13 Advantages + 5 Disadvantages Of Solar Energy

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?

Solar Panel Farm With Thousands Of Panels. 1 - Sol Voltaics: Solar Panel Information
Solar Panel Farm With Thousands Of Panels. 1

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.

Sunlight Reflecting Off Solar Panel
Sunlight Reflecting Off Solar Panel

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.

Solar Panel Kits In The Garden With Solar Panels On A House
Solar Panel Kits In The Garden With Solar Panels On A House

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.

Destroyed Old Small Solar Panel Photovoltaic Electric System For Home In The Village. - Sol Voltaics: Solar Panel Information
Destroyed Old Small Solar Panel Photovoltaic Electric System For Home In The Village.

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.

Oil Rig In The Sunset Reflected On A Solar Panel
4

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.

Resources:

General Solar Panel FAQ

What Problems Do Solar Panels Solve?

In environmental terms, solar panels can potentially solve a handful of problems, including;
1. Air pollution
2. Water pollution
3. Greenhouse gases
4. Reduction in fossil fuel use

For individuals, solar energy allows you to become completely self-sufficient when it comes to your electricity needs and can save you a lot of money in the long run.

What Are 3 Important Uses Of Solar Panels?

The three most important uses of solar panels are;
1. Solar electricity. This can be used to power almost any appliance in your home, including TVs, computers, and fridges.
2. Lighting. In addition to the use of low-power, LED lightbulbs, solar panels can provide an efficient, low-cost, and environmentally friendly way to provide lighting to homes. 
3. Portable solar. In our modern, always-connected lives, our phones, tablets, and computers are almost always with us, and all run on batteries. Portable PV chargers can help keep our batteries topped up no matter where we are, as long as there is some sun to charge them.

Do solar panels give you free electricity?

Once the cost of the array is paid in full, the energy it produces is free. There are ongoing maintenance costs, too, such as annual panel cleaning, etc. 

How much will my electric bill be with solar panels?

Suppose your solar array includes a solar battery backup system, and it is large enough to fully cover your energy usage per day. In that case, your monthly electric bill will be next to zero dollars, even with a grid-tied system. 

If your solar array does not include a solar battery backup system, then at night, your house or business will use grid electricity. That cost will vary but expect to pay from 1/3-2/3 of your average electric bill, and that cost will fluctuate seasonally. 

Do you save money with solar panels?

The simple answer is, Yes, you save money with solar panels. There is an initial upfront cost, but since solar panels are warrantied for 25 years, you will save money over time. You will also begin to see monthly savings in energy bills, but there are other ways that solar panels pay you back. Those include:
1. Adding value to your home or commercial building 
2. Monthly decreases in energy costs
3. The ability to add more energy appliances without increased monthly costs
4. The potential for tax credits for going solar

Can solar panels power a house 24-7?

Most definitely! Solar panels can certainly power a house 24-7, with the addition of a high-quality inverter and a suitable battery bank, of course. To power, a house under normal usage will require a massive solar array, though, and there will be a very expensive initial financial outlay.

Do I need to tell my energy supplier I have solar panels?

This depends on where you live, but in most cases, it’s not necessary to inform your energy supplier that you have solar panels. That said, you may be producing excess power with your solar system, in which case you may be able to sell that excess power back to energy companies.

In this case, you’ll naturally need to be in contact with them. 

What Are Solar Cells Known as and Why?

Solar cells are also called photovoltaic (PV) cells. They are called so because the term ‘photovoltaic’ literally means light i.e. photo and electricity i.e. voltaic.

These cells generate electricity through the photovoltaic effect. This effect basically causes the generation of free electrons from the semiconducting silicon material of the solar panel when sunlight hits its surface.

What Type of Solar Panels Are Most Efficient and Why?

There are currently three types of solar panels available in the market that are:
1. Monocrystalline
2. Polycrystalline
3. Thin-filmed

Among these, monocrystalline solar panels are known to be the most efficient among all others.

Does heat enter your home through the roof?

Absolutely. Heat enters your home through your roof, and on a hot day your attic can get up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Through conduction, heat from the sun warms your roof which then warms your attic and the rest of your home.

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