Solar Power: Is it Worth it?

Renewable energy sources like solar power have become more popular over the years as the costs associated with them have fallen. If you dismissed solar power years ago because it was too expensive, it's worth taking another look: It might just be a good investment as well as good for the environment.

The Up-Front Cost of Solar Power for Homeowners

On average, the cost of installing a residential solar power system is between $3,500 and $16,000. This huge price range is because systems come in a variety of sizes and the main cost of a solar energy system is the equipment. You'll need to factor in the cost of the panels as well as metering equipment; an inverter to turn the direct current collected into alternating current that you can use to power your home and components like wiring and battery storage. You may also have to factor in the cost of installation as well as maintenance, such as regular cleanings for the solar panels and occasional replacement batteries. However, in some cases, homeowners can apply for government subsidies at both the state and federal levels to lower these costs.

Energy Production

The amount of power your setup produces depends on a few factors. The most important consideration is how sunny it is where you live. If you live in a part of the country where there's a lot of exposure to sunlight, then the panels will be able to collect more energy than in other locations. States like Florida, Texas, California, and Arizona are excellent locations to install solar panels because they get more sun than other states. But people in other states can still benefit from solar panels, especially if their home has a roof that isn't obstructed by trees or other objects and faces south, southwest, or southeast. Those directions receive more direct radiation from the sun. The roof design also influences the effectiveness of your solar panels. If you have multiple chimneys or skylights, those can hinder the placement of the panels. Steeper roofs also pose problems, as the pitch makes it harder to install solar panels and raises the costs of labor and mounting equipment. Finally, you must factor in the size of your system, as that directly influences how much energy can be produced from your home. Typically, if you've chosen to install solar panels, the company will also install metering equipment so you can see for yourself how much solar energy is being produced and used in your household.

Calculating Savings

In the United States, it can take between eight and 15 years on average to recoup an investment in a solar panel system. This time span depends on the amount of electricity your home requires, the local solar policy in your area, and how much sun you get. It's likely that with a solar panel system, you'll be paying less on your electricity and utility bills, which can add up little by little to finally recoup the initial cost of installation.

Federal and state levels offer solar tax incentives and rebates to encourage people to install residential systems and alternate energy sources. This is a nonrefundable benefit, so you can't get it in the form of a refund on the system you purchased, but it can lower the amount you owe on your taxes. In some states, you can even sell excess power your solar panels create to your local utility company and make some money, which can help you recoup your initial investment much faster. However, these benefits aren't guaranteed to last, so if you're looking into adding solar panels, it's best to do it before those benefits disappear!

The Bottom Line

In the right conditions, solar power is worth every penny for the average American homeowner. Solar energy is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but it can be a great choice for homeowners who have a roof facing in the right direction and anybody who would prefer a way to keep their energy bills from wildly fluctuating. Even beyond that, solar energy can be a great choice for anybody looking to go green in their own home.