The effects of global warming are becoming impossible to ignore. Fossil fuels are becoming gradually more costly and less efficient than green energy sources. You might find yourself thinking more seriously about adding solar panels to your house. Perhaps concerns about the expense are holding you back. After all, there's a lot to consider. What are the real costs of installing solar power, and how will they balance out the benefits?
Costs to the Consumer
Installing solar panels can be an expensive proposition. When you consider that you’re adding an entire separate power source to your home, and investing in an industry that’s relatively young, expect some additional costs. Like any other home addition, you’re going to need to get an estimate and spend some time budgeting. However, unlike some other home improvements, this is one that will start to pay for itself, over time.
Costs to the Grid
The logic behind decentralized, consumer funded solar power is that even if you can’t fully power your home, you can at least cut down on your utility bills. If you can generate enough to power to power your home, you can sell some back to your utility company. Traditionally, the thinking has been that if consumers install rooftop solar panels the country reduces the need for fossil fuels. Meanwhile, utility companies still need to maintain the grid. As consumer demand diminishes, the utility companies have needed to raise their rates in order to pay for that maintenance. Lost revenue from customers who switched to solar ends up being spread around to other customers. So in addition to costs to the individual, one has to consider costs that then ripple out across the grid.
Costs of Solar Panels to the Environment
There are also costs to the environment to consider. Similar to electric cars, you save part of the environment by no longer needing fossil fuels, the car itself must still be manufactured and shipped to location. So it is with solar panels. Though you are saving the environment by reducing your reliance on coal or other fossil fuels, the solar panels themselves have to be manufactured, and then shipped and installed. All of this creates a carbon footprint both in terms of fuel expended to bring the solar panels to you, and in pollutants produced during the process of manufacturing the parts.
The Benefits of Solar Panels
So then the question becomes: do the benefits outweigh the costs, both to the individual, to the grid, and to the environment? Arguments have been made both for and against this point, but measuring is difficult. Calculating the cost of installation and comparing that with the savings from utility bills is relatively straightforward, but what about the environmental costs? What is the exact carbon footprint created by the production and distribution of consumer solar panels? How much do they do collectively to reduce the carbon footprint that otherwise would have been created by those consumers, had they continued to use traditional power? There are other considerations that are even harder to measure. Choosing solar power is an investment in green energy, and makes a statement. The value of that investment and that statement can’t be easily tallied in your monthly budget.
In the end it's hard to justify clinging to fossil fuels and nonrenewable energy sources. The fate of the planet is in the balance. The costs of installing solar panels can be daunting. You have every right to weigh them against the benefits and think carefully before making your decision. All that said, don't forget to factor in the potential costs of not pursuing green energy now, while we still have a chance to reverse global warming.