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Solar FAQs — Photovoltaics — Benefits

Q: Why should I use photovoltaics (PV)?

A: For a growing number of users, PV is the clear choice. You should definitely consider using a PV system if it operates better and costs less than the alternatives. The cost of energy produced by PV systems continues to drop. However, kilowatt-hour for kilowatt-hour, and depending on where you live, PV energy still usually costs more than energy from your local utility. Also, the initial cost of PV equipment is higher than that of an engine generator. But there are many applications for which a PV system is the most cost-effective long-term option, such as for power in remote areas.

The number of installed PV systems increases each year because their many advantages make them the best option overall. Consider the following issues:

Site Access - A well-designed PV system will operate unattended and requires minimum periodic maintenance. The savings in labor costs and travel expenses can be significant.
Modularity - A PV system can be designed for easy expansion. If your power demand could increase in future years, the ease and cost of increasing the PV power supply should be considered.
Fuel Supply - Supplying conventional fuel to the site and storing it can be much more expensive than the fuel itself. Solar energy is delivered free of charge!
Environment - PV systems create no pollution and generate no waste products when operating.
Maintenance - Any energy system requires maintenance, but experience shows that PV systems require less maintenance than other alternatives.
Durability - Most of today's PV modules are based on a proven technology that has experienced little degradation in more than 15 years of operation.
Cost - For many applications, the advantages of PV systems offset their relatively high initial cost.

System designers know that every decision made during the design of a PV system affects the cost. If the system is oversized because the design was based on unrealistic requirements, the initial cost is unnecessarily high. If less durable parts are specified, maintenance and replacement costs will increase. The overall system life-cycle cost (LCC) estimates can easily double if inappropriate choices are made during system design. Don't let unrealistic specifications or poor assumptions create unreasonable cost estimates and keep you from using this clean power source. As you size your PV system, be realistic and flexible, and select an experienced designer to assist you.

Other Resources: 

Q: Why should I purchase a PV system?

A: People decide to buy solar energy systems for a variety of reasons. For example, some individuals buy solar products to preserve the Earth's finite fossil-fuel resources and to reduce air pollution. Others would rather spend their money on an energy-producing improvement to their property than send their money to a utility. Some people like the security of reducing the amount of electricity they buy from their utility, because it makes them less vulnerable to future increases in the price of electricity.

If it's designed correctly, a solar system might be able to provide power during a utility power outage, thereby adding power reliability to your home. Finally, some individuals live in areas where the cost of extending power lines to their home is more expensive than buying a solar energy system.

Other Resources: To learn more about solar energy, please visit our solar energy information portal.

A list of EREC Reference Briefs that discuss the various ways to reduce energy use in residential buildings.

To learn more about energy saving tips and renewable energy technologies, please visit U. S. Department of Energy's Energy Saver's Web site

To find a solar energy system designer or installer in your area, please visit our solar yellow pages for a list of sources of solar professionals.

Photovoltaics and Commercial Buildings - A Natural Match: A study highlights opportunities and locations for using photovoltaics to power businesses. September 1998. NREL. (PDF 210 KB)
Download Acrobat Reader.

Energy Savers: Tips on Saving Energy and Money at Home. (Brochure) August 1998. You can download copies of the brochure from this location: www.eere.energy.gov/consumer/tips/. Hard copies of the brochure are also available through the EERE Clearinghouse, 1-800-363-3732.

To learn more about the basics of PV, please visit the Florida Solar Energy Center.

Q: Are there disadvantages to using solar energy?

A: Solar energy technologies often have a higher "first cost." This means that a person is likely to pay more money up front to purchase and install a solar system. Still, in nearly all cases, the high initial cost is recovered through substantial fuel savings over the life of the product (15-30 years).

Other Resources: To learn more about energy saving tips and renewable energy technologies, please visit U. S. Department of Energy's Energy Saver's Web site

To learn more about financial incentives in your area, please visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) and contact your State's Energy Office. One caveat: any time you work with a contractor, it is wise to check references.

To find a solar energy system designer or installer in your area, please visit our solar yellow pages for a list of sources of solar professionals.

U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20585
www.eere.energy.gov www.energy.gov