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What Are The Pros And Cons Of Solar Energy?

Everything you need to know about the advantages and disadvantages of solar power

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Kunsulu Nurekeyeva
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Solar energy has become a very popular technology within the residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural sectors over the past two decades. More and more houses have their rooftops gleaming with slick solar panels. Harvesting energy from the sun has a lot of advantages, including the environmentally friendly nature of solar energy, low maintenance, longevity and all the economic perks. However, switching to solar energy also comes with a few drawbacks, such as reliance on sunlight and high upfront costs. Whether you are shopping around for a renewable energy solution for your house or want to stay up to date on the advances made in the field of energy sources, we have compiled solar energy pros and cons to keep you informed.

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Solar Energy Advantages

Sustainable and renewable

The sun might hide behind the clouds once in a while, but we will not be running out of solar energy in the foreseeable future. Compared to fossil fuels resources, which will exhaust themselves in the next few decades, solar energy offers a renewable source of energy. Solar energy produces electricity without hurting the environment, as there is no greenhouse gas emitted while the solar panels are operating. Solar is also sustainable, meeting the energy needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future.

Available everywhere

Solar energy is an abundant resource which can be harvested from any geographical location. Contrary to a popular misconception, solar panels work in cold climates as well. While longer sun exposure will enable a solar system to generate more electricity or heat, modern solar energy systems are able to generate power in low sunlight areas as well.

Money saver

The most attractive feature of solar energy for homeowners is the substantial savings on monthly electricity bills that a home solar system provides. Contrary to paying utility bills each month, installing solar panels offer a return on investment. The energy demands tend to be higher from 11 am to 16 pm and during the early evening hours, making the price of electricity peak during those time windows. As our daily activities and rhythm are closely related to the sun position, solar energy conveniently reaches its maximum values around the timeframe of the first high demand electricity window, as that’s when the sun’s UV rays are the most intense.

Another important point to consider is that the price of electricity in the residential sector has been steadily rising over the past few years in the U.S., and as many would agree, will only continuously grow in the years to come. Going solar and consuming your in-house generated electricity offers you a protection from the rising power prices in the future.

In addition, excess solar energy can also be fed into the conventional electric grid, usually with monetary or credits-based compensation involved for the solar panel owner. For example, in most of the U.S., solar panel owners are given credits for the surplus electricity they produce. Similar policies exist in parts of Europe and in Japan.

Low maintenance and long lifetime

Solar panels don’t require extensive maintenance once installed and can last up to 30 years even if exposed to bad weather conditions once in a while. Most solar panel manufacturers provide a long lasting warranty, usually 10 years limited product warranty and 25 years limited power warranty. In terms of upkeep, an occasional cleaning might be required, but other than that solar panels are pretty low maintenance.

Cheaper than ever

The price of solar systems has decreased significantly since entering the market. In many countries, solar energy has become less expensive than traditional energy sources. According to a recently published report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL’s), U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System and Energy Storage Cost Benchmark: Q1 2020, there has beena sharp decline in the costs of solar energy systems across utility, commercial, and residential sectors over the past decade. Moreover, there are usually tax incentives and other incentives in place that encourage going solar.

Energy independence

Owning a solar power system allows homeowners to generate their own heat or electricity, thereby liberating them from the dependence on the local traditional electric grid. On a larger scale, switching to renewable and sustainable energy sources, such as solar, allows to obtain an energy independence on a country level. This implies less reliance on imported fossil fuels, such as oil, gas and coal, which benefits the country’s economy and national security, along with reducing the negative environmental footprint.

Solar Energy Disadvantages

High upfront investment

The large upfront costs are the biggest barrier for any homeowner who is considering having a solar panel installed. The range of the initial investment is in the order of tens of thousands of dollars, including the actual solar panels, inverter, batteries, wiring and the installation costs. While you do get government subsidies or tax assistance in most places, going solar does require a certain amount of disposable income and not everyone can afford to cover their whole roof in solar panels. On a positive note, the solar energy technology is advancing continuously, which will potentially drive the price lower in the upcoming years, making solar panels a more accessible power source. 

Intermittent nature

The inconsistency of sun coverage is one of the more obvious disadvantages when it comes to solar energy. There are a few concerns associated with the intermittent nature of solar energy. First, the solar panels don’t generate electricity at night. The sun intensity varies throughout the day, week, season and location. Natural phenomena like heavy clouds, snow and foliage impact the amount of energy produced by a solar panel significantly. While not much can be done to solve these issues, it is good to remember that unless solar cells are used in critical applications, their somewhat unreliable energy production isn’t of paramount importance when it comes to residential and commercial applications. Moreover, as is the case with  windmills, solar panels can rely on energy storage devices, such as batteries, for backup. 

Space inefficient

A solar panel requires a considerable amount of space in order to produce electricity, as their efficiency is far from 100% and their power density is quite low as well. That restricts their use in inner cities, on small roofs or in any areas with limited space available. You can not stack them or order them in any space-efficient manner, solar panel need exposure to direct sunlight.

Not for every roof

Solar panels are not a “one size fits all” system and indeed, shading and roof size and orientation are important factors that need to be considered. In order to install the panels on the roof, a mounting system is first connected, which can be challenging if your house is quite old and has slate or cedar tiles. More modern additions to the roofs like skylights or roof decks can also drive up the difficulty and therefore, the cost of solar panel installation.

Manufacturing has negative environmental impact

Even though solar energy produces clean, renewable and sustainable energy, the manufacturing process of solar power systems can be harmful to the environment and accompanied by carbon and greenhouse gases emissions, fossil fuels burning, plastic waste, and use of toxic materials. Some solar thermal energy storage systems use hazardous fluids. Solar power towers, which operate on the principle of concentrating sunlight, have shown to be hazardous to birds, similarly to wind turbines.

Hard to move

Unfortunately, once installed, solar panels can be quite cumbersome and expensive to move. So, not only solar panels are a considerable investment due to the high initials costs, one should also keep in mind that in the event of selling your house, the solar panels come with. On the upside, solar panels do add value to your property, so you might be able to get a higher offer for your house! 

Conclusion

As with any new technology, solar energy has advantages and disadvantages that need to be considered. Those can vary and have different significance, depending on whether solar energy will be harvested and used to generate electricity or heat on a household, business, or government scale. Some of the more prominent advantages of going solar include reducing your carbon footprint, saving on electricity bills and investing in a long-term and low maintenance energy solution with a guarantee of a return on it. The cons of solar energy are comprised of dependence on direct sunlight, space inefficiency and immobility of solar panels, and the harmful manufacturing.

FAQs

How do solar panels work?

Solar panels absorb the UV radiation from the sun’s rays and convert it into direct current. This direct current is then converted to alternating current electricity, which powers your house. The excess of this electricity can either be sent to the grid or stored in energy storage devices for later.

Do weather conditions affect the solar panels efficiency?

Solar power systems work in any climate and anywhere on earth. Weather conditions, such as rain, snowfall, and strong winds do not affect the solar panels significantly, as long as there is still sunlight. Solar panels are actually slightly more efficient in cold temperatures, and light snow can be beneficial as well, as it removes dirt and debris upon melting. On an overcast day, your solar panel system will still be functional due to indirect sunlight, but at lower efficiency.

Can I go completely “off the grid” by installing solar panels in my house?

Solar panels do not create electricity at night. Therefore, if you want to be completely free from the electric grid and have your house run 100% on solar power, you will need energy storage devices, which will accumulate and preserve the energy your solar panels have produced throughout the day.

Is harvesting solar energy harmful to the environment?

One of the biggest advantages of solar energy is that it produces clean, renewable energy, which saves and protects our environment and delays climate change. However, manufacturing of solar energy systems, such as photovoltaic panels or concentrated solar power plants, does have negative implications, such as burning of fossil fuels, carbon emissions, use of toxic and hazardous chemicals, and plastic waste.

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Author Bio

Kunsulu Nurekeyeva

Kunsulu Nurekeyeva is a writer and an academic researcher with expertise in Chemistry and Sustainability. She holds a Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts and Sciences from Maastricht University and an Erasmus Mundus Joint Master’s Degree in Energy Storage and Conversion.

Her multidisciplinary research background and rich academic experience translate to a unique perspective on renewable energy and solutions.

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