With the general hubbub and buzz surrounding solar energy, it has become increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction.
Solar energy has seen some fantastic improvements over the last few decades, but is it really at the point where it can replace conventional power sources? To help demystify the air, here are the advantages and disadvantages of solar energy.
- Solar energy brings a host of economic and environmental advantages, including:
- no electricity bills
- clean, sustainable, and renewable energy
- available to people who don’t have access to the grid
- Some disadvantages include: a high capital outlay
- hazardous chemicals in the components
Solar energy is a step in the right direction regarding renewable energy sources; however, what other advantages and disadvantages are there to solar energy? Does the one outweigh the other, and is solar energy worth it?
What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Solar Energy?
Solar energy has a range of advantages as well as disadvantages, both in terms of cost, as well as environmental impacts. To decide if solar energy is worth it, we must look at these characteristics and make an informed, fact-based decision.
Most people agree that we need to change our energy sources from traditional fossil fuels to more sustainable and preferably renewable sources.
In moving towards a “greener” (more environmentally friendly) future, developments in renewable energies like wind, hydro, and solar power are at the forefront.
Of these renewable sources, solar energy has become increasingly popular, especially at the household level.
Solar energy is convenient, requires relatively little space, and as technology’s improved, it is slowly becoming more viable for the everyday household to convert to solar.
What solar energy is not, however, is fully realized as an alternative energy source. There are still many disadvantages to solar power that need to be improved before it (and other renewable energies) can replace our current fossil fuel dependence.
Below, some of the advantages and disadvantages of using solar energy are discussed to better understand the overall picture of solar-powered energy.
What Are The Advantages Of Solar Energy?
Using solar power as an energy source institutes a whole range of advantages; these include economic (saving money for the consumer, creating jobs for people to manufacture, install, and repair, government incentives, and a free source of energy); and environmental (clean source of energy and less dependency on the grid and fossil fuels).
1. What Are The Economic Advantages Of Solar Energy?
The economic advantages of solar energy include a free source of energy, job creation, reduced electricity costs, potentially increasing property value, government incentives, and reduced overall import costs incurred by a country.
2. The Source Of Solar Energy Is Free
Energy from the Sun is not something we humans manufacture, nor do we control it.
Whether we continuously harvest it or not, the Sun will continue to bathe the Earth in its radiation energy. The best part is it does this for free.
3. Job Creation Through Solar Energy
A workforce is needed to produce solar energy equipment, install said equipment, and maintain and ensure its smooth running. People need to be trained and employed in all the various stages of the production and operation of solar energy.
4. Solar Energy Saves On Electricity Costs
If you run off of solar, you don’t have to pay a utility company for their electricity, which means you will save on that expense each month.
A few factors, namely determine the total costs you save:
- The size of your solar power system.
- Your electricity consumption.
- The electricity tariffs in your area.
- The total amount of solar power produced is due to direct sunlight hours, roof angle, and the number of solar panels.
5. Solar Energy Has The Potential To Increase Your House’s Value
One study found that solar-powered houses sold for around $15 000 more than those without solar energy. Solar power is now viewed as an improvement to a residence, pushing up the value in most cases.
6. Some States (And Countries) Provide Solar Energy Users With Incentives
Although each state varies in the incentives offered to solar energy users, the U.S. government subsidizes up to 30% of the total system costs as credit.
As a further incentive, in 41 states, if your solar system is connected to the grid, you can feed excess electricity into the grid for use by others, and you could even be paid for it (an incentive that should be standard practice).
Not only do you save money by not paying for electricity, but you can make money by selling your excess power (called net energy metering).
This also reduces the load on conventional electricity infrastructure, lightening the demand for burning fossil fuels.
7. Solar Energy Can Reduce The Overall Expenses A Country Incurs
Importing fossil fuels (e.g., oil from the Persian Gulf) is a significant tax on any economy, which will only worsen as fuel stocks decrease.
The U.S. spent around 60.3 billion U.S. dollars on oil and gas in 2020. By reducing the need for fossil fuels, imports can be reduced, reducing the country’s annual expenditure.
What Are The Environmental Advantages Of Solar Energy?
The environmental advantages of using solar energy include: a renewable and sustainable energy source, off-grid living is a possibility, potentially more reliable than the grid, less energy from the Sun is “wasted,” a source of clean energy, and solar energy can be stored.
1. Solar Power Is Renewable And Sustainable
The Sun produces around 384.6 septillion watts (3.846×1026 W) of energy per second through the nuclear fusion reactions that continuously occur on its surface. In turn, this energy radiates outwards, eventually reaching our minor mud-ball planet, providing life to us all.
The Sun produces approximately 10 000 times the amount of energy we need as a species, which means there is no way for us to use up all the Sun’s energy, making it sustainable.
Since the Sun constantly produces energy, it is also renewable.
2. Solar Energy Allows For Off-Grid Living
Moving to an off-grid lifestyle has become a primary pursuit for many individuals. States like California, Colorado, Maine, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington are well-known “hotspots” for off-the-grid living.
We are familiar with the images of high-voltage power lines traversing the countryside, supplying electricity to many households.
However, conventional power sources are not accessible in some rural and remote areas (mountains, lakes, or just too far off the well-hewn track), and alternative sources must be used.
Solar energy is a solution for individuals who find themselves in these environments, whether by choice or because of their limited access to electricity.
In many impoverished countries, solar power could solve their energy shortages, providing relatively dependable sources of electricity where they may not have previously existed.
3. Solar Energy Can Be More Reliable Than Conventional Power
You are often at their mercy when a utility company provides your electricity needs. You are stuck in the dark if they need to cut the power for another reason.
With solar power, you can monitor your consumption and generation, track when you may run low on energy, and tap into stored reserves as needed, all with no influence from what happens on the grid.
As pressure on fossil fuels increases, frequent blackouts or “load shedding” may become a reality for more Asian and African countries (some states already experience frequent power cuts).
4. Harvesting Solar Energy Reduces The Amount Reflected Out From The Earth
The Earth requires sunlight to drive all its processes (weather, primary production, etc.). Once the Earth has absorbed and used the solar energy, it reflects the excess into space (“albedo”).
It is believed that as much as 30% (equaling 52 petawatts) is reflected annually.
This amount of energy “lost” in one year could power Great Britain for around 250 000 years! So, harvesting solar energy reduces the energy lost to space.
5. Solar Energy Is Clean Energy
Unlike fossil fuels, harvesting solar energy requires no chemical emissions to be released into the atmosphere (including carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and sulfur oxides), further perpetuating climate change.
Instead, energy is provided by the Sun and harnessed through technology, which converts it into usable electricity.
Water is a fundamental component in converting fossil fuels into energy, so water extraction, pollution, and wastage are reduced by using solar energy.
Another form of pollution which we don’t often think about is the form of noise. Wind turbines, in particular, contribute to this type of pollution by spinning their propellers.
Solar energy does not share this issue. The parts are fixed. There may be a slight hum to the inverter, but nothing more than devices usually make.
6. Solar Energy Can Be Stored
When your solar system produces more energy than your household requires, additional energy is stored in batteries for later use.
This later date could be that same evening or until the next overcast day, depending on the size of your battery bank.
Disadvantages Of Solar Energy
Solar energy does not only have advantages; there are some very acute disadvantages to this energy. These disadvantages are also of an economic and environmental nature.
Drawbacks include a high startup cost, manufacturing components creating pollution, hazardous chemicals being used in the components, the efficacy is limited to situational conditions, your roof being less accessible, and if you move, you may need to leave your solar energy system behind.
1. Solar Energy Has A High Capital Outlay
Unfortunately, the biggest issue with solar is the steep startup cost. To purchase all the equipment needed and set it up professionally, you are looking at roughly $16 200 and $21 400 for a 6-kilowatt system.
The price is also inclined to increase depending on the number of batteries needed. When setting up a solar system, it’s important to remember that some components will eventually need to be replaced. Batteries cost roughly $100 each.
The expected time to “break-even” with your initial investment is around ten to fifteen years.
2. Solar Energy Contributes To Pollution
Although the actual harvesting of solar energy does not contribute to the emission of gases or chemicals, the production and manufacturing of the components (solar panels, inverters, batteries, etc.) needed to harvest solar energy does.
This includes both the process of manufacturing and what components are manufactured.
For example, solar panels contain cadmium, a substance known for its cancer-causing properties. Upon disposal or damage of the panel, this cadmium may leak into water bodies or the soil, which is why care must be taken to dispose of damaged panels correctly.
The batteries are also a potential source of aquatic or marine pollution as they contain lead and sulfuric acid. Lead further poses a risk to humans (especially children), so proper disposal of old batteries is paramount.
Another form of pollution that solar energy systems contribute to is visual pollution. Although this is somewhat superfluous, some people don’t appreciate the sight of solar panels obstructing their views.
3. Solar Energy Systems Are Not 100% Reliable And Effective
Although houses with solar energy do not rely on utility companies to provide electricity, solar power is far from unequivocally reliable.
During the conversion of solar energy (as transported by photons) into electricity, solar energy systems can be negatively influenced by:
- Geographical location. The closer your area’s equator, the more efficient your solar energy system will work. The further you move, the less efficient it becomes.
- Time of the day. Solar energy systems don’t work at night. This means households that rely on this energy must have stored power in batteries or an additional power source if they want electricity through the night.
- The weather. Solar panels need unobstructed access to the Sun’s radiation. If there are clouds, rain, a storm, etc., solar system effectiveness is reduced by as much as 10% from peak performance.
- Seasonal differences. As much as weather and time of day influence power production, the season you are in does too. Winter months will see a power reduction produced, while summer should see an increase. This, again, depends significantly on your climate, rainfall, and geography.
- Solar technology is still limited; we, therefore, do not obtain the maximum benefit from the energy sent our way by the Sun. To generate as much solar power as possible, systems need to be extensive (or expensive), pushing up the price.
- Along with limited technology, solar panels and batteries also have a limited period of use before they need to be replaced due to wear and tear. Areas that receive high amounts of frost and snow, dust, rain, and even server temperatures expedite the deterioration of solar equipment.
On a countrywide scale, solar power is not reliable enough to run a country’s economy. There are too many unreliable factors (storms, rainfall, cloud cover, etc.). A lack of solar energy may result in industry shutting down for a day or two; not a practical situation.
With the limited technology and the sheer scale of the system needed to generate enough power for industries, solar energy is not yet viable as a complete replacement energy source.
4. Inhibited Access To Your Roof For Repairs
A disadvantage that solar panels create is that it becomes difficult to access that part of the roof for repairs and maintenance once the panels are attached to your roof.
Careful planning should reduce the need to access that particular area; however, there will inevitably be a need for it at some point, resulting in removing the panels to gain access.
5. When You Move, Your Solar Energy System May Stay
The process of carefully dismantling, transporting, and reassembling your solar energy system may not be worth the effort, making the fact that solar houses are seen as a better investment a good situation, as you may decide to leave it behind when you move.
Is Solar Energy Worth It?
Although there are still many issues around solar-based energy, there are far more benefits and ways to mitigate the disadvantages. Solar energy is worth it if you have the capital to get started.
As technology improves, the efficacy of solar energy systems does as well. Not only do most governments have incentive programs in place for those who adopt solar energy, but the average cost per watt has decreased from $0.74 to $0.65, which may not seem huge, but it is a saving in the long run.
Solar energy systems are a massive leap in the correct direction compared to traditional fossil fuel-based electricity. There is still, however, room for improvement and growth in the field.