Solar Power – Am I missing Something?

Solar Power – Am I missing Something?

Lauren PesinMonday,23 March 2015

It’s certainly arguable that as a society we are generally more aware of what impact humans have on the environment. Going green is chic now and growing in popularity, steadily slipping into different facets of our lives, ranging from organic foods to green appliances and electric cars. It’s no wonder that we see an increase in the amount of people considering solar panels to meet their energy needs, ultimately installing them on their homes. This trend is not restricted to the sunnier states of California and New Mexico, but is making significant inroads in states such as Michigan and Massachusetts.

This trend made me seriously consider why this is happening and whether I should install solar panels.

Do we care about the environment or are we just cheap?

In the United States, solar power for your house used to be prohibitively expensive, but now due to availability, lower manufacturing costs, and perhaps increased demand, more and more people are using solar power.

First, I’m curious to know if it actually does save people money. From talking to solar power users and researching online, I found that the answer depends on a variety of factors.

Cost savings depends on where you live (for rate of sunshine and tax incentives); if you buy or lease; how much you pay for energy costs currently; the position, size, location, and the panels you get on your specific home; and how long you are willing to wait for a return on your investment.

Local solar energy dealers will obviously provide a more accurate prediction of the cost and savings for you.

However, some studies indicate (at least currently) that the difference between solar and traditional electricity costs is often minimal. That may change as traditional energy costs continue to rise. Currently, if you pay up front to purchase the equipment instead of leasing–which is usually the only way to get federal tax breaks–it can take 10 to 20 years to recoup your investment.

So if the cost savings are debatable, is the possibility of saving money and the thought that we may not have to pay an energy company every month enough to make us try solar energy?

A random poll of friends, solar users, and the Internet indicates saving money, or even the possibility of it, is actually a legitimate reason for many people.

Solar power has grown primarily from state support. For example, California heavily encourages solar power through state mandated renewable energy requirements and long-term contracts to guarantee no cost increases. There have been attempts to increase the benefits and requirements for renewable energy in the U.S. as a whole at the federal level. However, policymakers have deemed related tariffs and renewable purchase requirements as, “unworkable in the United States due to the way electricity is regulated.” We’ll see how that turns out.

As far as how much we care about the environment goes, the answers vary though self-interest is more often than not the driving force as opposed to idealism.

There may be exceptions but in general, people do what they can when they can to be green, as long as it benefits them. Solar panels are no different. Unless people think they can save money, they don’t do it, altruism be damned.

I don’t know about you, but for now, I’m not convinced to harness the power of the sun. For now, I’ll just enjoy the warmth.

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Image Credit: Flickr

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