In a matter of years, solar power has gone from a relatively obscure form of energy to one of the fastest-growing power sources in the world, thanks primarily to federal and state investments, declining costs, and surges in demand. More and more countries (including the US), states, and companies are committing to 100% clean energy in the coming decades, and solar will play a big part in that.
The benefits of moving in this direction are countless. Keep reading to learn how solar power helps individuals, communities, and the planet.
Benefit #1: Solar is a pollution-free, planet-friendly energy source
The primary benefit to solar is its impact on the climate. Solar power comes from a resource that is both abundant and unlikely to ever run out: the sun. Fossil fuels like oil and gas, on the other hand, are finite; one day, they will run out. Solar power is a resource we can depend upon in perpetuity. And while burning fossil fuels emits greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide (CO2), which trap heat and contribute to global warming, generating and storing solar energy do not. Solar power is emission-free.
That means that every solar panel that replaces a non-renewable energy source takes a small bite out of the world’s carbon emissions. The solar industry keeps as much carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as would planting two billion trees, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. By 2020, the US had the solar capacity to avert 110 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and power more than 17.7 million American homes along the way. Surprisingly, all that solar capacity doesn’t take much land — it would take just 22,000 square miles of land, around the size of Lake Michigan, for enough solar panels to power the entire country.
Benefit #2: More solar power could lead to fewer health problems
Reductions in pollution are good for human health, too. In addition to emitting CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, burning fossil fuels also generates particulate matter (PM), a combination of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air that. PM is small enough to penetrate deeply in the lungs and is associated with a range of health concerns, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory issues, lung cancer, and adverse birth outcomes. Regions of the US with high levels of PM related to fossil fuel combustion, such as California’s Central Valley, the greater Pittsburgh area, and the Bronx in New York City, all see higher-than-average rates of asthma hospitalization.
Reducing exposure to these pollutants by replacing fossil fuels with emission-free solar panels could increase life expectancies and decrease pollution-related illnesses, especially in the most polluted areas.
Benefit #3: Solar power pays for itself
Solar power doesn’t just cut emissions; it also cuts costs. If you put solar panels on your house, you could save as much as $187 per month on electricity within the first year, according to a 2019 study by the NC Clean Technology Center and the US Department of Energy (DOE).
It’s true that installing solar panels on your home involves a big upfront cost. But that cost has declined by 70% in the last decade, and solar panels can pay for themselves within six to eight years, thanks to the savings on your power bills. The DOE also recently announced a goal to cut solar costs by 56%, from 4.6 cents per kilowatt-hour to 2 cents per kilowatt-hour by 2030. In the next few years, solar panels will become more affordable than ever to purchase.
Saving money on your power bill isn’t the only financial advantage that solar panels offer. They can also increase the value of your home. One study of homes with photovoltaic panels across six US states found that each watt of solar power a home generated was worth an additional $3.78 on the market. The overall home values increased by $10,000-15,000 from what they were worth without the solar panels.
Solar savings also pay off come tax season. In March 2021, President Joe Biden proposed a 10-year extension of the tax incentives offered to Americans who invest in clean energy and storage projects, such as solar panels. Homeowners can claim up to 26% of the cost of their photovoltaic system percentage on their federal income taxes. That includes the expense of the panels, contract labor required for installation, energy storage systems, and more. Anyone who’s invested in solar in some way — regardless of whether they own or rent, or if the home is their primary or secondary place of residence — is eligible for the incentive.
What if you can’t install your own solar panels? Maybe you don’t own your home, or you don’t want to make the upfront investment. There are still ways to enjoy the financial benefits of solar power. You can join a local solar farm through a community solar program. With community solar, part of your regular power bill gets repurposed to keep the solar farm running. When the farm generates electricity, clean solar energy flows into your local power supply and you get credits back on your power bill. That means you’re guaranteed to save a little money every month.
Benefit #4: Solar helps fuel a growing number of green jobs
As investments in solar energy and demand for renewables mount, the industry continues to be a boon for US jobs. According to the Solar Foundation’s 2020 National Solar Jobs Census, the number of Americans employed by the solar industry has grown by 167% in the last decade. In 2010, the solar industry employed 93,000 people across the country. By 2020, that number grew to just under 250,000 — and as clean energy becomes ubiquitous, it will only create more jobs. States like Florida, Georgia, New York, Utah, and Texas have all seen their solar markets boom in the last year, thanks in part to declining costs and the investment tax credit.
As the industry grows in size, so does innovation: Researchers are continuing to put time and resources into making solar power and storage technology more widespread and efficient. Research around solar windows, roads, and paint could soon help expand solar’s potential beyond roofs and farms, helping guide the transition toward a clean energy economy.