Solar vs. Traditional Energy in Homes

Ryan Gaertner
November 9, 2015

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2015


Fig. 1: Example of a house with solar paneling. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

For years, people in the United States have used traditional energy sources to power their households. Most energy for homes comes from traditional sources such as coal and gas, while green energy technology includes solar and wind as well as other power- generation methods for which it is not required to burn fuels to actually produce. [1] About 10 years ago, almost 50% of the electricity in the United States was generated from coal-fired power plants, while about 25% was powered by natural gas. In addition, nuclear power generated almost 20% of the country's electricity. However, since then green energy sources have become more popular among households due to not only the pitfalls of traditional energy but also the advantages that solar energy provides. [1]

Cons of Traditional Energy

There are 4 main reasons why using traditional energy sources is worse for your household:

  1. Fossil fuels have to be located, extracted, and transported prior to use. Not only are these processes invasive but they destroy the ground at the location of excavation. Side effects arise such as erosion and geological instability. Once the fossil fuel is excavated, the well is depleted and it cannot be reused whereas energy from the sun is infinite as well as free for everyone. [2]

  2. In order to produce electricity, fossil fuels must go through a process of being burned. As a result, unwanted byproducts of this burning are released into the air in the form of pollution. Greenhouse gases and water pollution are in this list of byproducts.

  3. The cost savings you could potentially make by purchasing solar over traditional: The direct cost of traditional energy is not devastating. However, if you buy a system and pay it back with electricity savings or you pay a lower, fixed rate for power with solar, you will eventually get to the point after a few years where your solar panels basically pay for themselves. [2]

  4. Fossil fuels can be depleted and they are hard to find. The uncertainty surrounding their economic use can cause disagreements that lead to labor strikes, drastic price changes, and sometimes even war (war over oil). On the other hand, solar comes from the sun and is available anywhere that there is sunlight, which will be the case for another 5 billion years.

Pros of Solar Energy

There are 10 essential pros to why solar power is more practical for households than traditional fossil fuel energy:

  1. Solar energy is renewable, meaning that no matter what we cannot run out of solar energy as long as the sun is alive. And according to NASA, the sun will be around for another 6.5 billion years.

  2. Solar energy is incredibly abundant. Its potential is beyond what we can imagine.

  3. Due to the fact that it is abundant and renewable, solar is also sustainable. Being sustainable, solar simultaneously meets the needs of the present while not compromising the needs of the future. We can't possibly over consume solar. [1]

  4. It is environmentally friendly because it does not cause pollution. Even though there are certain emissions associated with the manufacturing, transportation, and installation of the panels, these emissions are virtually nothing compared to traditional energy sources.

  5. It is available everywhere and in any country you could imagine, especially countries that are closest to the Equator.

  6. There are significant costs reduced by the use of solar. Currently, most homeowners decide to lease or power purchase agreements that will finance their solar panels. In turn, this reduces or completely eliminates upfront costs of a solar panel system, allowing homeowners to begin saving money from the first day of purchase.

  7. There are many applications associated with solar energy. Three examples include the ability to generate electricity in locations that lack a grid connection, distill water in Africa, or to even power satellites in space. Due to new technology of thin-film solar cells, solar power can be built into the actual material of buildings.

  8. Sharing the ability to use solar energy is possible for everyone. Even though 1/5 of homes are unable to equip solar panels due to shading and space issues, these homeowners can subscribe to what are called "community solar gardens". This allows people to generate solar power even if they don't have solar panels on their own house.

  9. Solar energy is not noisy. There are no parts that create a sound in almost all applications of solar power. Compared to other environmentally friendly alternatives such as wind turbines, solar is favorable because of this silence. [1]

  10. Solar power requires little to no maintenance. For example, household solar panels typically require only a few cleanings a year with a 20 to 25 year warranty on the solar panels.


Even though traditional energy sources have been popular and abundant for many years, the certainty of supply of fossil fuels going forward as well as the pollution associated with them raise many concerns surrounding conventional energy. On the other hand, solar energy is on the rise in households in the U.S. and around the world, and going forward into the future it serves as the better alternative to generate power in our homes.

© Ryan Gaertner. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] C. H. Reichel, "Solar Power for Your Home: A Consumer's Guide," Lousiana State University AgCenter, Publication 3366, March 2015.

[2] M. A. Delucchi and M. Z. Jacobson, "Providing All Global Energy with Wind, Water, and Solar Power, Part I: Technologies, Energy Resources, Quantities and Areas of Infrastructure, and Materials," Energy Policy 39, 1170 (2011).