Solar energy is supposed to be an elegant solution to our dual problems of high utility costs and climate change. But it seems like the technology has been on the brink of a breakthrough for decades now, providing neither elegance nor much of a solution along the way, thanks in large part to bulky equipment and convoluted pricing. So it’s fair to wonder: Is solar finally ready for show time?
Well, a lot has changed in recent years. Solar isn’t just for hippies and academic debates anymore. Panels are popping up on the roofs of homes nationwide while helping to power everything from street lights and speed traps to buses and spacecraft. Solar capacity has increased by an average of 58% per year since 2010, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, as its cost has fallen by roughly two-thirds. Solar-panel installations are also expected to double over the next two years.
Nevertheless, there’s a big difference between increased use and mainstream adoption. And the average consumer’s biggest barriers to entry are a lack of familiarity with the product as well as questions over how much, if anything, solar panelists can expect to save in both the short and long term. After all, no one wants to make a years-long commitment when a better option is right around the corner.
With that in mind, we put together a panel of leading experts in the fields of environmental science, consumer studies, economics and energy policy to help connect the dots for you and your wallet. We asked them one simple question – “are solar panels worth it?” – and received a wealth of insightful responses that boil down to 9 Yes votes, 3 Maybes and no outright Nos. You can meet these experts and check out their complete comments below. This will tell you everything you need to know about whether solar panels are a good investment. And if you already have an opinion on the subject, make sure to share it in the Comments section!
Yes, Solar Panels Save Money
- "Let’s start by agreeing that we as a society must shift off fossil fuels in a big way and soon. Humans simply can no longer afford to add gigatons of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere each year. On that there is no debate. So then the question becomes if solar panels are the right solution for a homeowner to participate directly in this global shift. The answer to this question is resoundingly 'yes,' and the proof just keeps growing. For one thing, the price of electricity continues to climb both here and around the world, and the cost of solar energy systems continues to fall. Once almost inconceivable, solar energy is now cheaper than grid electricity in some places, and clearly it is a matter of time before that is true in most places."
Seth B. Darling // Scientist, Argonne National Laboratory
- "In 2012, [Massachusetts] taxpayers spent about $261 to subsidize a megawatt of electricity from solar panels. This was about equal to the $303 saved by each megawatt of electricity generated by solar panels. This comparison indicates that ratepayers got their money’s worth. And the investment looks like a bargain when we consider the environmental benefits of solar panels. So from this perspective, yes solar panels are worth it!"
Robert K. Kaufmann // Professor, Boston University
- "Since the 'fuel' for solar panels is free, the vast majority of the costs are in the capital investment of the system. Fortunately, there are many solar companies that will install and maintain a solar system for little or no up-front cost and provide you the electricity at a fixed rate over the system’s lifetime, which is generally 20 years or more. No more worries about utility rate increases. The bonus here is that you are doing your part to reduce the impacts on the planet by generating clean electricity."
Carol J. Dollard // Energy Engineer, Colorado State University
- "Yes, solar panels are worth it. They save money on electricity bills while cutting back on emissions harmful to both humans and the environment. And lest you think your climate is not sunny enough, remember Germany, with a climate similar to Seattle or Anchorage, leads the world in installed solar capacity. We’d all be better off if individuals would take this opportunity to save more money."
Seth Wiggins // Visiting Professor, Colorado School of Mines
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Solar’s Value Depends On The Situation
- "There is no one-size-fits-all in solar-panel adoption. It can be cost-effective in a suitable climate condition, where electricity prices are high, considerable incentives are offered, there is no high demand charges and the household can consume most of their solar generation locally instead of selling it back to the grid."
Reza Arababadi // Postdoctoral Scholar, Arizona State University
- "Solar panels used to heat domestic hot water will typically provide 50 to 75 percent per year of the domestic hot water for a family in the contiguous 48 states of the U.S., as well as Hawaii. Solar energy is only useful in late spring, summer and early fall in parts of Alaska. ... The amount varies depending on the climate and the time of year, as solar energy is less available in winter than in summer and collection is easier in warmer southern climates than in colder northern climates."
Justin Poland // Associate Professor, University of Maine
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