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  • Writer's pictureMila de Souza

Demystifying Solar Panels: What You Need to Know Before Investing in Solar Energy

What even are solar panels?

Energy from solar is increasing in popularity, but let’s talk about what’s actually happening. There are two ways solar electricity can be used. The first and most popular way is photovoltaics or PV. These are the panels you see on roofs. The panel absorbs the sunlight, specifically the photons, and turns them into energy. Depending on electricity usage, a family can power their entire household using solar panels alone. The other use, concentrating solar power (CSP), utilizes mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight and use the heat to produce electricity. This is less common because it is only used commercially.


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Why doesn’t everyone have it?

Sounds great right? There is an endless supply of sun, so why can’t everyone use it for a better renewable energy solution? Well, solar panels (the residential kind) are not a suitable solution for everyone. First, the position of the house affects the usefulness of solar panels. If the house is in a shaded area due to trees or other buildings in the area, solar panels will not be helpful. In addition, the roof itself needs to have certain specifications in order to be suitable for panels. Factors such as size, shape, and slope of the roof are all important factors. The age of the roof is another consideration. A roof that is too old may not be able to sustain a solar panel- thus it may make sense to wait until the roof is replaced. If a solar professional determines your roof is not suitable for solar panels, there are other solutions! If you've ever seen detached solar panels not on a roof, these are called solar arrays and solar arrays can be shared. Solar arrays work the same way as solar panels except they are offsite- meaning the suitability of a roof is no longer a factor. Solar arrays can be shared by more than one household bringing down the cost for each individual household. The only drawback- coordinating with your neighbors!

What can I do about the cost?

The #1 drawback to solar panels is the cost; they can range anywhere from $15,000-$25,000. The cost of solar has decreased every year since 2009, but it can still be a hefty upfront investment. Solar panels pay for themselves after a certain time period, but that can be years into your initial investment. In addition to the cost of the panels themselves, there are other soft costs such as installation and permits that need to be considered. While it is expensive, there are options. In some locations, the government is providing grants for those who install solar panels. These grants can range anywhere from a couple thousand toward your total cost to complete financing allowing you to not have to come out of pocket at all. There is also an opportunity for tax incentives and tax breaks for those who install solar panels on their home. Depending on your local power company or local state government, there could also be an opportunity to sell unused solar energy. These are called solar renewable energy certificates (SREC). If your panels collect more energy than your household needs, you may be able to sell it leading to extra income on a monthly basis. Lastly, the installation of solar panels can increase the value of your home. According to Zillow, homes with solar panels sell for 4% more than homes without. In addition to the eventual cost savings and environmental benefits, you can sell/rent your home at a higher rate with the installation of solar panels. There is no getting around it- solar panels are expensive, but there are ways to save some money upfront and on the back end so that your investment is well worth it. The planet will thank you!


Milagros de Souza (Mila) has always had a commitment to sustainability, but it was not until she began an in-depth study of intersectional sustainability within her major in college that she realized how much the world needs sustainability. Mila has held roles at a number of sustainability-aligned organizations, but she is now stepping out as CEO and Founder of her own company, The Clothing Library, a clothing rental model that makes sustainable fashion more accessible.

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