Clean and renewable energy is all the rage these days. It excites the imagination that we will be able to manufacture products; heat homes and buildings; drive trucks and automobiles; and even shoot rockets into space with power that is ample, abundant and in no way toxic to the atmosphere. Biofuels, wind and hydropower are among the means studied and applied. Yet perhaps the most widespread and visible supplies of energy is the sun. Indeed, solar power panels are becoming ubiquitous on American landscapes, especially on the tops of homes across the USA. What are the pros and cons of solar energy?
Helping the Environment
Clearly, electricity generated by solar power is less detrimental to the atmosphere than that produced by the burning of coal, gas or oil. Government scientists and researchers from the private sector agree that the less we burn fossil fuels, the healthier will be the air we breathe. As a consequence, water, flora and fauna will be more robust, too. This translates long-term to less illness, better nutritional value from food sources and safer drinking water. While fossil fuels helped to create a prosperous economy for over a century, their continued combustion promises a depletion of precious resources.
Lowering the Utility Bill
Improving technology has yielded solar panels that last longer -- today's models can convert sunlight to electricity for up to -- and even beyond -- a quarter-century. Estimates show that the panels can recoup the cost of the original investment within six to ten years. This means an additional 15 years of saved money, $1,200 annually by some evaluations. Of course, these accumulations are averages since energy usage is dependent on several variables like geography, for instance. Still, solar panels lessen reliance on the grid and shave off dollars from the monthly electric bill.
Requiring Less Maintenance
Solar panels, once installed, are neither attention-grabbers nor time-sucks. They do not suffer breakdowns or blow outs. In fact, installation is likely the greatest amount of treatment the panels will ever demand. Granted, those who live in a heavily wooded area may have occasion to clear leaves and branches from panel surfaces from time to time but certainly not that often. In the main, the panels do their work over the course of their lifespan with very little intervention. This, as well as adding to home value, is another advantage to making an investment in solar panels.
Costing More Money...Upfront
Although there is hard evidence of monthly savings during the life of the panels, the initial price of purchase and installation can be prohibitive. On average, a six-kilowatt-hour solar energy system that connects to the grid runs close to $20,000. Again, those funds can be won back over time, but the homeowner needs to possess or borrow a significant sum of money to make the savings happen. Those considering solar panels should consider how long they will stay in the home. Unless it's for the long haul, panels might not be worth it, even when accounting for improved home value.
Making Solar Panels vs. Using Solar Panels
Undeniably, solar energy does no harm to the environment when compared to the pollutants from fossil fuels. However, manufacturing solar panels is hardly a carbon-free endeavor. The photo-voltaic cells that compose the panels are made from glass, metal and silicon, much of which is mined from the earth's crust. Mining is the source of its own CO2 emissions, as well as a culprit for acids and heavy metals found in watersheds. Whether this offsets atmospheric benefits is under study.