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Solar panels are becoming increasingly common among middle class consumers, with more and more people realizing they offer considerable benefits and advantages.
In fact, between 2010 and 2014, usage in the United States grew by a staggering 418 percent. Although solar power still only makes up one percent of the country’s power grid, a quadrupling of capacity in just four years shows the tremendous long-term potential of the technology.
Here we look at some of the advantages of solar panels that you might not have considered.
Save Money on Your Bills
Although you’re probably aware that solar panels will definitely save you money on your electric bills, have you ever stopped to consider exactly how much money they can save?
Of course, there are installation costs associated with solar panels. Although the aforementioned uptake in solar panel usage has been driven by falling costs (the price of buying a typical system has more than halved in recent years), unfortunately the cheapest 5 kW systems (enough for an average size home) will still set you back $15,000.
It’s a significant up front charge – but that initial investment will end up saving you a lot of money over the long-term. If you can’t afford that much money up front, you could either use a clean energy loan or speak to your utility company (some now subsidize as much as 50 percent of a system’s costs).
Furthermore, the exact amount you can save depends on where you live. The further south you are, the more sun you’ll get. That means you’ll need to draw less power from the national grid and your savings will be even greater.
According to a study conducted by the NC Clean Energy Technology Center at NC State University, in America’s 50 biggest cities, customers that invested in solar panels saved an average of $115 per month during the first year that they owned their system. The greatest savings were in San Francisco ($187), the lowest were in Portland ($44).
Over a twenty year period, you can expect to save 10-15 percent on your bills. It might not sound like much, but remember that US Treasury Bonds over that same period would give you a return of less than 4 percent!
Increase the Value of Your Property
There are two sides to the argument that increasing the value of your property is one of the advantages of solar panels. Naysayers have claimed that having “ugly” solar panels plastered all over your roof can negatively impact the value of your property, but most real estate agents disagree.
The argument in favor says that in an era when middle class families are increasingly seeing their incomes squeezed, a property that includes a “built-in” way of slashing household expenditure is immediately attractive.
There is also an argument that as more and more houses install solar panels, not having solar panels may reduce the value of your property, even if they don’t actively increase it. For example, in the same way that you would seriously question the wisdom of buying a property without an Internet connection today, in 20 years it’s possible that you’ll seriously question the wisdom of buying a property without renewable energy.
Low Maintenance Costs
As with anything around the home, you’ll need to maintain your system.
Thankfully, very little maintenance is required on a properly installed and well-designed setup. It’s a common misconception that you’ll need to spend a lot of time and money fixing it.
The only cost you can definitely expect to incur is a replacement inverter inside the first twenty years. It’ll cost around $800. Of course, you’ll also need insurance against other unexpected events like a component failing or a bad storm damaging the panels themselves.
Tax Credits and Other Financial Perks
If you live in the United States, you can receive a tax credit against the installation costs of your solar power system.
The current law states:
“A taxpayer may claim a credit of 30% of qualified expenditures for a system that serves a dwelling unit located in the United States that is owned and used as a residence by the taxpayer… Expenditures include labor costs for on-site preparation, assembly or original system installation, and for piping or wiring to interconnect a system to the home.”
At the moment the credit is guaranteed to the end of 2016.
A similar policy operates in the UK – the government will pay households for all the electricity they generate, regardless of whether or not it’s used. The current rate is 12.92p/kWh, but this due to change next year. For a house in the sunny (ish!) south of England, this would add up to a payment of about £700 per annum.
Faults in a city’s power infrastructure, bad thunderstorms, and above-average electricity demand can all cause power blackouts to happen. They can last from minutes to hours, or in the most severe cases, even weeks.
They’re always annoying, but one advantage of solar panels is that you might not even notice the difference – your life could potentially carry on as normal. Unfortunately, this benefit comes with a cost.
Most solar panel systems do not have a battery for storing power – instead, they feed any excess power that’s been generated back into the grid. This is a safety issue – solar power output varies directly with sunlight levels and connecting a variable resource directly to your home’s electrical system would wreak havoc with your fixed-draw electrical components.
Sadly, the cost of installing a battery can be prohibitive, potentially doubling the cost of your system. You also need to consider the environmental impact – batteries are toxic, costly to discard, and have a short life span.
Of course, a generator will also keep power flowing through your house, but they are noisy, they require new electrical installations to allow you to “plug in” your whole home, and they throw out a large array of toxic fumes.
Improve Your Health and the Environment
Unfortunately, as the world becomes ever-more industrialized, it seems that environmental horror stories are constantly hitting the headlines. Sadly, our reliance on fossil fuels is a major contributor to these stories.
Large scale disasters such as the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, air pollution problems in major cities, and the relentless warming of the Earth’s atmosphere can all be traced back to the human race’s usage of “black gold”.
Given that it’s predicted that in 50 years the worldwide demand for electricity will have doubled, it’s vital that we reduce these effects.
Already, biodiversity is being affected – for example, the Western Amazon is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, but it’s also contains some of the world’s largest reserves of oil and gas. Aside from biodiversity, these areas also perform vital services for our planet such as creating drinking water, ensuring climate regulation, and managing carbon storage.
From a health perspective, the facts also speak for themselves. The World Health Organisation classified air pollution as carcinogenic to humans in 2013 – they say that breathing the air in cities such as New Delhi and Shanghai is equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes per day. Indeed, they claim that in 2010, air pollution caused 223,000 deaths through lung cancer alone.
Would You Convert?
Would you make the jump to solar power? If not, why not? What do you perceive to be the disadvantages or advantages of solar panels? Are there other ways of creating electricity that are more economical?
What about other benefits that we’ve missed? Can you think of some obvious advantages that would convince the technology’s critics? As ever, we’d love to hear from you. You can let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.