The Hidden Costs Of Solar Energy

Solar EnergyLast month, I wrote a series of articles about our decision to purchase a home solar energy system, and my belief it will ultimately help us on our path towards financial independence and early retirement.

The first post outlined our decision-making process.

The second post discussed our solar installation.

And the third highlighted the initial performance of our solar panels.

Today, in an effort to share some additional information on the topic, I want to identify some of the potential hidden costs to going solar I found useful to consider, even though they didn’t show up in the quote from our local solar energy company or most of the research I did on my own.

As I mentioned in my initial post on our decision-making process, the payback period for our home solar energy system was around nine years, using a rough back of the envelope calculation. In real life, the payback period will definitely be longer, largely because of the reasons outlined below. These hidden costs did not deter us from deciding to go solar, but should definitely be considered when making a decision!

Your Electric Bill May Not Go to $0

While our home solar energy system was sized to provide enough energy to pay for our average annual electric usage, that doesn’t mean our electric bill is actually going to $0. We are still responsible for a daily fee to remain connected to the power grid, in addition to some other local and state taxes and fees, and these items cannot be offset by our solar production. Plus, there are no guarantees we’ll actually generate all the energy we need to offset our consumption.

Your Homeowners Insurance Premiums Will Be Higher

Guess what? When you put shiny new solar panels on your roof, along with an inverter and additional electrical wiring and equipment to start generating energy, you’ve acquired a lot of expensive stuff that can be damaged. While the home solar energy system will hopefully increase the value of your home, your insurance company is going to want to get paid for the potential costs involved in repairing or replacing all of that expensive equipment, much of which is sitting on top of your roof and exposed to the elements. Our annual homeowners insurance premiums increased by about 7% after we shared the specs of our system with our agent.

You May Need To Spend Additional Money to Make Solar Practical

While the back slope of our roof faced south and was well-positioned to generate solar energy, the tallest tree in our yard was about 30 feet from the back of our house. At certain times of the day and certain times of the year, that tree would cast considerable shade over the area where our panels would be installed. To improve the potential efficiency of our system and make the numbers work, we needed to have the tree removed, at a cost of several hundred dollars (the tree was too tall, too wide, and too close to the house and our back deck for me to be comfortable taking it down myself with my chainsaw).

Additional Costs Over The Life of The System

While the SunPower solar panels we purchased have a 25-year warranty, and we hope will be producing energy for at least that long, our SolarEdge inverter (which converts direct current to alternating current) has an expected lifespan of around 12 years, meaning we’ll need to replace it at least once over the lifetime of our system. The pricing of the individual components of our system was opaque, but one person I spoke with indicated that an inverter for a system of our size could cost around $1,500. That’s a future expense I’m not looking forward to, especially since I should be enjoying early retirement by then!

What Happens When You Need A New Roof?

Our roof is about 13 years old, and is in pretty good shape right now. But in a decade, right about the time we may need a new inverter, our roof is also likely to be on its last legs. In addition to the expense of a new roof, we’ll have to pay to have our solar panels and racking removed from the old roof, and then re-installed after the new roof is complete. That ain’t gonna be free!

The Rules Around Home Solar Energy Are Going To Change In The Future

We signed a 10-year agreement with our local utility, outlining the rate at which we will earn credits for the energy produced by our system. What happens when those 10 years are up? Who knows, but if there are a lot more homes with solar energy systems in our area a decade from now, my hunch is we won’t be getting paid as much for the energy we produce as we do today.

Can you think of any other hidden costs to going solar we didn’t consider?

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