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School of Architecture + Planning


Are Solar Panels Worth It? Director and Professor of Architecture John Quale, shares his thoughts

October 4, 2016 - John S. Kiernan

Solar energy is supposed to be an elegant solution to our dual problems of high utility costs and climate change. But it seems like the technology has been on the brink of a breakthrough for decades now, providing neither elegance nor much of a solution along the way, thanks in large part to bulky equipment and convoluted pricing. So it’s fair to wonder: Is solar finally ready for show time?

Well, a lot has changed in recent years. Solar isn’t just for hippies and academic debates anymore. Panels are popping up on the roofs of homes nationwide while helping to power everything from street lights and speed traps to buses and spacecraft. Solar capacity has increased by an average of 58% per year since 2010, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, as its cost has fallen by roughly two-thirds. Solar-panel installations are also expected to double over the next two years.

Nevertheless, there’s a big difference between increased use and mainstream adoption. And the average consumer’s biggest barriers to entry are a lack of familiarity with the product as well as questions over how much, if anything, solar panelists can expect to save in both the short and long term. After all, no one wants to make a years-long commitment when a better option is right around the corner.

With that in mind, we put together a panel of leading experts in the fields of environmental science, consumer studies, economics and energy policy to help connect the dots for you and your wallet. We asked them one simple question – “are solar panels worth it?” – and received a wealth of insightful responses that boil down to 8 Yes votes, 3 Maybes and no outright Nos. You can meet these experts and check out their complete comments below. This will tell you everything you need to know about whether solar panels are a good investment.

To read Director and Professor of Architecture John Quale's response, visit WalletHub.