The Long-Term Cost of Solar Energy Panels

Solar energy panels on a roof.

In terms of short term immediate costs, solar energy panels require a substantial investment in order to get a home up and running on the alternative energy. Because of this initial cost, many homeowners who are otherwise attracted to the idea of powering their home on solar energy are unable to afford the purchase and installation. However, considering the long term is important when calculating potential savings from solar energy. Their full benefit cannot be realized if only the initial immediate investment costs are considered.

Solar Panel Costs in the Short Term

A homeowner looking to supplement the power their home receives from the grid with solar energy will spend less than the person who wishes to fully power their home with solar energy. A full system will cost upwards of $20,000 to purchase and install while the supplemental units cost half or a quarter as much, or less, depending on the number of panels and the scope of the job. Individual states may offer tax exemptions for homeowners who install solar panels, although not all do. Tax breaks offer a minimal reduction in initial costs, but anything helps. Despite their increasing use, solar panels are still priced well out of the range of many individuals. Fossil fuel power is still more cost effective.

Long Term Costs of Solar Energy Panels

You have to look at the long run before fully realizing the savings that solar energy offers. However, there are long term costs as well. Solar panels need repair and maintenance. Besides basic upkeep of the panels, the photovoltaic cells do not last forever and must be replaced in time. Batteries and power inverters, too, are required to transform the power from direct current to an alternative current and to store what is harnessed. Eventually, the batteries will lose their ability to store energy and require replacement as well.

Reliance on Fossil Fuel Inputs

Another factor to consider is that solar panels require fossil fuel inputs in their production, maintenance, and transportation. Although they are touted as a cure for excessive fossil fuel use, they in fact still depend upon fossil fuel. As fossil fuel prices rise, so too do those of solar panels. Unfortunately, the two cannot be fully separated. This could have a long term effect on the costs of solar panels, although it is not entirely clear.

Long Term Savings

Despite the initial costs, after several years in use homeowners will begin to realize the savings of solar energy. The reduction in power bill costs gradually equals the amount initially spent on solar energy panels and installation. With maintenance and repair, initial costs may not be entirely offset for a decade or more, meaning that solar energy is only economically feasible in the very long term.

Although savings are realized in the form of decreased energy bills, long term costs are nonetheless an associative factor of solar energy panels. Due primarily to maintenance and repair but also since they are partially tied to fossil fuel energy prices, solar energy comes with high initial costs and possibly high long term costs. Still, the potential for long term savings is great.