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What are the Pros and Cons of Rooftop Solar in Illinois?

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Table of Contents

Introduction

Illinois is a growing solar market, with growth being heavily driven by the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) legislation, which requires 25% of all electricity to come from renewable resources by 2025. This article will look at some of the common arguments against going solar and the arguments for going solar.

Con #1: The upfront cost

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for most potential solar clients is the cost. While many different programs will significantly improve your investment return (more on those later), these will mainly be in the form of tax credits and production credits that won’t be realized until the next tax year or once the system starts producing electricity the earliest.

There is some good news here: Solar is cheap (and getting cheaper)! The average price in Illinois fell 45% between 2015 and 2020. Today, a homeowner in Illinois can expect to pay between $2.63 to $3.55 per Watt installed. For a typical 5 kW system, this means the homeowner’s out of pocket costs could be up to $17,750.

Even with incentives that help create a fantastic ROI on this investment, the upfront costs are certainly not negligible and will be a blocker for some.

Con #2: Location, location, location

Even if the upfront cost is not a deal-breaker for you, your investment could be doomed if you do not have a suitable location.

Yes – Arizona is likely going to see more sunshine than your home in Illinois. However, that does not mean that only the sunniest states make sense. Over the last decade, the progress on solar technology and financial incentives has brought residential solar to the mainstream all across the country.

The amount of sunshine in a northern state like Illinois will reduce the ROI; there’s no avoiding that part. However, this does not render the ROI unviable, just lower than a place like Arizona.

Con #3: Your roof conditions

The amount of sunshine that your area typically sees is an excellent indicator of overall solar potential. However, even within the same city block, there are nuances from building-to-building that can drastically change the situation. Two prime examples of this are the orientation of your roof and any shading that might occur.

Orientation

Up here in the northern hemisphere, the sun is always to the south of us. It rises in the southeast and sets in the southwest. This means that your roof should ideally have substantial southern exposure. Therefore, homes that run on an east-west axis are best. If your home runs on a north-south axis, you aren’t necessarily a bad candidate. However, your provider may need to get a bit more creative when installing your panels to maximize the southern exposure!

Shading & Snow

Even with a strong southern exposure, your panels will not perform to their maximum potential if they are being shaded. One key con to consider is the fact that you may not have control over all of the shading sources – a towering tree on your neighbor’s side of the property line, for example.

Snow cover will also reduce your electricity production. This means that you might need to get up on the roof during less-than-ideal winter conditions and clean them off. For some people, this can be a deal-breaker, especially those with reduced mobility.

The condition of your roof

Another con for some would-be solar converts is overall roof condition and potentially needing replacement to accommodate solar panels. After all, as solar panels are typically good to last for 20, 25, or even 30 years, you do not want to install them on a roof with only five years of life left in it!

This doesn’t mean that your roof needs to have more lifespan left than the panels; it just means that there will be added labor costs to remove and re-install the panels should you need to replace your roof during the panel lifetime. This should be factored into your overall evaluation.

Pro #1: Green, renewable, electricity

Solar energy is one of the only sources of truly renewable energy – a fuel that cannot run out. It is also an extremely clean energy source: Solar PV emits 90% fewer greenhouse gases than electricity from natural gas. 

By choosing to cover your energy needs with rooftop solar PV, you choose clean, renewable electricity for the long run. That’s a win for everyone.

Pro #2: You will save a lot of money in the long run

While the upfront costs can be a blocker for some, those that can accommodate it stand to make a strong return on their investment.

One of the common evaluation metrics is your system’s payback period, which is around 8 years in the US, with regions of Illinois approaching 10 years.

At first glance, waiting up to 10 years to reach payback doesn’t feel like an excellent investment! However, two additional points to consider here: First, the alternative to rooftop solar (buying 100% of your electricity from your local retailer) will never breakeven! Second, rooftop solar systems can last upwards of 30 years. This means that a homeowner with a 10 year payback period would still see 20 years of “free” electricity. This is a fantastic return on investment!

Yes, there is an upfront cost. However, this cost is significantly reduced through the incentives available in Illinois. Incentives, coupled with the long life of your panels, will see you coming out miles ahead of the status quo!

Pro #4: Multiple applications

Another aspect to consider is rooftop solar’s ability to provide energy for more than just your lights and device charging since electricity can be applied to many different use cases.

Academics like to call it “sector coupling,” which means being able to use one type of energy (e.g., electricity) for more than just electricity needs (such as heating or transportation).

In this sense, rooftop solar is extremely flexible. Coupled with a heat pump, rooftop solar panels can be used to supply the heating and cooling for your home. Or, if you have an electric car, the panels could be used to keep it charged.

Your rooftop solar can be used in a variety of applications and will only become more applicable with advancements in smart home technologies.

The Takeaway

Rooftop solar is growing rapidly all across the country. There are many different incentives and production credits that allow homeowners to offset the upfront cost of their systems, which produces an exceptional ROI over the lifetime of the panels. It’s clear; the pros drastically outweigh the cons when it comes to going solar.

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