By Juliet Martinez with additional reporting by Khaleelah Ali Muhammad
Solar energy has a lot of advantages over fossil fuels, not the least of which is that it is free. But solar panels are not free or even cheap. Many homeowners wonder if it is even worth looking into.
What are the advantages of rooftop solar panels?
Beyond the utility bill savings, solar power is better for the environment. About 30% of greenhouse gases come from electricity generation, according to the US Energy Information Administration. In 2020, the average home used 10,715 kilowatt-hours of electricity. That generates more than 9,000 pounds of carbon. Every kilowatt-hour of electricity from solar keeps about 13 ounces of carbon out of the atmosphere.
It's also cleaner to manufacture and dispose of solar panels. Data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory says solar panels create less than three ounces of greenhouse gases per kilowatt-hour of electrical output. Compare that to natural gas. A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that, start to finish, natural gas electricity generation produces 10 to 32 ounces of carbon per kilowatt-hour. Electricity produced from coal produces 22 to 57 ounces of carbon per kilowatt-hour.
Reducing pollution matters in places with high rates of asthma, like Allegheny County. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say 8% of adults in the United States have asthma. Compare that to 10% of adults in Allegheny County.
Environmental racism has led to more factories and other polluters built near Black and Brown communities. For this reason, minority young people have asthma at even higher rates. A 2014 survey showed 27% of Black teens in Allegheny County having asthma, compared to 20% of white teens.
Rooftop solar panels help household finances. They are also good for the environment and the health of disenfranchised communities.
But there are some down sides.
Rooftop solar panels are costly. And some roofs will need repairs or even replacement before panel installation. You may be wondering if solar panels will be useful in places with a lot of cloudy or rainy weather.
Cost has become much less of an issue in recent years as demand has gone up. Like most other consumer goods, as production and sales go up, the price goes down. And many companies that sell solar panels are now offering financing. Homeowners can also get a significant tax credit when they go solar.
The EcoWatch website says the best way to get a good price on solar panels is to buy in bulk through a distributor. But you may still need to prepare your roof. And professional installation will help you get the most from your solar panels.
Cloudy and rainy weather are less of an issue than some would think. Cloud cover does affect efficiency, but not as much as you would think. Solar panels generate the most electricity in direct sunlight. But they do still generate electricity under cloudy conditions. Rain actually helps efficiency by washing off grime and dust.
Long-term, getting solar panels installed on your home is an investment. But experts say it does pay off. Your home value will go up and your electric bill down. You will be helping cut down on pollution and fighting climate change. That is a net win.