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Here's The Truth About Solar Panels

Updated: Sep 18

We are told solar panels are the answer to all of our energy needs for a greener, brighter future. Every home and every business must join in the efforts. Our energy concerns will be resolved, as the sun is an infinite resource.

"There is no downside, so everyone needs to start harvesting that beautiful sunshine, it's irresponsible not to!"- But how much validity is there to these claims?

man installing solar panel

Is Solar Power Worth the Investment?

The initial investment for a whole home array may sound daunting. Many rooftop solar systems can start at as much as $14,000. That is no small fee. Most companies will offer various options making obtaining panels more tangible. In these cases, either you lease the panels and inverter for a low monthly fee or can finance these components, paying each month for a previously agreed amount of time. In both cases, the solar provider will take over your electric bill, and you will pay them directly.

Typically, this costs much less each month than you would have been paying for your electricity before adding the panels. Many companies estimate your system will pay for itself in electricity savings in 9-12 years.

How to live a zero waste lifestyle

Most warranties on solar equipment are 25 years, and most panels are expected to carry a 40-year lifespan! Inverters are generally expected to last only about ten years. Still, with a 25-year warranty, you could expect at least one free replacement before investing in the system.

That gives a potential for 14 years of free power generated for you and your family! Cold days, cloudy days, snowy and rainy days all produce varying amounts of electricity. Living as far north as New England, it's possible to have a system that will create plenty of electricity. These don't only have to be rooftop arrays. If you have large shade trees around your home but have other sunny spaces, perhaps you could add a covered outdoor area that can double as a solar farm for your home.

house with solar panels

Many states also offer tax rebates on top of federal tax incentives. Beware, many of these will expire in the coming years. Stricter laws on fossil fuels usage are also causing many electric companies to offer additional incentives for homeowners to become less dependent on their services and more self-reliant.

Some power companies even offer incentives for including storage batteries in your system. These incentives result in fewer homes pulling from the grid at peak hours to help prevent future blackouts and brownouts. With new legislation encouraging more power pulling with electric cars, plus our evergrowing demand for electric needs, it is easy to feel that everyone should be doing their part to help prevent a collapse in the grid system.

What Goes Into Creating a Solar System?

Solar panels are thin sheets of silicon sandwiched between glass plates and encapsulated to prevent any hazardous materials from escaping. The whole unit is held together with an aluminum frame. Copper wiring takes DC (direct current) electricity created by the photons dancing on these sheets through a junction box to the inverter. The inverter converts the DC into AC (alternating current). This AC power then goes directly to power your home or to the grid/electric company.

Some homes will have a battery system between the panels and the inverter. In this case, the solar panels' wiring passes through a charge controller to directly charge the batteries for future use. The charge controller manages the power being given or taken from the batteries to prolong their life.

employees with hard hats

Okay, now that you understand the basics, it is not very complicated. The panels harvest the raw power then your system will either store it or make it available. Most solar sales representatives will do all this for you. When connecting to the main power grid, it is imperative to have a professional install the system.

Although it is easy to create your own modest, independent system with a bit of research and lots of caution (remember this is electricity, it is dangerous.) Adding a solar array is a great way to add electricity to outbuildings such as barns, sheds, or garages.

Still, Is There a Dark Side to Solar Power?

The sun is indeed an infinite resource, but what about the components that go into making these sunlight-harvesting devices? Although the sun is an endless resource, the copper, lead, cadmium, lithium, and silver components needed to move and store that electricity, are not.

solar panels

Solar technology is making leaps and bounds as far as becoming more affordable and efficient every year. In a society where we seem always to be chasing the newest trends and the best in technology, this could create a huge issue moving forward. The Harvard Business Review estimates that by 2035 we could have a whopping 315,000 metric tonnes of solar waste! In their example, for a person who installed a solar system in 2011, the total cost was $40,800, and they could expect to generate roughly $2,100 worth of electricity.

Fast forward to the year 2026, this homeowner begins to look at their solar options again upon hearing the latest generation of panels are cheaper and more efficient. According to current projections, the costs associated with buying and installing solar panels will have fallen by 70% from where they were in 2011. Plus, the new-generation panels will yield $2,800 in annual revenue. It's hard to turn a blind eye to numbers like that. I think we all could use an extra $700 per year.

However, there have been many reports of solar companies scamming or deceiving customers to make a sale. We urge all buyers to be cautious and read the terms of the contracts thoroughly before making a decision.

But, What About Those Old Panels?

Recycling today can cost $20 - $30 per panel and may only net $3 of usable materials. Taking these panels to a landfill costs $2. Most consumers and installation companies will discard the old, likely still functional panels in favor of cost efficiency. Today, only 10% of discarded US solar panels are recycled.

This is not a problem we can leave for our future selves. Soon we will see a massive influx in waste from harvesting renewable energies. There are so many benefits, but across the board, from solar panels to wind turbines, from inverters to lithium batteries, there is difficulty in recycling them.

See 5 Easy Ways You Can Recycle At Home!

The Future is Still Bright

Matt Ferrell offers some great ideas and positive light on this potentially dark subject. He cites that 99% of lead acid batteries are recycled and are the most recycled product in America today! In 1985, it was only 70%. Several steps were made over decades to bring us to where we are today, including legislation foreseeing future problems. Eventually, as suppliers had to take these used batteries back, they were forced to focus research on how to recycle these toxic but necessary products efficiently.

Vivint Solar panels
Vivint Solar x Unsplash

Today, technology shows promising growth with more affordable and greener ways to dispose of lead-acid batteries. We can push the same legislation for solar panels. Suppose a deposit is charged at the time of purchase when a consumer is ready to upgrade. In that case, they will be more likely to "sell" the panels back to the panel provider. Something must be done to make recycling these panels more efficient and cost-effective. What better motivation than being held ultimately responsible for the product you put out?

Ultimately, The Decision is Yours to Make

Before making any big decisions, it is always essential to research and decide the best choice for you and your family. Solar panels are an excellent alternative to dependence on an unreliable grid, and installing solar power has become far more affordable.

We must be mindful of doing our part to lessen the burden and become more self-reliant. However, we must remain conscious to ensure we are not wasteful and creating new, rapidly growing problems for future generations.


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