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Hardscaping 101: Solar Panels Pros and Cons

How much does a solar energy system cost?

The cost of a photovoltaic system is an up-front investment; the exact amount depends on how much electricity you use and what percentage of that you would like your solar energy system to supply. The more electricity you require, the larger the system required (see chart below for a ballpark figure).

Government-funded solar incentive programs vary from country to country and even from state to state. Some solar-incentive programs pay you back over time based on the energy you generate. Other solar incentives are one-time payments of rebates or credits. To find out the incentives in your area, consult Wholesale Solar’s Solar Incentives by State.

The average cost of installing a solar system varies across the US, and some of the differential is due to these local, regional, and state incentives. But estimates show that solar energy systems create monthly savings across the board: According to EnergySage.com, the average savings from use of a solar system over 20 years can range from $7,000 to over $30,000 (but varies, depending on locale). For estimates based on your specific area, try Google’s Project Sunroof feature, which allows you to plug in your home address for personalized figures.

The photovoltaic panels in this building have been integrated into the standing-seam metal roof. Photograph via Fabral.
Above: The photovoltaic panels in this building have been integrated into the standing-seam metal roof. Photograph via Fabral.

How much can I expect to save on utility bills?

The answer depends on what you currently pay for electricity and how much credit your utility company will give you for the amount of power you don’t use. This estimate can be determined by approximating how much power your solar system will provide compared to your current usage.

Are solar panels ever good-looking?

Don’t like the bulky look of solar panels? The next generation of solar products, Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV), show great promise: photovoltaic cells are being incorporated into shingles, windows, siding, and other building materials, enabling structures in the future to have seamless solar solutions.

Tesla&#8\2\17;s latest solar roof is disguised as charming slate tiles; see Tesla Solar Roof: Is It Worth It? on Gardenista.Tesla&#8\2\17;s latest solar roof is disguised as charming slate tiles; see Tesla Solar Roof: Is It Worth It? on Gardenista.
Above: Tesla’s latest solar roof is disguised as charming slate tiles; see Tesla Solar Roof: Is It Worth It? on Gardenista.

Solar Panels Recap:

Pros:

  • Good for the environment
  • Reduced utility costs
  • Lessens our dependence on fossil fuels

Cons:

  • Relatively high initial cost
  • The amount of savings is not straightforward
  • Not traditionally aesthetically pleasing

Had firsthand experience with solar paneling? In the Comments section, fill us in on your finds.

On Telegraph Hill, in San Francisco, a flat-roofed building by Feldman Architecture has solar panels mounted at an angle to catch the sun&#8\2\17;s light. The optimum angle to mount a solar panel varies throughout the year depending on the seasons and geographical location. In an ideal world, solar panels would track the location of the sun minute by minute to optimize their harnessing capacity, but this is expensive and energy consuming. Instead, the panels remain stationery at an angle that is calculated to achieve optimum overall performance within the constraints.
Above: On Telegraph Hill, in San Francisco, a flat-roofed building by Feldman Architecture has solar panels mounted at an angle to catch the sun’s light. The optimum angle to mount a solar panel varies throughout the year depending on the seasons and geographical location. In an ideal world, solar panels would track the location of the sun minute by minute to optimize their harnessing capacity, but this is expensive and energy consuming. Instead, the panels remain stationery at an angle that is calculated to achieve optimum overall performance within the constraints.

For more on eco-friendly upgrades, see:

N.B. This post is an update; the original story ran on Remodelista on July 3, 2014.

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