Solar Power: Get It While It's Hot


It's a great time to seriously consider installing solar panels on your house.

According to a recent report from the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, solar installation prices saw reductions on the order of 6-14% for the most recent years 2011-2012. In terms of economics, there are certainly legitimate arguments for why solar makes sense. Buying solar results in tax credits, potential increased value in home equity, and an alternative to rising electricity costs, among other benefits. There is an obvious environmental dimension to going solar as well, as the prospect of climate change looms large, as well as the need for immediate action to address it through alternative energy.

The new report looked at approximately 210,000 houses that underwent the photovoltaic solar installation process, both residential and commercial. These housing units were a strong representative of the U.S. solar market, representing 72% of PV capacity installed units in the United States through 2012. After grouping the solar panel installations according to size, researchers found that installation costs had significantly decreased in the last year. This phenomenon is not a recent one, however. In fact, solar installation costs have been on the decline for the last 15 years or so, in large part due to lower labor costs, lower taxes, and lower overhead costs.

There are additional economic incentives for a switch to solar costs. Homeowners can expect to receive a 30% tax credit on housing units of primary residence. And that's not including state and local tax incentives. Buying solar can also increase the value of homes. A study published a couple of years ago by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that solar panels can increase the values of home by 3-4%. In other words, an owner of a 250,000 home could suddenly gain 10,000 in home equity by making the switch to solar. Rising costs in electricity could become a problem in the future as well, as the gap in expense between solar and conventional forms of electricity narrows further.

Environmentally, however, it's a no-brainer. As the threat of Climate Change manifests itself all over the world, the need to invest in alternative energies becomes increasingly important. Carbon emissions are still spiraling out of control, and a large part of that can be explained by the larger nations' (such as the United States and China) reliance on coal and natural gas, as well as unconventional forms of energy such as tar sands. Climate change is not an abstract problem that manifests itself in nonfigurative forms. It's a concrete problem that is ravaging communities, whether it looks like wildfires plaguing the southwest, harsher monsoon seasons for densely populated parts of the world, or a major American city on the verge of Atlantis status. It's a grave threat to humanity, and one that needs full attention.

To be clear, more people making the switch to solar is not going to reverse the large trend of climate change by itself. Aggressive investment in transportation and various public infrastructures is certainly warranted, as well as a precipitous drop in carbon emissions. But making the switch to solar is certainly a start, and more exposure and comfort with solar could perhaps lead to more demands being made on the part of citizens to their government.