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Weighing the Pros and Cons of Residential Solar Panels

Deciding whether to go solar on your home might be something you’ve considered briefly and put off a few times. For many homeowners, however, opening an electric bill and finding an unwelcome surprise generates a serious look into residential solar panels. In determining whether solar is for you, here are some important pros and cons to ponder.

Changing Times

Changes have occurred in the use of solar panels in U.S. residences since 2016. The most important include:

  • Emergence of solutions for storing energy
  • Tariffs on panels
  • Decreasing solar cost
  • Extension of the federal tax credit to 2020
  • New local solar incentives
  • The arrival of second-generation solar products

What has not changed is how to figure the value realized from solar panels. For many homeowners, it’s solar payback. A payback period is the amount of time over which the savings from electricity generated by the solar system pays for installation cost. The shorter this period is, the better the investment return percentage will be.

Solar Pros

What’s to love about residential solar? Consider these advantages:

Renewable Energy

Solar is a renewable source. We can access it so long as the sun continues to shine.

Availability and Sustainability

You don’t have to live close to the equator to harness solar power. It’s impossible to even picture the amount of solar radiation that strikes the earth’s surface. Solar is also a sustainable source, meaning that it can meet present needs without depleting the amount available for succeeding generations.

Environmental Friendliness

Emissions from manufacturing, transporting, and installing solar systems are miniscule when compared to those from other sources of energy. Once they're up and running, they produce no harmful emissions.

Quiet Power

Solar generates no noise thanks to the absence of moving parts in most systems.

Low Maintenance

Solar technology improves continually. Most residential systems require little maintenance, perhaps a twice-yearly cleaning. Additionally, many manufacturers include warranties of 20 or 25 years.

Cost Savings

Solar reduces the cost of electricity. Thanks to arrangements such as feed-in tariff schemes and net metering, it’s possible for homeowners to sell their excess electricity or amass credits on their bills. Some lease or enter power purchase agreements to lower upfront costs. In some communities, so-called solar gardens from which homeowners draw electricity without installing residential panels are available. Federal and local incentives also reduce solar power cost and give some owners a solid ROI from their improvement when they might not otherwise..

The Cons

Why might a homeowner consider not getting solar panels? Here are some potential disadvantages:


Panels and the labor needed to set them up are not free and, whether or not they are financed, leased, or bought outright, they will incur a relatively significant cost as far as home improvements go. If you own a home for only a few years and opt not to take its solar panels with you, you might not see a positive return on investment. However, government incentives could somewhat mitigate this.

Intermittent Availability

Sunlight isn’t available 24/7, and some areas may have a lower solar "potential" than others based on factors that homeowners are unable to control.

Space Requirements

Low power density suggests requiring too much real estate to generate the power necessary at a reasonable price. Smaller homes/roofs might not have enough space to justify the purchase. This calculator can help homeowners get a rough estimate.

Energy Storage Requirements

Batteries and other storage systems are necessary to even out power and demand. Some are expensive and will need to be factored into the costs of purchasing these systems.

Solar in San Diego

It’s no surprise that Southern California is in a league of its own regarding energy generated by solar panels. The payback period for installing solar in San Diego is lower than other parts of the U.S. due to abundant sunshine. Assuming that panels have a life expectancy of at least 25 years, San Diego has the distinction of being the most profitable U.S. city in which to use residential solar panels. The city boasts one of the shortest payback period in the nation, meaning that it has the highest investment return.

Incentives for using residential solar are plentiful for San Diego residents. Homeowners may qualify for the federal renewable energy investment tax credit or one of the many other residential solar incentives offered by the state or the city. Other federal incentives such as the Energy-Efficient Mortgages program are also available.

Considering both pros and cons, the advantages of residential solar power appear to outstrip its potential disadvantages. While environmental concerns once topped the list of considerations, cost-conscious homeowners today are more likely to look closest at the effect of solar on their checkbooks.

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