By Jennifer Jubell

Solar energy draws from the sun’s limitless resources, making it an environmentally friendly, sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. However, installing solar panels involves a serious financial commitment, and the technology itself isn’t perfect. Before you invest in solar energy, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons and how these variables measure up to your budget:

The Pros:

A steadfast resource: Unlike fossil fuels, the sun’s energy isn’t likely to expire soon. The Earth receives more than 70,000 terawatts of solar energy daily, surpassing global energy use by about 10,000-fold. As long as the sun shines, solar energy exists.

Environmental advantages: Energy from the sun has been linked to environmental benefits, Dr. Becca Jones-Albertus deputy director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, explains. “Unlike other power sources, there’s nothing to mine or ship so the input needed to create electricity – sunlight in this case – is naturally abundant and free,” she said. By choosing solar power over fossil fuels, users are helping to reduce carbon and other emissions.

It saves money: Homeowners who install solar energy systems become less reliant on the communal power grid. As a result, their electricity bills go down significantly. Additionally, utility companies pay solar owners the retail price for any excess energy the system uses each month. Given that solar photovoltaic prices have dropped by 80 percent over the last 10 years, it’s a prime time to go solar. Another financial plus: you can get federal and state tax breaks for investing in a solar energy system.

Your home will increase in value: Installing solar is just as good as renovating your basement or kitchen: many homebuyers view solar energy systems as an upgrade and are willing to pay high premiums for this home feature.

The Cons:

Energy source is intermittent: Unlike electricity, solar power waxes and wanes depending on the sun’s strength, which can vary day by day and throughout the year. Solar panels are not 100-percent efficient, either: at maximum, they can only convert about 20 percent of the sun’s light into energy. For these reasons, many solar system owners remain somewhat dependent on conventional energy sources as a backup.

It takes up space: Homeowners typically use rooftop solar photovoltaic panels, and this equipment requires a lot of space to install. Depending on what type of roof you have and the materials it’s made of, installing solar panels can pose a challenge. Cedar and slate tile roofs aren’t ideal for mounting solar panels, and roof skylights can obstruct installation, which can add costs to this type of project.

The upfront cost is high: Solar energy panels pay off over time, but the upfront costs of mounting panels on your home requires some capital. Even with recent declines in the price of solar, a homeowner on average can spend up to $20,000 to install a solar system.

It’s not entirely pollution free: Transport and installation of the panels do generate some contamination, and solar panel production has been known to emit nitrogen trifluoride and sulfur hexafluoride, which are greenhouse gases. Still, solar systems compare favorably to other energy sources as far as having a minimal impact on the environment.

The bottom line

Homeowners will need to weigh the upfront costs with other factors such as the roof capacity of their homes to determine if this is a worthwhile investment. However, in general, the environmental and financial returns of installing a solar system pay off over time.