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Should Your Company Start Using Solar?


Do you run a company that's in a region of the country that gets plenty of sunlight? Solar energy is a popular topic, and a compelling option to reduce your company's carbon footprint by reducing your reliance on the energy that is generated by burning fossil fuels. Let's take a closer look at the pros and cons of transitioning to solar energy for your company, and if it’s an investment that can help you become a more sustainable business.

Pro — Playing the Long Game

Depending on your system, and the amount of sun your area receives during the year, you might see returns immediately on your investment — or it might take a few years for the solar panels to pay for themselves. Installing solar panels isn't a short-term game. The goal is to eventually make your company independent of the traditional energy companies or at least reduce your reliance on them. A well-installed system can pay for itself in less than ten years and provide you power for decades to come. Play the long game here, and you will end up well-rewarded by it.

Con — An Expensive Proposition

Installing solar panels isn't a cheap option. Even if the system pays for itself over time, the initial investment can be upwards of $130,000 to $200,000, which is a hefty expense, especially for a small business. Sure, for Fortune 500 companies, 200 grand is pocket change. However, that could make solar seem out of reach for small businesses.

However, the future may be brighter than we think. Elon Musk has claimed that his plans for solar roofing will be cheaper than even a traditional roof. Musk has a history of exaggerating, but if he’s right on this, it could be a game-changer.  

Pro — Different Types of Solar Panels

Typically, the large black solar panels that you see on homes and businesses around the country are photovoltaic, or PV solar panels. They are effective, but they aren't as efficient as some of the other options, and they can be heavy and difficult to install. If your business is under an older roof, you might have to opt for a ground-based system. There are other options, though, that you might consider.

Crystalline solar panels are lightweight, as they are manufactured from silicon wafers sandwiched between two layers of glass. These panels don't require the same sort of heavyweight hardware that PV panels do, and can get attached directly to a flat or metal roof with clamps or bracing.

Pro — There Is Help Available

If you don't have $200,000 to spend on a solar system, that doesn't mean that you can't invest in solar to help power your business. There are options available depending on your state, including leasing options, installation and tax rebates provided by the federal government as an incentive to become more energy efficient, and even small business loans. If solar is the next step for your business, there are options even if you don't have the initial investment money.

Con — Not a Good Option Everywhere

While solar is a good option in many parts of the country, it isn't everywhere, simply because the site might not get enough good sunlight hours. Simply plug your address into Google Sunroof if you're unsure if your site is a good location for a solar array. This tool uses Google Maps and satellite imagery to determine how much good sunlight a building gets, how many square feet of solar panels you might need and an estimate of the initial cost to install.

Pro — Saving Money

One of the biggest reasons for installing solar panels is the fact that they help you save money on your energy bills. The average business can offset more than 75 percent of their electricity use by switching to solar, leading to an average monthly savings of more than $1,400. Depending on the size of your solar system, you could save more or less than this. But on average, you can expect to offset at least half of your monthly energy cost, even up to three-quarters of that cost, simply by switching to solar.

Save Money Long-Term

If you live in an area that gets plenty of good sunlight, and you don't mind the relatively high initial investment, switching to solar is a great option. It will save you money in the long run, reduce your company's carbon footprint and could even attract more eco-minded customers to your doors. All in all, there are more pros than cons to installing solar panels on your business, and if enough businesses do it, we may finally reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Scott Huntington is a freelance writer based in Burlington, Vermont.

Read more stories by Scott Huntington