Switching to solar power is one way to limit the impact your household has on the environment. By using photovoltaic cells, you can take advantage of the free energy provided by the sun every day without producing carbon emissions or running up your electricity bill. Solar power is not for everyone, however, and generating electricity with solar panels offers some distinct disadvantages to conventional generation, as well. Knowing the pros and cons of solar power can help you make the right choice for your home.
Solar has a clear advantage over traditional electricity generation in its effect on the environment. Most power in the United States comes from burning coal, which produces a large amount of carbon dioxide in the process. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates from Energy Information Administration data that, as of 2001, the average household used 900 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month, generating 14,976 pounds of carbon dioxide per year (see References 1 and 4). Electricity generated via solar panels, on the other hand, produces no carbon dioxide emissions at all. Over the lifetime of your solar installation, solar panels can make a large difference in your family's carbon footprint.
Another area where solar power offers advantages is in the cost of generating electricity. Burning fuel for power costs money, and fossil fuel markets can be heavily dependent on world events and local supply issues. According to the EIA, the average cost of consumer electricity in December 2010 was 11.04 cents per kilowatt-hour (see References 3). A solar panel, however, produces electricity with no fuel or ongoing costs, and will do so for the life of the installation. Even if you only use a small panel installation to supplement your home's power needs, you will be able to see the benefit on your monthly power bills.
Installation and Repair
While generating power with solar cells is essentially free, purchasing and installing those panels is not. Installing solar power for your home can be an expensive proposition, especially if you are attempting to derive all your power from solar electricity. Solar installations can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and while you may be able to apply for grants or loans through your federal or state government, the initial costs of switching to solar will likely remain high, and repairing damaged panels may also be an expensive prospect (see References 6).
An inherent disadvantage of solar electricity is that it only works when the sun is up. Photovoltaic cells stop producing current when not in direct sunlight, which means you will need to have a backup power source or use storage batteries to provide power at night or during inclement weather. Furthermore, the amount of power you can generate using solar panels depends greatly on your local climate. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that a solar panel installed in the Sun Belt may produce as much as twice the electricity per day as one installed in New England (see References 2 and 5).
- Energy Information Administration: End-Use Consumption of Electricity 2001
- U.S. Department of Energy: Energy Savers: How Small Solar Electric Systems Work
- Energy Information Administration; Electric Power Monthly; March 2011
- Environmental Protection Agency: Household Emissions Calculator Assumptions and References
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory: Average Daily Solar Radiation Per Month
- Mother Earth News; What's the Average Cost to Install a Solar-Electric System to Power Your Home?; Linda Pinkham; May 2009
Milton Kazmeyer has worked in the insurance, financial and manufacturing fields and also served as a federal contractor. He began his writing career in 2007 and now works full-time as a writer and transcriptionist. His primary fields of expertise include computers, astronomy, alternative energy sources and the environment.
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images