“Clean energy” is a term that describes energy that is produced without causing pollution. Solar energy is a prime example of clean energy, in that it relies only on the power of the sun to produce electricity. It works by using photovoltaic cells to capture sunlight to turn into usable energy. Utility companies are building solar power installations around the world, and solar panels are showing up on and around commercial buildings as well. Another important place where they’re being deployed is around homes and residential properties. The Energy Information Administration says that an average household in the United States uses around 11,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity in a year. The average home solar panel provides roughly 3,400 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, which means that it would take just four panels to cover a home’s needs. Due to the amount of energy that comes from the sun, solar power could theoretically produce more electricity in an hour than the world’s power grid produces in a year.
The primary barrier to the widespread adoption of residential solar energy is the cost, which can be in the tens of thousands of dollars per home. But according to a study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the price of solar installation is dropping fast. The median price of an installed solar power system fell by 60 percent over a span of 15 years, from $12 per watt in 1998 to $4.70 per watt in 2013. This is before any incentives, such as government rebates or tax breaks, are factored into the cost. The declining price of solar energy is due to increases in the efficiency of production as well as the amount of power a solar cell can produce. In addition, many homeowners who install solar energy systems will be eligible for government tax credits and rebates that will lower the cost even more. Solar panels require very little maintenance and can last between 25 and 45 years because they have no moving parts. The benefits of switching to solar power are numerous, and they include reducing current levels of pollution, lower electric bills, a higher home resale value, and, in some cases, a self-sufficient home power grid.
A home that relies to some degree on solar power is inherently reducing its pollution footprint. Solar panels do not burn any fossil fuel, as they rely only on sunlight to produce electricity. This means that solar power does not produce any harmful emissions, such as greenhouse gasses, and does not contribute to global warming or acid rain. Replacing the traditional system of power plants with solar panels would reduce the cases of respiratory and even cardiovascular illnesses that occur due to air pollution. In addition, solar panels lack the moving parts found in wind energy systems, which means that solar power also does not present any threats to birds.
Homeowners can significantly reduce their utility bills by installing solar panels. Depending on the area, they may also be able to sell some power back to the utility grid if their solar panels produce more than the household uses. Home energy prices have risen an average of three percent per year since 2002, while solar panels have dropped in price, making solar power an increasingly competitive option compared to relying on utility companies. And solar panels can reduce the cost of energy for everyone, including neighbors who do not have solar energy. This is because using solar power drives down the demand for electricity from the grid, especially during the summer, when the cost per kilowatt-hour and demand for electricity are the highest. Furthermore, in areas where solar-powered homes contribute electricity to the grid, it enables utility companies to draw power from these cheap sources rather than turning to more expensive power plants. According to a Boston University study by professor Robert Kaufmann, solar-powered homes currently deliver a price drop of one cent per kilowatt-hour in Massachusetts, where the average cost per kilowatt-hour is 15 cents.
A home with solar panels will sell for a higher price than other homes that do not have them. According to a study done in January 2015 by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the sale price of a home with a solar array goes up by an average of $15,000. That comes out to an additional four dollars of resale value per watt of power produced by the installed solar energy system. This pertains primarily to homes with panels that have already been fully paid for.
Homes with solar panels installed enjoy a varying level of energy independence. Inherently, these homes will enjoy strong protection from utility cost increases. Depending on the utility, a home with solar panels may also become a generator of electricity by selling power back to the grid. Homeowners will often also install batteries that can store electricity for use when it’s cloudy or during power outages. Although this option is more expensive, a sufficiently powerful system of batteries and solar panels can enable a home to run without relying on the grid at all.
Protecting the Environment
- Energy, Economic, and Environmental Benefits of the Solar America Initiative (PDF)
- Renewable and Alternative Energy
- Benefits of Solar Power (PDF)
- Energy From the Sun
Reducing Energy Bills
- Connecticut Consumer Guide to Buying a Solar Electric System (PDF)
- Solar Energy
- Solar Power Saves Everyone Money
- Reduce Your Energy Costs
- Solar Power: Energy From the Sun
Increasing Property Value
- An Analysis of Solar Home Paired Sales Across Six States (PDF)
- Solar Energy Resources for Homebuilders
- Why Solar Panels Could Be Coming to Your Neighborhood
- How Many Solar Panels Do I Need on My House to Become Energy-Independent?
- Science Notes: Power House
- This Solar House
- Energy-Independent Houses Say Goodbye to the Grid
Solar Panel Installation Costs