The Solar Hype: Discerning Fact from Fiction

Ruben Ugarte
By Ruben Ugarte | February 17th, 2019 12:41am
Ruben is passionate about solar power and sustainability. He speaks and writes about renewable energy and contributes to the Solar blog at Ask-Solar.com.

Solar panels are no longer a fringe, Eco warrior idea. Solar systems have become mainstream, and the hype around them is growing. You may hear wild claims of millions of pounds of carbon sequestered and thousands of dollars saved each year. On the other hand you may hear they do not really benefit the environment much and that they are outrageously expensive. What does it all mean, and how much of it is really true? We want to break it down for you very simply and help you determine if going solar is right for you. 

Environmental implications 

Arguments claiming solar panels are not actually environmentally friendly are usually centered around the resources required to build both solar panels and solar systems and the mining or chemical creation of said resources. Other concerns include land use and water use. While it is certainly true that it is a resource intensive process and some hazardous chemicals are involved, particularly in battery creation, it is useful to do a comparison to fossil fuels. One of the most important things to realize is that solar panels are generally under warranty for 25 years and frequently last even longer. 

Now we can take a brief look at some of the environmental costs of fossil fuel based energy creation. There are environmental implications at each stage of fossil fuels. The extraction process is fraught with dangers. Mountaintop coal removal has devastated many Appalachian communities, affecting their water, wildlife, health, and frequently contributing to disastrous landslides. Natural gas extraction is also both dangerous and disruptive with regular leaks and far too frequent explosions. The disruption to the land to extract the gas, as well as the toxic chemicals and excessive water used in the process are now a well known hazard, the full implications of which we can only guess. 

Transportation of these fossil fuels also has tremendous consequences. Natural gas leaks along the pipelines are also a well known problem, affecting land, wildlife, water, and human health, not to mention the land rights issues that arise and frequently affect the most marginalized populations.

The burning of fossil fuels is of course the most well known impact. Some 78% of US greenhouse gas emissions are energy related, and far more than half of that is from coal and natural gas. The burning of natural gas also frequently results in methane emissions, and methane is far more devastating than carbon dioxide. When solar system owners talk about how much carbon they have sequestered, they are simply referring to how much greenhouse gas was not emitted because they get their energy from the sun.

At the end of this process, we are left with toxic wastes that affect water sources, soil, and wildlife. This happens every single day that we burn fossil fuels. All the impacts of a solar system are limited to their creation and disposal. The 25 years in between are free and clear. 

But what about the bottom line?

At the end of the day, we have to take the budget into consideration. No matter how horrific the impact of fossil fuels may be, the reality for most of us is that we cannot afford a significant jump in our bills. We simply have to consider financial consequences, no matter how significant the ecological benefit. Wait, though. Some people are saying they are saving money by switching to solar. Is that really possible? 

The answer to this question is a bit complicated because it varies from situation to situation. It depends on how much electricity you use, the cost of electricity in your area, how much sun your roof gets throughout the year, and your state's tax rebates. In places like California, Hawaii, and New York where electricity costs are high, you will almost certainly save money, and you may save a substantial amount. How can this be? You have heard solar is expensive. Well, it used to be quite expensive, but as technology has improved and more people have made the switch, costs have come down significantly, more than 75% in the last few years alone. Now is a good time to act, even though the costs are likely to continue to drop because the federal tax credit is set to incrementally decrease soon and will expire completely shortly after. It is not likely to be extended. Of course if you are in California and planning to build, it is important to remember that all new residential builds will be required to have rooftop solar starting in 2019. As part of this initiative, they did an extensive cost/benefit analysis and discovered nearly everyone will save at least twice what they will spend. 

What about money up front? You may be concerned about having to put all the money up in the beginning, but financing is also now a simple matter. You will pay a monthly payment that will almost certainly be far less than your current utility bill. In essence, your monthly bills are lowered while you make the planet healthier and more sustainable. That is a win-win. 

Ok, but is this going to be a crazy disruption of my life and house?

This is a fair question, and it is a substantial project requiring professional installers. Depending on the system size, it may take one day or several. Taking the time to pick the right company is so important for this and many other reasons. Professional installers with a good reputation and lots of experience will make the process a breeze. We cannot say it is without disruption to your life, but the right company will walk you through quickly and with relative ease. Then you can start saving money and slowing climate change. 

Here at Ask-Solar, we can evaluate your home and energy usage and calculate your potential savings. Then we will connect you with local providers in your area so you can get multiple estimates and check their online reviews before making a commitment. If you are ready to see just how much you can save, provide your zip code below and find out:

 

Sources:

https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/coal-and-other-fossil-fuels/hidden-cost-of-fossils#.W-381etOKrW
https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/everything-you-need-to-know-about-californias-new-solar-roof-mandate#Coststocustomer
https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/finance/save-money-putting-solar-panels-roof/
https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/renewable-energy/environmental-impacts#.W-4BfetOKrX
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