For nearly as long as solar panels have been gracing rooftops and barren land, creative people have been searching out additional surfaces that can be tiled with energy-generating photovoltaic (PV) panels. The idea has been pretty straightforward: if solar panels generate energy simply by facing the sun, then humans could collectively reduce our reliance on coal, oil, gas and other polluting fuels by maximizing our aggregate solar surface area.
So, what kind of unobstructed surfaces are built in every community and in between every major city across the globe? Highways and streets. With this in mind, the futuristic vision of laying thousands, or even millions, of solar panels on top of the asphalt of interstates and main streets was born.
While the concept art looked like a still from a sci-fi film, many inventors, businesses and investors saw these panels as a golden path toward clean energy and profit. Ultimately, though, the technology and economics ended up letting down those working behind each solar roadway project — from initial concepts in the early 2000s to the first solar roadway actually opened in France in 2016, they all flopped.
In the years since the concept of solar roadways went viral, solar PV has continued to improve in technology and drop in price. So, with a 2021 lens, is it time to re-run the numbers and see if a solar roadway could potentially deliver on that early promise? We dig in to find out.
Solar Roadways: The Original Concept
Solar roadways are complex in execution, but in concept, they're as simple as they sound. They're roads "paved" with extremely strong solar panels that are covered in glass that can withstand environmental stressors and the weight of vehicles driving over them on a consistent basis.
The idea was something that got people really excited when the initial Solar Roadways, Inc. project (which is still seeking funding) burst onto the scene in 2014:
More advanced designs included solar roadways outfitted with LED lights that could be used to illuminate lane lines, communicate to drivers and more. Other iterations included weight sensors that would detect when obstructions were on the road or could alert homeowners if unexpected vehicles were approaching their driveway. Embedding these kinds of technology into the solar roadways renderings only added to their appeal and the initial hype around the concept.
Key Selling Points of Solar Roadways
Early innovators of solar roadways touted the numerous benefits of their ideas. These included:
- Sunlight shines down on roads at no cost, making the energy not only readily available, but also free (aside from installation and maintenance).
- The ability to power street lights with solar roadways eliminated the need to pull extra energy from the grid.
- Having electronics embedded into the roadway opened up a world of possibilities for communicating with drivers in ways that didn't require painting and repainting of roads.
- The ingenuity to attach weight sensors on the solar panels could be used to alert drivers about potential obstructions, such as animals, disabled vehicles or rocks on the road.
- In a future of electric vehicles, the possibilities were seen as even more beneficial, as solar roadways could be used to power electric vehicle charging stations or to charge the cars while they're driving.
While some early thinkers may also have envisioned these roadways sending solar energy to the local power grid, the most impactful way solar roadways could utilize the energy they generated is right around the road itself: lighting street lights, heating mechanisms to melt snow on the roadway, or powering small emergency equipment on road shoulders.
Using the energy for on-road applications would mean that the power didn't have to be sent long distances before being used, which results in energy loss. However, in more rural or remote locations, having the solar roadway energy available for nearby homes and businesses could be a huge benefit, especially if there's an outage in the overall grid.
Why Solar Roadway Tests Have Failed
To much of the general public — and especially to people who weren't well versed in the intricacies of solar panels or road structures — solar roadways seemed like a slam-dunk solution that both looked futuristic and had benefits that went far beyond electricity generation. It was the kind of innovation that had people exclaiming: "How has no one done this yet?!" But in reality, the execution of solar roadways was much more complex than the idea.
Here are a few reasons solar roadway tests have failed:
Cost of Manufacturing and Maintenance
The cost of the energy from the sun may be free, but the investment to install and maintain the solar roadways was undeniably prohibitive. The reason asphalt is used by default to pave roadways is because it is immensely affordable and low-maintenance, which is especially critical on vast, expansive roadways and interstates.
In 2010, Scott Brusaw, co-founder of Solar Roadways, Inc., estimated a square foot of solar roadway would cost about $70. However, when the first solar roadway was built in France by a company called Colas, it measured 1 kilometer and cost $5.2 million to build — or about $1,585 per foot of roadway. Of course, this was a small iteration and bulk manufacturing would cost less, but either way, it's hard to believe the cost of a solar roadway would ever be competitive with the price of asphalt, which is about $3 to $15 per square foot.
Further, the cost and complexity to send a crew to repair individual panels that fail would far outweigh those to maintain asphalt. So, while one of the presumed benefits of solar roadways is the cost savings associated with self-generated energy, even back-of-the-envelope math highlights how the numbers would simply not add up to be more cost-effective in the long run.
Energy Required to Produce the Panels
Another limiting factor appears when considering the energy it takes to make asphalt versus high-durability glass and solar panels. Most asphalt used on roads today is a byproduct of distilling petroleum crude oil for products such as gasoline, which means it makes use of a substance that would otherwise be discarded as waste.
The solar roadway panels, although intended to save energy in the long run, take much more to produce. Typical rooftop solar panels can easily make up for the extra energy used in production because the glass doesn't need to withstand the weight of vehicles driving over them, but solar roadways have that added complexity.
Power Output of the Panels
When estimating power output, early optimists seemed to perform calculations based on the raw surface area they could cover — and not much else. However, beyond the stunted energy generation that any solar panels face on cloudy days or at night, solar roadways presented unique new performance challenges.
For example, vehicles constantly driving over solar roadways would interrupt sun exposure. Plus, they'd leave behind trails of fluid, dirt and dust that can dramatically reduce the efficiency of solar panels. Being installed on the ground is a challenge in itself because of how readily shade would find the roads; that's the reason you find most solar panels on rooftops or elevated off the ground and angled toward the sun.
Issues With Glass Roadways
Lastly, driving on glass surfaces is simply not what modern cars are designed to do. Asphalt and tires grip each other well, being particularly resilient in wet conditions. If the asphalt is replaced with glass — even the textured glass that's used for solar roadways — tire traction could be reduced dramatically. Wet or icy conditions could lead to catastrophic situations on solar roadways.
Could Recent Advances in Solar Technology Bring Solar Roadways Closer to Reality?
For all of these challenges and even more roadblocks that early solar roadway projects have run into in the past, the reality is that solar technology continues to improve. In the seven years since the first Solar Roadways, Inc. video went viral, solar panels have developed to be more durable, more cost-effective and more efficient at converting sunlight to electricity. To put some numbers behind these trends:
- The average solar PV panel cost has dropped about 70% since 2014.
- In 2015, FirstSolar made news with panels that were 18.2% efficient. Today, the most advanced prototypes are able to exceed 45% efficiency.
- Total solar energy capacity in 2021 is nearly six times greater than in 2014, and with that explosion has come advances to flatten the learning curve and increase the general public's acceptance of the benefits of solar.
- Solar jobs have increased 167% in the last decade, giving the industry more capable workers able to take the reins of a solar roadway project and more professionals who know how to affordably install solar.
The question to ask is whether these advances are enough to bring solar roadways from failure to success.
Despite the improvements, many of the original challenges with solar roadways remain, and the scale of execution is immense. Even with decreasing solar PV costs, outfitting long stretches of roadway with such complex technologies will require tremendous capital.
Rather than a future where solar roadways cover the country from coast to coast, a more likely outcome is that these advances will bring solar roadways to viability in narrow, niche applications.
Just like tidal energy is a great opportunity for small coastal communities but can't be scaled to solve the energy crisis across the world, it's conceivable that limited-scope solar roadways could be constructed around the world. However, large-scale solar roadways may never be more than a pipe dream.
Solar power is among the most affordable renewable energy options, whether for businesses or homes. Companies that provide solar products are everywhere these days, but to take advantage of the benefits of solar energy, homeowners are faced with a major decision: solar leasing vs. buying panels outright.
A solar lease is a long-term contract between a customer and a solar panel provider. For homeowners seeking to fulfill their energy needs without high utility bills, but who don't have the upfront capital to buy a system, solar leasing can seem like a viable option. In this article, we'll take a look into whether a solar lease is actually a smart investment.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on for and is not intended to provide accounting, legal or tax advice.
What is Solar Leasing and How Does it Work?
Solar leasing is a financing option through which customers pay a monthly fee for the panels and get to use the power the system produces. They do not, however, own the panels. It is an arrangement similar to leasing a car — the idea is to provide a convenient option for those who want to go green and reduce their electricity bills without the overhead of buying a solar energy system.
There are a few benefits to solar leasing. First, it reduces a customer's upfront costs to install panels. Using a solar lease means the maintenance and liability to damaged panels rests on the solar company rather than the homeowner. However, because you do not own the panels, you miss out on incentives like local and federal tax credits.
Typical solar leases last for 20 years, and they include a solar lease escalator that increases the monthly installment once per year based on current market prices and the energy landscape. Many solar leases come with the option to buy the solar panels at a discounted rate at the end of the lease agreement (again, similar to a car).
Solar leasing was especially important in the early days of solar when systems were more expensive, but as the cost of solar panels has decreased, leasing doesn't make as much sense as it used to.
How Leasing Differs from a Solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA)
In many ways, solar leasing presents a competitive option compared with a solar power purchase agreement (PPA). For solar leasing, customers pay monthly rent for the panels; with a PPA, customers instead pay per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy generated. In other words, the amount customers pay for a solar lease is determined based on the capacity of the panels, while solar PPAs are paid based on the actual generation. This difference means that those with solar leases will have a more fixed price, benefit more during the sunny summer months and save even more money in the long run from reduced energy bills.
While both solar leasing and solar PPAs are contracts by which the customer doesn't actually own the solar panels, the specifics of costs, reliability, savings and more differ and require consideration by the individual building owner.
Typical Terms of a Solar Lease
The terms of a solar lease are critical to understanding whether it's the right route for you. Based on individual requirements, solar leasing companies can provide various lease terms, ranging from short to long periods. Typically, though, solar leases last 20 to 25 years. Given that solar panels have an average lifespan in the range of 25 to 30 years, customers end up being able to utilize solar panels to their full lifetime potential.
Different solar leasing companies will also offer opportunities for advanced services, including monitoring, payment and observation through mobile and web apps. Included in these digital offerings are online portals through which customers can review their contract, make monthly payments and observe usage over time. As with the wider utility sector, solar customers are looking to choose companies with improved service and customizable solutions, all of which provide a better user experience.
Customers must also be aware that, typically, solar leases will require an annual payment escalator of 1 to 5% per month as a result of inflated electricity costs. These terms are spelled out clearly in the contract, though, so they should not come as a surprise.
Ending Your Solar Lease
Customers who choose to lease solar panels may find themselves in circumstances where they want to end their lease, such as if they are moving to a new home. Solar leasing companies try to make this process as easy as possible, providing the option to transfer the lease to the new owners of the home or break the contract and remove the panels.
Even if you don't break your lease early, it will come to an end eventually. When this happens, customers can either renew the same lease or cease the solar contract. In the latter instance, the solar company will dismount and remove the panels. A last option is that customers can purchase the solar panels at a discounted rate (a price that is sometimes outlined in the contract at the time of the original solar lease).
Is a Solar Lease Right for You?
The decision of whether to lease solar, buy solar panels outright, engage in a PPA or simply ignore solar as an option is a very personal and major decision. To help with such decisions, here are a few pros and cons of solar leasing to keep in mind:
Pros of Solar Leasing
Solar leasing comes with many natural benefits, including the following:
- No need to pay high upfront costs of solar panel installation
- Locks in energy prices for the future, when the market may be volatile
- Avoid the headache of maintenance and monitoring of equipment
- Significant utility bill savings
- Reduced household carbon footprint
- Power production guarantees in solar leases mean payments can decrease if the panel doesn't produce as anticipated, minimizing the risk
Cons of Solar Leasing
Solar leasing is certainly not for everyone, though, as these contracts can come with a certain level of risk and concern as well:
- As utility rates increase, the leasing price also increases each year and could undercut expected cost benefits.
- Since you do not own solar panels, you are not entitled to the federal solar tax credit or local benefits.
- Although there isn't a high upfront cost, over the system's lifetime, you'll likely end up paying an equivalent or higher amount than what you would have if you bought the solar panels outright.
- Leased solar panels don't add value to your property like panels you own do, because they are not a part of the property you own.
- Breaking your lease may be a hassle if you wish to move.
Leasing Solar Panels Vs. Buying Solar Panels
Earlier generations of solar panels were expensive, so leasing them was a more obvious choice. But the past decade has seen the cost of solar panels plummet, shifting that calculus and making it more accessible and profitable to outright own your own solar system.
The main difference between solar leasing and buying solar panels comes down to ownership. If you buy a solar system, you own it, and that means you are liable for its maintenance and operation costs. If you lease a solar panel, however, the company providing you with this option is the true owner and must shoulder this load.
Buying a solar panel is the best option when you want to make the most of the potential financial benefits. These economic advantages include reduced state taxes through investment credits, government rebates (sometimes up to 30%), and added Solar Renewable Energy Credits. Additionally, owning solar panels increases the market value of a property. So while solar leasing can be profitable over the lifetime of the contract, customers who have the ability to buy the systems outright will receive more financial benefit.
Solar leasing, however, is the best option when you wish to just use the electricity produced by the solar panel as a source of clean energy. Although you do not own the panels and are not entitled to any tax benefits from the state, you can still enjoy the financial benefits of solar energy without the high installation costs, ever-present risk of needing to repair damage and more.
In case of buying solar panels, if you do not have the cash to pay upfront, top solar companies provide plenty of options to finance them rather than only leaving solar leasing as an option:
- Financing through solar installer: Many installers partner with lenders to provide lower-interest solar financing to their customers.
- Getting a PACE loan: Also known as an R-PACE loan, Residential Property-Assessed Clean Energy loans are long-term, low-cost options to fund your solar purchase. This type of loan attaches the cost of the panels to your property tax bill through a special tax assessment.
- Getting a standard bank loan: Solar loans can be secured through credit unions, banks, utilities or state programs. In certain cases, you can choose an on-bill financing option, in which the loan is repaid through your monthly electric bill with your utility provider. With this option, part of your monthly utility savings can be put toward your loan payment.
Frequently Asked Questions: Solar Leasing
What is a solar lease?
A solar lease is a long-term (usually 20-year) contract that allows a company to install a solar system on your roof without you purchasing the system. You pay monthly installments and annual price surges in exchange for the energy produced by these panels.
Is a solar lease worth it?
A solar lease may be worth it for people who do not wish to take up the hassle of maintaining solar panels or who tend to move every five to 10 years. Solar leasing may also sound beneficial to customers who cannot pay a huge amount upfront. However, there are significant financial downsides, including not being eligible for the 26% federal solar tax credit.
Why is leasing solar a bad idea?
The monthly payments you make toward a solar lease will typically increase year over year due to a price escalator that accounts for inflation. Because of this, it's likely you will end up paying an equivalent or greater amount than you would have paid if you were buying solar panels outright. Leased solar panels don't add value to your property, and contract cancellations can be a hassle if you are trying to sell your house before your lease is up. Further, because you are not the owner of the panels, you are not entitled to any financial incentives or tax rebates.
What happens after a solar lease is up?
Solar leasing tends to extend up to 20 to 25 years, which is about the average lifespan of solar panels. Once your lease is up, you have the option to either renew it, discontinue the services and get the panels removed, or buy the panels from the solar vendor at a discounted market rate.
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If you live in an apartment without its own roof or if you're a business owner renting a commercial space, a community solar project may help you save on electric bills. Community solar power is a great option for individuals and businesses who can't install their own solar panels.
You can join a community solar project by purchasing a share or by paying a subscription. Then, the electricity production that corresponds to your ownership percentage or subscription will be measured and subtracted from your power bills. This is possible even if the community solar panel installation isn't located in your neighborhood — by investing in the project, your share of the solar generation is simply subtracted from your bill.
In this article, we'll outline the pros and cons of community solar subscriptions and help you decide whether to invest in your local program.
What is Community Solar?
Community solar is a term used to describe photovoltaic systems that are shared by many consumers, including homeowners, renters, businesses, nonprofit organizations and more. Electricity savings and other benefits from the solar project are split among its shareholders and subscribers at a rate based on the level of investment.
When starting a community solar project, developers will establish the geographic area from which consumers are eligible to join. Some programs have installed multiple solar power systems in the same area, allowing a larger number of shareholders and solar subscribers.
Community solar power is possible thanks to virtual net metering. Through this process, a percentage of the electricity produced by the community solar panels is subtracted from the total amount of power you use in your home even though the panels aren't located on your property. Here are a few key things to note:
- The kilowatt-hours produced by a community solar project are measured for each billing period and are divided based on ownership shares.
- If a community solar array produces 10,000 kWh of electricity and you own 5% of the project, you get 500 kWh for that billing period.
- The value of those 500 kWh will be subtracted from your power bill, so if you use, for example, 750 kWh of electricity in your home, you'd only pay your utility company for 250 kWh.
Benefits of Community Solar
The main benefit of community solar is saving on power bills, especially in places with high electricity prices and abundant sunshine. However, the concept of sharing a solar array brings many other benefits, both technical and economic. These include:
- Community solar can be used by homeowners or renters who can't install rooftop or ground-mounted solar panels. Some roof structures are not suitable for solar panels, and others are too shaded from surrounding buildings or objects to be effective. Community solar may also be an option if you live in an apartment without its own roof or if you simply don't like the appearance of rooftop solar panels.
- You can easily take your solar savings to another home or apartment. If you install solar panels and decide to move in a few years, you must either sell them or take them with you. On the other hand, when joining a community solar project, you can simply assign the savings to your new address.
- You can sometimes sell or donate your community solar share (depending on program conditions). This is useful if you move to a location that is not covered by the community solar program or if you decide to install your own solar panels in the future.
- Community solar supports a more diverse customer base. To install your own solar panels, you must have the cash for an upfront payment or qualify for a loan. This financial barrier is eliminated with community solar — consumers can pay a monthly subscription or can purchase a small share according to their budget.
- With community solar, you can forget about maintenance and part replacements. Solar panels need regular cleaning to stay productive, and components like inverters and solar batteries must usually be replaced after about 10 years. However, you don't have to worry about maintenance with community solar, as there is a project developer in charge.
- Community solar shareholders are eligible for the federal solar tax credit. When purchasing a share of a community solar project, you can deduct 26% of your investment on your next tax declaration. Just keep in mind that this benefit is not available when joining as a subscriber, since technically you don't own a part of the community solar farm.
Community solar is an easier alternative to installing your own solar power system. The project developer is responsible for financing, installation, operation and maintenance, and you can reduce your electricity bills by simply buying a share of the project or subscribing.
However, installing your own solar power system also brings many benefits. You save the full economic value of the electricity generated, for example. Onsite solar power also increases the value of homes and commercial buildings, and many incentive programs are only available when you buy solar panels directly.
If you're weighing each option, it can be helpful to get a free quote for a home solar installation. Fill out the form below to get connected with a top solar company near you.
How Does Community Solar Work?
In a few words, community solar lets you save on power bills with a shared photovoltaic array, instead of having your own system. However, not all community solar projects are alike, and they can be classified into several types:
- On-site vs. off-site
- Ownership vs. subscription
Community solar should not be confused with group purchasing, which happens when many homeowners or businesses purchase individual solar systems at bulk prices. This does not count as community solar, since the project is split into many private installations.
On-Site Vs. Off-Site Community Solar
Many real estate developers use on-site community solar projects in their residential, commercial or mixed-use projects. The electricity generated by solar panels reaches consumers through a private power system, without depending on the local electric grid. On the other hand, off-site community solar is supplied via the grid.
Here are the main benefits and drawbacks of each type of community solar project:
|On-Site Community Solar||Off-Site Community Solar|
|Pros||On-site community solar systems often achieve higher savings — because they don't use the local electric grid, they don't pay transmission and distribution fees to a utility company.||Off-site community solar projects can serve a larger number of customers. You can also keep your ownership share or subscription when moving to another address, as long as you stay within the project's service area.|
|Cons||On-site community solar is only available for local property owners and tenants of communities that have installed these energy projects.||Depending on limitations with your local power grid, you may not yield as high of savings with off-site community solar.|
Ownership Vs. Subscription Model
Community solar projects offer ownership shares and subscriptions. Some projects only have one option available, while others let you choose. You can save on power bills with both options, but understanding the differences between them is important:
- When you purchase an ownership share in a community solar project, the corresponding percentage of power generation is yours for the entire service life of the project. Also, since you're a partial owner of the system, you can claim 26% of your investment as a federal tax deduction. However, owning part of a community solar project means you must have the capital to pay upfront.
- When you subscribe to a community solar project, there is no upfront investment. Instead, you pay a monthly fee. This means there is an ongoing cost, but the corresponding power bill savings are higher than the subscription fee. Keep in mind that subscription costs may increase over time, while an ownership share represents a single upfront payment.
Each option has pros and cons — you will generally save more when you become a shareholder in a community solar project, but a subscription comes with zero upfront cost. Also, consider that you must sell your share if you move to a location not covered by a community solar project, while a subscription can be easily canceled.
Is Community Solar Available Near You?
Community solar offers many benefits, but it is not available nationwide. To scale these types of projects, state governments must first enable this business model by law. Also, developers are more likely to invest in community solar projects if market conditions are favorable. Generally, the best states for solar power are those with incentive programs, abundant sunshine and/or high electricity prices.
There are currently 40 states with at least one community solar project in operation, and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reported that 3.1 GW of community solar were online and operational by the end of Q1 2021. There is an optimistic outlook for community solar, and the SEIA has forecast a growth of 4 GW over the next five years. Each gigawatt of solar power can cover the electricity needs of around 186,000 American homes.
If you're interested in community solar power, you can check local government and utility websites — there could be several projects available near you.
FAQs: Community Solar
Is community solar legit?
Like all power generation projects, community solar systems are subject to laws and regulations. If you look for a developer that uses high-quality solar components and qualified installers, community solar is a reliable option to save on power bills for many years.
Is community solar a good deal?
To join a community solar project, you must become a shareholder with an upfront investment or pay an ongoing subscription. The power bill savings achieved will be higher than your monthly utility payments in both cases, but depending on the pricing model of your community's program, one option may present a better deal than the other.
What is community solar, and how does it work?
Community solar is an alternative to installing your own solar panels: You participate in a shared solar project as a shareholder or subscriber, and you get part of the electricity produced. This is a great option for individuals or companies who can't install their own solar panel systems due to lack of space or other limitations.
How does community solar make money?
Based on your ownership share or subscription type, you get part of the electricity produced by a community solar array. The kilowatt-hours generated are subtracted from your power bill — just like when you own solar panels directly.
Leonardo David is an electromechanical engineer, MBA, energy consultant and technical writer. His energy-efficiency and solar consulting experience covers sectors including banking, textile manufacturing, plastics processing, pharmaceutics, education, food processing, fast food, real estate and retail. He has also been writing articles about energy and engineering topics since 2015.
As solar energy becomes increasingly popular for residential use, you've probably had a few neighbors install solar panels and may even be thinking of getting a system for your own home. But before adopting this technology, you may be wondering: What are solar panels made of, and how are they made?
Many people simply accept that solar panels work and that's all we need to know about them, but for the scientifically and technologically curious, each individual solar panel contains a world of interesting components and materials. Keep reading to learn more about what actually makes up a solar panel.
What Are Solar Panels Made Of?
When you come across a solar panel, it may simply look like a single comprehensive block, but the truth is that solar panels are made of a bevy of chemical components and materials, each crucial to the effective and efficient conversion of solar light into usable electricity.
To start, virtually all solar photovoltaic (PV) panels use crystalline silicon wafers as the main component material. Silicon is used to create semiconductors for about 95% of all solar panels on the market today, with the other 5% using experimental and in-development technologies like organic photovoltaic cells.
The semiconductors created for solar panels are what create electricity: upon interaction with sunlight, the electrons in this material get knocked loose, which is the basis of electricity. This process is called the photovoltaic effect and it's how solar panels work to generate power.
Of course, the solar PV cells won't be able to power your home without the rest of the operational components, including glass, plastic, metal and wiring. Solar panels are typically covered by a layer of glass and an anti-reflective coating to protect the sensitive silicon solar cells while still letting the light through. The whole arrangement is supported by a plastic/polymer frame for installation on a rooftop or in a ground-mounted solar system.
As with any modern and advancing technology, particularly in the energy space, solar panels come in many variations of styles, sub-components and designs. The most common types of solar panels are monocrystalline solar panels, polycrystalline solar panels and thin-film solar panels:
- Monocrystalline silicon panels are made from a single crystal. They are the most efficient solar panels, but they're also the most expensive.
- Polycrystalline silicon solar cells are made from multiple silicon crystals melded together. They're not quite as high-efficiency as monocrystalline panels, but they're a more budget-friendly rooftop solar option.
- Thin-film solar cells are made from amorphous silicon, which makes them the most flexible solar panels but also the least efficient.
Why Are Solar Panels Made With Silicone?
With silicone being the predominant material used to create solar panels, the natural question to ask is: why? Silicone has been used as the semiconductor material of a solar PV panel for the majority of the solar industry's history.
When investigating all possible materials on the periodic table, developers of early and modern solar panels all found that silicone actually boasted a number of ideal properties that made it the perfect candidate as this semiconductor material:
- Silicone is abundantly available and affordable as an elemental material, making it good for large-scale systems.
- Chemically and electronically speaking, silicone is quite easy to optimize for the photovoltaic effect that efficiently converts sunlight into electricity.
- As a component material, silicone is recognized as having a long lifespan, making the investment in solar panels even more fruitful.
How Are Solar Panels Made?
Because of how many solar panels are needed to keep up with the growing global demand for new solar installations, the manufacturing process has become quite streamlined and standardized.
Solar manufacturers start by creating the silicon cells, a process that involves melting the silicone material down and mixing it with supportive elements. They then create sheets of material that can be cut and turned into the component cells. This part of the process typically entails mass production and laser cutting to expedite manufacturing. The finished cells are then protected with a layer of material such as glass or plastic.
Once the solar cells are created, they need to be connected together in the right size, shape and configuration. To do this, manufacturers solder them to the base of a solar panel, which is made of a conductive metal. The base houses the cells and also transfers the electricity they're generating to a single location, whether it's being sent into a building, into a local power grid or elsewhere.
At that point, all that's left is to connect the solar module to an outer polymer frame, which holds the panel and insulates the electrical components, covering everything with a protective layer of glass. Finally, manufacturers box the panels and send them out to installers.
Are Solar Panels Environmentally Friendly to Make?
While solar power is often held up as a beacon of clean energy in a world rapidly succumbing to climate change, detractors will point out that solar panel manufacturing has its own environmental considerations.
As solar panel technology has improved over the last several decades, the manufacturing process has continued to become less polluting, as shown in an academic study that found "strong downward trends of environmental impact" from solar panel production between 1975 and 2015.
That rate of improvement hasn't stalled in recent years, and identifying the most environmentally friendly materials and production processes remains a top priority of all major solar producers. Even further, end-of-life considerations for solar panels are being actively incorporated into the solar panel lifecycle, with manufacturers developing ways to recycle panels and their material components to further minimize their impact.
With that said, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The manufacturing of any product requires energy and resources, meaning the process inherently adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere — exactly what that renewable energy is seeking to minimize.
While it's true that solar panels have an environmental cost to their production, so too do the construction of power plants and wind turbines; the extraction and burning of fossil fuels; and any other method to create useful energy. But with solar panels having a lifetime of 25 years or more, that environmental impact is spread over a long period, while the actual electricity production requires zero fuel.
On a per-kilowatt-hour basis over the course of a solar panel's lifetime, the net impact is much lower than almost any other energy source, and that impact is getting even smaller with the continued improvement to technologies, supply chains and recycling programs.
Is Solar Energy Right for You?
As power companies seek to address climate change and eco-conscious energy consumers recognize the benefits of generating their own electricity, solar energy is becoming a much more common source of electricity.
After being merely a blip on the radar as recently as 2010, U.S. solar energy capacity has grown by 50 times in the past decade to reach nearly 76 gigawatts, generating enough energy to power 19 million average households.
Most people have observed this trend toward clean energy, seeing neighbors buy solar panels, coming across solar installations on top of a local business or even driving by a full-sized solar farm. But is solar a good choice for your home?
For many homeowners, the decision comes down to cost. You can get a free, no-obligation estimate from a top solar company in your area by filling out the 30-second form below.
Frequently Asked Questions: What Are Solar Panels Made Of?
What products are solar panels made of?
Solar panels are composed of numerous solar cells, a set of wiring to connect those solar cells to a conductive material base, a glass or plastic protective casing for both individual cells and the whole panel, and a frame used to house all of these components. The material components typically include silicone or another semiconductor material, metal, plastic or glass, and wiring apparatuses.
Is living near a solar farm dangerous?
Solar farms do not produce any emissions, noise, pollution or other outward hazards. They also won't impact the level of sunlight experienced by those living near them. The hazardous materials sometimes discussed regarding solar panels are safely contained within the panels themselves and are only a concern when determining how to dispose of or recycle those panels, so they pose no danger to those living nearby.
What toxic materials are in solar panels?
Some of the metal and chemical materials in a solar panel can be toxic and hazardous if exposed to people, including panels that may have cadmium telluride, arsenic, hexavalent chromium coatings, copper or selenium. In typical operation, though, these materials are securely contained and don't pose any direct risk.
What is the back of a solar panel made of?
The back of a solar panel, known as the backsheet, is made of a polymer or plastic combination. It provides insulation from the electrical components of the panel.
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It likely comes as no surprise that the world's best-selling electric vehicle manufacturer is also one of the top solar companies in the U.S. Tesla solar products like the Solar Roof and Powerwall have made a name for themselves in the renewable energy industry, and in this article, we'll dive into whether they're really worth the hype.
Read on to learn more about Tesla solar panels, the Tesla Solar Roof system and the Tesla Powerwall solar battery.
Overview of Tesla Solar
As noted, the Tesla enterprise has sought to become the first and foremost name in U.S. solar rooftop installations. These efforts started back in 2016 when Tesla acquired the company SolarCity. At the time, SolarCity was the leading residential solar installer in the country, and it just happened to be founded by cousins of Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
In the time since, numerous other solar manufacturers have made strong plays in the residential solar market, and some of those leaders, such as Sunrun and Vivint Solar, have jockeyed back and forth with Tesla for being the market leader. Rankings vary depending on the year, quarter or even month observed, though no single provider ends up providing more than 15% of the market share.
That inherent diversity in the market is a great opportunity for potential customers to shop for their best option and identify what specific offerings best align with their needs and budget. Unsurprisingly, Tesla solar comes in first place for many households. Specifically, the basic offerings that Tesla solar has become known for are:
- Tesla solar panels: Standard rectangular panels most people associate with solar installations
- Tesla Solar Roof: Rather than panels on top of the roof, these systems use solar shingles designed to cover the entire roof and look like the roof tiles themselves
- Tesla Powerwall: Rechargeable battery Tesla can install in conjunction with new solar systems or add to existing systems to maximize efficiency and effectiveness of home energy use
Tesla Standard Solar Panels
The most basic offering, and the one the majority of customers are envisioning when considering solar energy for their household, are standard Tesla solar panels. These work the same way as any rooftop solar panel, but the main features that set Tesla solar panels apart from competitors' products include:
- 24/7 monitoring: You can keep tabs on your panels at any time and from anywhere through a mobile monitoring app. The app tracks your panels' performance, efficiency and generation, as well as detects any issues with your system.
- Aesthetics: Tesla prioritizes the design of its rooftop panels in a way competitors don't, creating a sleek, blended, low-profile installation that brings direct curbside appeal.
- Streamlined pre-installation: As part of Tesla's solar panel installation process, homeowners send in photos of their equipment and system spaces rather than having a crew come out to inspect these areas. This helps bring total costs below the national average.
The exact nature of the installation chosen for your home will be customized based on your rooftop, power needs, geography, budget and more.
Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.
Here are a few specs to note regarding Tesla solar panels:
|Category||Tesla Solar Specs||Why it Matters|
|Wattage||42 5W||Most residential solar panels run around 250 W to 300 W. This means you will need to purchase fewer Tesla panels to produce a certain amount of power.|
|Operating Temperatures||-40°F to 185°F||These are the lowest and highest temperatures your Tesla solar panels will operate in. While it's not likely they will ever reach these extremes, most residential solar panels are rated to similar degrees.|
|Size||82.4" x 40.9" x 1.57" (including frame)||Most residential solar panels measure about 65 inches by 39 inches. Tesla's are longer, which allows you to purchase fewer modules.|
|Warranty||25 years||Tesla's performance warranty is about average for the industry.|
|Inverter||3.8 kW or 7.6 kW||The Tesla Solar Inverter is a key part of the home solar system, as it converts the panel's direct current (DC) power into usable alternating current (AC) power for in-home consumption. Tesla's inverters operate at 97.5% efficiency and come with a 12.5-year warranty.|
As you may be able to tell, Tesla's panels are some of the best solar panels on the market today. This leads to one question: How much do they cost?
How Much Do Tesla Solar Panels Cost?
While Tesla is known for high quality (which can often be quite pricey), the company actually advertises its solar panel systems as the "Lowest-Cost Solar Panels in America." Is that a fair claim to make?
Kind of. The cost of solar panels depends on a number of factors, including the size of your system, installation complexities, available local tax incentives and more. Given all of these considerations, though, Tesla seeks to ensure it can truly follow through on the "lowest cost" claim via its price-match guarantee. Through this program, homeowners can present a recent quote (within 14 days of order) from a competitor for a similar system, and Tesla will match the price.
In general, the average Tesla solar system of about 8.2 kW will cost a home $11,840 (after accounting for the federal solar tax credit), while an extra-large system of 16.3 kW will cost $22,200. Tesla estimates that most homeowners recoup that investment in six to eight years.
If you want to see how much a Tesla solar panel system would cost for your home, you can use the company's design feature. And to get a free quote to compare from a top installer in your area, you can fill out the form below.
Tesla Solar Roof
Moving beyond the conventional solar panels that are associated with household solar power, Tesla has made waves with its offering of the Tesla Solar Roof. The difference in this system is that rather than large-scale panels installed on top of roof tiles, Tesla uses solar shingles that integrate with the look of your existing roof while generating energy to power your home.
This new way of thinking about residential rooftop installations isn't just a gimmick. The Tesla Solar Roof brings with it a host of benefits that makes it more appealing than standard solar panels:
- The solar shingles are three times more durable than standard panels, meaning the risk of damage from hail, storms or other environmental factors is minimized.
- By covering the entire rooftop, even more clean solar energy can be generated for the home.
- The aesthetic appeal of the solar rooftop is undeniable, as no panels appear outside of the existing design of the roof. Rather, the Solar Roof is a part of the building aesthetic. Note that Tesla used to offer different styles of solar roof tiles, but today it only offers black-on-black tiles.
Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.
That said, the decision to go for a full solar roof over standard solar panels is not an obvious choice for all households. These installations bring with them a number of downsides that may turn customers away:
- Solar shingles are more expensive to create on a per-watt basis, and they usually have a greater total coverage area. This makes the initial investment notably more expensive and out of reach for many customers.
- While a storm is more likely to damage a standard solar panel than a solar shingle, if a storm is severe enough that it is able to cause Solar Roof damage, repair costs will be higher than they would be for other types of solar panel repairs.
- Solar panels can be readily installed and then removed later on for any reason a homeowner may choose, but the solar roof is a more permanent decision.
While customers may have an untold number of solar panel providers to choose from when going the traditional route, Tesla is among the only companies offering solar shingles today.
How Much Does a Tesla Solar Roof Cost?
Given that the main drawback of a Tesla Solar Roof is the significant investment it will require, even more so than traditional solar panels, curious homeowners will naturally ask: Exactly how much more do they cost?
We used Tesla's website to design theoretical systems in Florida and received the following outputs:
|City in Florida||Square Footage of Home||Average Monthly Power Bill||System Size||System Cost Estimate*||Powerwall Cost||Cost of System Per Watt|
|Daytona Beach||2,000||$125||10.88 kW||$63,460||$10,500||$5.83|
|Fort Lauderdale||3,000||$225||19.59 kW||$93,772||$17,000||$4.79|
*System estimates include installation and Powerwall costs but do not reflect federal and local tax credits. All data sourced from tesla.com/energy/design.
These costs, of course, are simply example quotes, and prices will vary based on location, energy needs, local incentives and more. For example, the Solar Energy Industries Association notes that the average cost per watt for a fully installed system in 2020 was $2.96 (before tax credits). All told, the solar roof is significantly more expensive than the traditional solar panel route.
The ideal customer who will want to consider a Tesla Solar Roof either a) doesn't consider money to be an object, or b) is already considering a rooftop replacement and wants to lump in this upgrade (though installing a solar roof amid a roof replacement will add $10,000 to $70,000 to the solar roof installation costs, according to Tesla's online cost calculators).
The last Tesla solar product that homeowners may be considering is the Tesla Powerwall, which is one of the best solar batteries on the market. By adding a battery to your home solar system, you can use solar energy even when the sun isn't shining (like at night or on cloudy days), have power stored up in case of a utility outage, and even sell the excess energy back to the grid when energy costs are greatest.
Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.
When considering Tesla solar energy storage for a new or existing solar system, customers will come across both the Tesla Powerwall and the Tesla Powerwall+. The Powerwall+ comes with additional benefits (at an additional cost, of course). Key differences between these two options include the following:
|Category||Tesla Powerwall||Tesla Powerwall+|
|Energy Capacity||13.5 kWh||13.5 kWh|
|On-Grid Power||5.8 kW continuous||7.6 kW / 5.6 kW continuous|
|Backup Power||10 kW peak||9.6 kW / 7 kW continuous
22 kW / 10 kW peak
|Size||45.3" x 29.6" x 5.75"
|62.8" x 29.7" x 6.3"
|Warranty||10 years||10 years|
All customers who install a Tesla Solar system, whether standard solar panels or a Solar Roof, are required to purchase a Powerwall (or Powerwall+) to ensure the highest efficiency and effectiveness of their system. The Powerwall and Powerwall+ are also available for purchase alone to pair with an existing non-Tesla solar installation, though the homeowner will still need to utilize a Tesla-certified installer.
How Much Does a Tesla Powerwall Cost?
Once again, cost will be a major question and consideration for potential Powerwall owners. The main factor that will determine how much your Tesla solar battery setup will cost is how many Powerwalls you actually need based on the size of your panel system.
While every system will differ, each installation type will be unique and your mileage may vary, we reached out to Tesla to ask about general cost estimates and found the right rule of thumb to consider is:
- One Powerwall: $10,500
- Two Powerwalls: $17,000 (i.e., price drops to $8,500 each when buying two at a time)
Why Should a Home Go Solar?
Given the extensive costs and considerations pertaining to Tesla solar, is solar energy even worth it for your home? The upfront costs of these systems are a serious hurdle for many homeowners, but if you have the capital available, there are numerous reasons to consider going solar:
- With the climate crisis worsening, installing solar on your home is a direct way for you to reduce your home's carbon footprint and potentially even start a trend of neighbors adopting clean energy after seeing you do so.
- Monthly power bills can be high and volatile, so the more energy you can generate self-sufficiently for your home, the less you'll pay in utility bills.
- In many areas, the owners of a solar system can sell their excess energy back to the utility company, which can give you a greater return on your solar system investment.
- Rooftop solar combined with energy storage is a great way to reduce how likely your home is to be impacted by power outages.
- Installing solar panels ups the market value of your home, and with a sleek Tesla solar system, they can also make a home more aesthetically appealing.
While the high costs to install may be frustrating, it's important that potential customers research or talk to experts about available tax incentives that come from federal, state and local governments. These incentives come as credits, rebates, low-interest loans and other tools to help make solar power accessible to more homes.
FAQ: Tesla Solar
How much does Tesla solar cost?
A Tesla solar system (including equipment and installation) can vary in cost from $11,840 for 8.2 kW of standard solar panels to $22,200 for 16.3 kW (both after tax incentives). A Tesla Solar Roof will have a higher price tag, typically in the ballpark of $30,000 to $90,000. A Tesla Powerwall will be about $8,500 to $10,500 per 13.5 kWh battery. These costs represent a wide range of system sizes, local geographies, available tax incentives and more.
Why is Tesla solar so cheap?
Tesla is able to mass-produce its equipment, use economies of scale and streamline the installation process by recruiting homeowners themselves to contribute to the evaluation of their homes. These are some of the factors that allow Tesla to offer a price-match guarantee, ensuring the company offers the cheapest solar panels in the U.S.
How effective are Tesla solar panels?
Once installed, Tesla solar panels are highly efficient and effective, which has kept them as one of the most popular solar installers in America and able to offer customers payback periods of just a handful of years.
Does Tesla solar include installation?
When you buy solar panels, depending on your location, Tesla will either send its own installers or contract workers from another local installation company to set up your system.
Should I buy a home solar system?
The concept of going solar is fairly straightforward: by installing solar panels or shingles on the area of your roof that gets the most direct sunlight, power is generated for use in your home, offsetting the need for you to purchase that power from your utility company. Doing so will help you save money each month and ensure the energy used within your home is carbon-free. Other advantages include the ability to generate power even during local utility outages and directly increasing the resale value of your home.
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Solar power has been an energy source of growing importance in recent years, as technology has advanced and the cost of solar panels has declined sharply. As a result, many smaller sun-powered products have become available, from solar phone chargers to solar generators to outdoor solar lights.
Whether you're looking for ground lights or flood lights, illuminating your outdoor spaces with a wired system can be both an electrical challenge and an eyesore. Convenience, sleekness and sustainability are just a few reasons so many people are looking for the best outdoor solar lights.
In this article, we'll go over how solar lights work, show you some of the best solar lights available and help you decide whether solar-powered lighting is a good choice for your home.
6 Best Outdoor Solar Lights
The below table provides a quick summary of our recommendations for the best outdoor solar lights across six unique categories. We chose these products based on criteria including durability, ease of installation, ease of use, run time, cost and more.
|Best Outdoor Solar Lights||Our Award||Buy Now|
|Solpex Solar Ground Lights||Best Overall||Check Price|
|Brightech Ambience Pro||Best String Lights||Check Price|
|Beau Jardin Solar Pathway Lights||Best Path Lights||Check Price|
|AmeriTop Motion-Sensor Lights||Best Flood Light||Check Price|
|Brightown Solar-Powered Fairy Lights||Best Fairy Lights||Check Price|
|Sunnest Stainless Steel Outdoor Solar Lights||Best Lights Under $20||Check Price|
To dig into the advantages and disadvantages of each of these models specifically, keep reading.
Best Overall: Solpex Solar Ground Lights
Solpex's outdoor in-ground solar lights provide bright illumination without getting in the way or even really being noticeable until they're turned on. The high-quality system is designed to be exceedingly easy to install, is extremely durable in material and operates with ease, turning on automatically and running from dusk to dawn. Solpex's bright LED bulbs are perfect for providing your yard with guiding light year-round.
- Easy to install
- Weather-resistant and durable
- Efficient and effective
- More expensive than some competitors' models
- In-ground lights need more maintenance to keep clean and clear
Why Buy: If you're looking for an in-ground solar garden light that will truly wow your guests when they turn on, the Solpex Solar Ground Lights could be your best pick.
Best String Lights: Brightech Ambience Pro
String lights can be the perfect mood-setter, and using the Brightech Ambience Pro solar powered string lights ensures that you brighten your space reliably and efficiently. With a thorough two-year warranty and extensive weatherproofing and shatterproofing, these lights will hold up through most weather conditions while still appearing delicate enough for any setting — romantic, celebratory, relaxed or otherwise.
- Long lifetime
- Flexibility in installation and design thanks to clip-on bulbs
- Decorative cozy feel
- May not provide enough light for safety or security applications
- Heavier than non-solar string lights
Why Buy: To fill your outdoor space with a warm ambiance, Brightech's solar-powered outdoor string lights are a great option. The Edison bulbs give off a vintage feel that your guests are sure to appreciate.
Best Path Lights: Beau Jardin Solar Pathway Lights
To dot a pathway, garden or outdoor patio, using solar outdoor lighting eliminates the need for fragile and cumbersome wiring, and the Beau Jardin Solar Pathway Lights are some of the best ones out there at an affordable price. These solar path lights take seconds to install — simply use the spike to insert them directly into the ground — and are built to last for years.
- Easy installation
- Great value for money
- Extensive battery life
- Stylish appearance
- Made of plastic, so not as durable as more robust materials
- Provide accent lighting rather than full illumination that may be needed for some pathways
Why Buy: The Beau Jardin Solar Pathway Lights are the best outdoor solar lights if you're looking for affordability and quick installation. They're ideal for accent lighting during the darker hours, and buying multiple packs can allow you to light up a wider area.
Best Flood Light: AmeriTop Motion-Sensor Lights
Floodlights are critical for outdoor security, but if the lights burn out or aren't illuminating enough, then they can't do their job. That's why solar floodlights, and specifically the AmeriTop Motion-Sensor Lights, get high marks from us. They provide a wide angle of light to illuminate an expansive area brightly, and they do so using motion sensors in durable, waterproof fixtures.
- Wide angle is great for security
- Built-in motion sensor requires no additional power
- Highly durable, weatherproof design
- Designed for function rather than decoration, so they may not fit into your outdoor style
- Doesn't provide constant light (only on a motion sensor basis) so may not work for steady light applications
Why Buy: Floodlights can be critical for outdoor safety, and the AmeriTop Motion-Sensor Lights accomplish that efficiently with solar energy and built-in motion detection. We recommend them as the best outdoor lights to illuminate your entire yard for safety.
Best Fairy Lights: Brightown Solar-Powered Fairy Lights
Fairy lights provide the perfect touch of style and design to an outdoor area, and moving to solar lights eliminates the frustrating constraints of having to plug them in. We recommend the Brightown Solar-Powered Fairy Lights because of their quick charging, flexible design and warm light that's perfect to decorate for holidays, barbecues, parties, weddings and more. They also have eight light modes that range from slow fades to steady twinkling.
- Easy to shape into different designs
- Multiple lighting modes and patterns for customizability
- Great price
- More delicate in construction
- May not hold up as well in heavy snow or flooding
Why Buy: Solar-powered fairy lights are the perfect decorative addition to a yard or patio, and the flexibility the Brightown Solar-Powered Fairy Lights offer in design and operation can't be beaten for the price.
Best Lights Under $20: Sunnest Stainless Steel Outdoor Solar Lights
The best solar-powered outdoor lights don't have to break the bank. Sunnest's stainless steel landscape lights come in a pack of 12 for under $20 yet still deliver great functionality, appearance and ease of use. They can be installed to illuminate pathways, gardens or other outdoor areas.
- Attractive in design with cool white lights
- Ready to install in seconds
- Cheaper price means less durable over the long term when up against the elements
- Provides accent levels of lighting rather than full illumination
Why Buy: If you want to dip your toes into the solar outdoor light area without investing a lot of money right away, the Sunnest Stainless Steel Outdoor Solar Lights are your best bet to enjoy that initial experience and get hooked into more solar light solutions.
How Do Outdoor Solar Lights Work?
When choosing the best outdoor solar lights for your yard, it may be helpful to understand how these solar panels work.
You may have seen traditional solar panel installations on the rooftops of homes around you, businesses at which you shop or even installed in large outdoor solar farms owned by utilities. What's particularly intriguing about solar lights is that the technology used is more or less the same as these large-scale panels that are powering entire buildings.
Regardless of the size of a solar panel, it contains solar cells, which are made up of unique semiconductor materials like silicon. When sunlight strikes the cell, some of that energy is absorbed by the material via electrons being knocked loose and being able to flow freely (otherwise known as electricity!).
While standard types of solar panels may contain 36 to 48 solar cells connected together, solar lights are smaller in size and require much less electricity to run (particularly when paired with energy-efficient LED lights). The typical solar light will therefore use just four solar cells, but that's really the only difference from a solar technology basis.
The rest of the solar light comprises a battery, controller board, photoresistor and the light itself. During the sunny daytime hours, the four-cell solar panel will charge up the battery, typically receiving more than enough juice to run for the entire night.
The photoresistor's job is then to detect when light is no longer hitting the solar panel, at which point two things will happen: 1) the battery will stop getting charged, and 2) the controller board will tell the light to turn on. In that way, the solar light is always either charging or illuminating.
When morning strikes and the sun hits the photoresistor once again, the controller board will send a message to turn off the light, and the battery will begin accepting its daytime charge.
Types of Outdoor Solar Lights
Outdoor solar lights are a broad category, filling lots of niche needs and popping up in new opportune areas as the technology continues to improve. Because of their low installation threshold, falling prices and efficiency, solar outdoor lighting solutions can be ideal for countless scenarios, including (but not limited to) the following:
- Ground lights
- Path lights
- Landscape lights
- Motion or security lights
- Fairy lights
- String lights
- Hanging lights
- Post lights
Homeowners deciding which style of outdoor solar light they want to install should consider all the same factors as they would with traditional lighting technologies: What areas do they need to be illuminated for safety? What fits into the aesthetic of the outdoor area? What security needs can lights fill?
The advantage is that homeowners wise enough to go the route of solar lights will have fewer headaches with installation, will have their lighting last for a longer period of time before it needs to be replaced and can easily change their minds on lighting locations because no wiring is needed.
How Much Do the Best Outdoor Solar Lights Cost?
You may be sold on the technology and ease of outdoor solar lights, but how much will it set you back to purchase the best option out there? As with any advancing technology, the answer to that question can vary significantly depending on the choices you make. The answers to these questions, for example, will all have a material impact on price:
- How bright (i.e., how many lumens) do you need the lights to be?
- How efficient do you want the lights to be?
- How durable do you need the lights to be?
- How top-of-the-line do you want the materials and decorative nature to be?
For the bulk of the outdoor solar light market, regardless of your answers, each light system will typically cost between $20 and $50. If you really want to go with a high-tech system (which could mean higher-capacity batteries, more intelligent functionality, intricate customizations and more), it could end up costing over $200.
The best approach is to analyze your specific needs and then purchase accordingly.
Choosing the Best Outdoor Solar Lights for Your Home
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, outdoor solar lighting works quite well in most areas of the U.S., as it doesn't require an excessive amount of sunlight to charge up and work. This means that even on cloudy days or during winter, you'll still be able to light your way. Solar light adopters aren't only helping the environment, but they're also saving money via reduced energy consumption.
If you're ready to make the switch, identifying the best solar lights for your specific home and need is no small task. When picking the best outdoor solar nights for your need, some characteristics you're going to have to make decisions on include:
- Design, style and aesthetics
- Size of fixture
- Ease of use and control after installation (remote-controlled, connected to in-home smart device, manually controlled, etc.)
- Durability to weather and general wear and tear
- Expected lifetime before replacements are needed
- Overall system cost
FAQ: Best Outdoor Solar Lights
What are the brightest outdoor solar lights?
If you want the brightest outdoor solar lights, you'll want to look at floodlights or spotlights. These often have a higher lumen count and can light spaces better than string or ground lights. Our pick for the best solar-powered floodlight is the AmeriTop Motion-Sensor Light.
What is the best outdoor solar lighting?
We named the Solpex Solar Ground Lights the best overall choice for outdoor solar lighting. These lights are easy to install, ultra-efficient and hold up well in the elements.
What should I look for in outdoor solar lights?
When choosing the best outdoor solar lights for your home, consider factors such as design, brightness, durability and cost.
Do outdoor solar lights really work?
Yes, outdoor solar lights work just as well as traditional outdoor lights. According to the DOE, solar-powered outdoor lights work well in most areas of the U.S. because they don't require much sunlight. This means that even if you live somewhere with more gray days than sunny ones, you can still harness the sun's power to light your outdoor space.
Solar energy has been among the fastest-growing sources of power generation in the U.S. in recent years, catapulting from 1.2 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of generation in 2010 to over 90.1 billion kWh in 2020. While that's still just a small slice of the overall energy mix (2% of all U.S. electricity in 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration), the rate of growth is accelerating. The EIA forecasts that by 2022, solar capacity installations will outpace wind capacity installations for the first time on record after wind turbines had a huge head start.
The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic downturn of 2020 led to equipment shortages and other hardships for the solar industry. However, forecasts show the industry is primed for a resurgence in 2021 and beyond. In the first quarter of 2021 alone, solar installations are ramping up at a record pace and experienced a 46% year-over-year increase compared with the first quarter of 2020.
As 2021 continues to look like a prime year for solar power in the United States, which states are leading the charge? We can look to the recently released U.S. Solar Market Insight Report® from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) for some answers.
Top 10 States for Solar Energy
The Solar Market Insight Report included a ranking of the top states across the country based on the total amount of solar electric capacity installed and in operation as of the end of the first quarter of 2021. To put it into context, SEIA figures also include the equivalent number of homes that can be powered by that solar capacity in the individual state.
Here are the current leaders for solar power in the U.S.:
|State||Cumulative Solar Capacity (Megawatts)||Equivalent Number of Homes Supplied by Solar Energy|
On this leaderboard, some states show up that would be expected — California has long been the solar king, and they don't call Florida the Sunshine State for nothing — while other states represent surprising emerging solar hotbeds. For example, you may be surprised to see some smaller, northeastern states like Massachusetts and New Jersey beating out the field. But these results go to show it's not just about land space and the natural sunshine; the policies and economics driving these installations are just as impactful.
2021 Top States for New Solar Installation
With the solar market really exploding in recent years, traditional solar stalwarts like Arizona and Nevada are being actively challenged by some emerging contenders.
Specifically looking at where solar installations were most active during the first quarter of 2021, the SEIA report finds the following were the top states for solar installations from January through March:
On top, Texas added 1,525 megawatts (MW) of capacity, which is equivalent to 45% of the capacity installed in the state during all of 2020 and represents 16% of the state's cumulative capacity to date. California added 563 MW of capacity, equivalent to 14% of the capacity installed in 2020 and 2% of the state's cumulative capacity. Florida added 525 MW of capacity, which is 19% of the capacity installed during 2020 and 7% of the state's total capacity.
Compare the above list with the top 5 states for solar installations for all of 2020:
- North Carolina
A few compelling trends become evident when looking at the above numbers. First, it's never too late to become a solar leader. While Florida is in the top five of cumulative capacity today, and given its sunny reputation that result may not seem surprising, the truth is that 47% of that capacity has been added since the beginning of 2020. In just over a years' time, Florida nearly doubled its total solar capacity.
Another important trend to recognize is that geography alone doesn't decide whether a state will be a solar leader. Mid-Atlantic states like Virginia and North Carolina or Midwestern states like Indiana wouldn't necessarily be the first most would guess as being solar powerhouses, but thanks to policies like North Carolina's generous Solar Property Tax Exemption, Virginia's allowance for net metering and Indiana's solar easement laws, residents of these states are enjoying solar power on their homes in record numbers.
Where Does Your State Rank for New Solar Installation?
So, are you living in a state that's leading the way on solar or one that has some ground to make up? Factors to consider when looking at why some states are making more progress than others will include the types of policies in place, the availability of rooftops on which solar can be installed, the appetite for new energy generation and even the state's seasonal solar irradiance.
Taking all of those factors into account, here's where each state stands in SEIA's recently published rankings:
Here's how each state's Q1 2021 ranking compares to how it ranked for total solar installations in 2020:
for Q1 2021
for Total 2020
|Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories||25||33|
Seeing some states jump up or down the list from one year to the next may seem drastic, but keep in mind that certain tax incentives expire, new policies come into play and other market forces affect local solar industries. That reality underscores the point that being a solar-leading state takes continued commitment, and doing so can happen at any point state leaders decide to truly embrace the solar industry.
The Future of Residential Solar
As the Solar Market Insight Report indicates, solar energy is a hot and growing market. To date, though, solar still only provides a fraction of the total energy generated in the U.S. While some customers, buildings and regions see much higher penetration of solar into their power mix on a micro level, there's much improvement still on the way, especially as dirtier energy sources like coal continue to retire.
The recent SEIA report shows that it's a constant push and pull as well, as residential solar installations in the second quarter of 2021 were down 8% from the fourth quarter of 2020 but up 11% from the first quarter of 2020. The fact remains, though, that residential solar had its largest first quarter on record and its second-largest quarter of all at the beginning of 2021. These results signal a growing solar market, especially in states like Florida, Arizona and Texas.
Additionally, customer appetite for residential solar is as strong as ever: 19% year-over-year growth is expected to get the residential market to a total of 3.8 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity by the end of 2021, a sum that would have been unthinkable just 10 years ago. Indeed, the future remains bright for residential solar.
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