When a company like Google sets aside $280 million dollars to put toward powering more US homes with solar energy, one has to take notice. Google made this commitment in June, 2011, partnering with SolarCity to create a fund that makes solar energy feasible for US homeowners. So, I’m guessing with a budget of over a quarter billion dollars, the executives at Google have looked at solar energy pros and cons quite thoroughly – and clearly the pros have it.
Unfortunately, we don’t all have Google’s budget and this has been the greatest hurdle in embracing solar energy – a high initial cost.
However, as demand increases and new technologies are developed, the costs associated with installing solar energy will decrease. Government incentive programs, rebates, and funds such as that set up by Google are also helping individual homeowners overcome the cost hurdle.
Good news, as by my count the pros for solar energy far outweigh the cons.
Solar Energy Pros
- Solar energy is a completely renewable resource.
- Solar cells or photovoltaic (PV) cells are silent so they reduce noise pollution.
- After the PV cells and solar panels are made, there are no emissions associated with solar energy. It is a pollution free power source!
- PV cells have no moving parts and therefore require very little maintenance other than an annual clean.
- Solar power systems are easily installed.
- Most utility companies allow households to sell power back to the grid. So, on sunny days when a solar powered house is producing more energy than it requires, it will feed that excess back to the utility company and gain credits. At night or on days when solar energy can’t be harvested, that household can then draw electricity from the grid and use the credits it has earned. The utility company is essentially acting like a storage battery.
- Solar energy is not dependent on oil and gas and therefore costs do not fluctuate with the cost of these commodities.
- There are many government incentive programs for converting over to solar energy. DSIRE is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, which provides information on incentives for all US states. Utility companies are also offering large rebates for installing solar power.
- There are no recurring costs once installed.
- Solar Energy can be used to harness energy in remote locations that aren’t linked to a national grid.
Solar Energy Cons
- As previously stated, the initial costs associated with the purchase of solar panels can be quite high, but a number of initiatives are being led to reduce these initial costs. As costs go down, demand goes up, driving the cost down further.
- Solar energy isn’t always available, and it is usually the least available when we most need it – when it’s dark! Solar energy can’t be harnessed during a storm, on a cloudy day or at night so a back-up energy source is necessary. Depending on your location and circumstances, this could be hooking into a national grid, having a battery system, or gas generators. Technologies are also improving to harness more energy from less light, helping resolve cloudy day issues.
- The batteries for storing solar energy power tend to also be expensive and fairly short-lived. However, most people can avoid the use of batteries by hooking into a grid and essentially using the utility company as their battery back-up.
- Solar energy does require a large area for installation to achieve a good level of efficiency.
If you’re like me, and rent rather than own your home, the idea of a solar powered home is a thought for the not-so-distant future (hopefully). However, you can harness solar energy in other ways also. For instance, I have a solar powered charger that I use to charge my phone, iPod and camera. You could also consider building a solar oven. Get creative!
Bob Boehm, Director of The Center for Energy Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas talks about solar energy pros and cons a little more in this video.