar is the initial expense of installing a system. But it’s not simply an expense, it’s actually an investment in a sustainable energy future for your family or business. Once the savings and potential earnings start to roll in, the payback on investment continues for years to come.

Solar energy promotes energy independence

While switching to solar energy helps make a home more energy independent, on a larger scale it promotes energy independence for the U.S. as a whole through less reliance on foreign fossil fuel.

In 2014, the United States imported about 27 percent of its petroleum from foreign countries. The main import countries were Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, and Iraq. (U.S. Energy Information Administration)

cons

Initial installation is expensive

The main cost of switching to solar energy is the initial panel installation. Panel prices continue to drop as technology develops and solar energy becomes more popular, but an array typically costs tens of thousands of dollars. Luckily there are myriad financing options, tax incentives and rebates to help bring costs down. Find out about the options available here.

The average residential 5-kW solar energy system in the U.S. costs $20,000 to $30,000. – Center for Sustainable Energy

Solar energy isn’t consistent

While energy from the sun is free, it doesn’t shine everywhere 24 hours a day. Nighttime and cloudy days (when people really want the lights on) require an alternate source of energy aside from the direct solar array. For this reason most residential solar arrays are grid-connected and homeowners still rely on fossil fuels to power their homes when the sun isn’t shining.

There are more than 450,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines stretching across the U.S.

Solar energy storage is expensive

Batteries can be used to store solar energy produced during the day for use at night, but better and more cost-effective batteries are needed to be practical. While prices are dropping and capacity is increasing, batteries for off-grid residential use are uncommon for homes that can practically be connected to the power grid.

Panel efficiency

The best photovoltaic cells convert only about 20 percent of the sunlight they absorb into energy. That means that a lot of the sun’s potential is wasted. You can learn more about PV efficiency ratings here.

Solar panel production emits greenhouse gases

While solar energy is indeed renewable and sustainable, the process it takes to make the panels is not. Currently, the production of solar panels emits some harmful greenhouse gases. Also, old solar panels are not yet recyclable, as there isn’t enough demand for it to be economically attractive.

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition ranks solar panel makers based on social justice and sustainability factors. Check out the 2015 report here.

Disrupting traditional energy models

The growth of renewable energy is great news for the environment, economy and domestic energy production, but it does present challenges for the aging U.S. electric grid. Utilities are faced with trying to integrate more renewable energy resources while maintaining grid stability and a viable economic model.

Pros and Cons In-Depth: Resources

Dive deeper on all of the pros and cons plus a variety of issues involving solar energy and the environment with these resources:

SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY How does solar energy affect quality of life for individuals and societies?

Cleanet.org’s seventh principle on energy discusses the economic consequences of energy choices.

How are nonprofits using solar energy for social good?

Nonprofit Quarterly discusses the benefits of installing solar panels and selling the energy.

What are the public benefits of renewable energy?

In this article, the Union of Concerned Scientists takes a look at the benefits of renewable energy.

IMPACTS OF ENERGY What energy source is the best/worst for the environment?

This Carnegie Melon University study takes an in-depth look at all forms of energy.

How much solar energy is being used in the U.S.?

The Institute for Energy Research takes a look at energy usage statistics in the United States.

How does solar energy work and why is it good for the environment and society?

The Natural Resources Defense Council argues for the advantages of solar energy.

ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES How does the production of solar energy impact the environment?

The Union of Concerned Scientists examines the environmental impacts of solar power.

Just how “green” is solar energy?

National Geographic goes deeper on solar energy’s biggest claim.

SOLAR ADVANCEMENTS Will technological advancements make solar energy a more viable option?

From Alternative Energy, here is the latest in solar technology.

What does the next generation of solar power look like?

How Stuff Works takes a look at the future of solar energy.

Where can I get the latest on advancements in solar technology?

Check out Science Daily for news on solar energy research.