Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy
We are becoming increasingly aware that we need sustainable energy. Learning about this area can feel overwhelming due to technological changes and misinformation. Is solar energy what it says it is? Read on if you want to switch to sustainable energy or are just interested in solar energy!
Benefits of solar energy
There are many benefits of solar energy, but two of the most important are its affordability and its sustainability as an energy source. It is silently generated, provides reliable power and requires little maintenance, and makes solar energy even more appealing and practical.
Thanks to the options that make it more affordable from the start, solar energy can become a viable option for almost everyone. Technological innovations will only make solar energy cheaper.
Virtually free energy
Once you've invested in monocrystalline solar panels, there's no more money to spend on electricity - and there's even the option of selling excess energy to others. Once the investment has been amortized, solar energy is cheaper than fossil fuels because the marginal cost of producing energy is zero.
Your financial savings depend in part on the payback period. The payback period has become much cheaper thanks to the rising cost of fossil fuels and the falling cost of the facilities. The payback period for solar panels averages up to 5 years, depending on what type of panels are used and how much energy is consumed. Considering that most solar panels last 25-30 years means years of savings even if the payback period has been exceeded!
Community solar panels
Solar energy becomes even more affordable when people get together. It does not always make sense to install solar panels on the property when only little energy is used. Still, solar community initiatives offer an alternative way to capitalize on this clean technology. Several people join forces in the community solar system to install solar panels on a property and share the costs. For the participants, this usually means a lower investment than private solar generators!
Solar is a renewable energy source
The sun has enough fuel for another 5 billion years, so there's no risk of it running out soon. In contrast, fossil fuels take thousands of years to form and are gone forever once we get them out of the ground.
Solar energy is in abundance
Solar energy not only lasts for a long time but is also available in large quantities. The sun can power 2,880 trillion lightbulbs every hour. That's as many as 7 billion people who need a lightbulb for the rest of their lives. Even if the population grows exponentially, solar energy could still power everyone on Earth for a long time.
Minimal environmental impact
The use of solar energy does not cause any pollution. Some emissions are released during the manufacture of the systems required for solar energy and during the transport and installation of the modules. The emissions are almost zero if you compare that to generating electricity from fossil fuels. In addition, pollution begins and ends there. Once everything is in place, the energy is produced cleanly.
Although the sunniest areas of the world can generate the most energy - especially countries near the equator - solar energy is available to some extent everywhere.
Some countries with colder climates have been very successful in harnessing solar energy. In Germany, solar energy currently accounts for around 6.6% of energy consumption. This puts Germany in fourth place in the world in terms of solar capacity - even though it is one of the countries with the fewest hours of sunshine in the world.
Since solar energy can be used practically anywhere, it can even give power to people worldwide. Historically, this has not been the case with electricity and represents a significant shift, particularly in developing countries where access is an issue.
Even in industrialized countries, many people live in energy poverty due to the cost of electricity. In developing countries, these problems are even more pronounced. Although solar energy may seem expensive at first due to the installation cost, it is much cheaper than fossil fuels in the long run.
As long as the sun produces the required energy and none of the systems are damaged, there is no reason for a power failure.
It has been proven that solar modules cannot fail either. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, only five out of every 10,000 small solar panels installed between 2000 and 2015 have failed. Plus, most manufacturers offer a 25-year or more warranty – even if you're in the 0.05% of panels that fail, you can get a free replacement.
No noise development
Most solar power systems have no moving parts, making no noise. With noisier energy alternatives like wind turbines, the silence of solar power generation is a key selling point for many.
Another advantage of solar energy is the low maintenance requirement. Solar energy is self-sufficient once the system is installed, apart from minimal regular cleaning, which is recommended at least twice a year.
Disadvantages of solar energy
Of course, nothing is without limitations. Ironically, the advantages of solar energy can also be seen as its disadvantages – namely, the cost and the environmental impact. Let's take a look at some of the most common concerns people have about solar energy:
There are some generous rebates and incentives that help fund the solar project. Despite this, the initial costs are quite high. Fortunately, financing options and community solar systems make the investment affordable for a wider range of households.
Solar panels will pay for themselves if you stay in your home long enough. Most panels last around 20-30 years, but if you move before this period, you won't get the full return on your investment.
Another problem is that the battery technology needed to store solar energy (12v lithium battery system energy is the most common) is currently very expensive. That's likely to change in the future -- companies like Tesla are innovating to make solar power cheaper -- but right now, it's a costly investment.
Emissions during production
Solar energy is widely regarded as a clean, renewable energy source—especially when compared to fossil fuels. Before installation, however, emissions arise during the manufacture, transport, and initial assembly of the solar modules.
Some aspects of manufacturing solar panels and other equipment are associated with greenhouse gas emissions. This includes the release of toxic gases such as nitrogen trifluoride and sulfur hexafluoride, which are much more potent and dangerous than carbon dioxide.
Some solar cells (various solar cells are made depending on the material used) also require exotic or rare materials that can be particularly harmful when extracted from Earth's habitat.
Of course, solar energy is much less destructive and polluting than fossil fuels. However, it is important to keep in mind that a fully green energy transition will likely require the use of less sustainable energy sources in the short term.
Disposal of solar module waste
The amount of solar modules is steadily increasing worldwide. Therefore, when weighing the pros and cons of solar energy, we must consider how the panels will be disposed of.
The cells in a panel contain cadmium and lead, both of which are carcinogenic. The remaining parts that cannot be reused are glass, silicon, and the plastic surrounding the solar cells. If you dispose of the modules in the landfill, there is a risk that these toxic materials will leach out and poison the water supply and damage the soil.
Solar panels can currently be recycled at up to 96%, but this service is still expensive. Recycling a standard 18-square-meter solar panel is much more expensive than sending it to a landfill.
Recycling is expensive because it requires extensive thermal and chemical treatments to break the bonds within the cells and because cadmium and lead must be disposed of separately.
The long lifespan of solar panels (25+ years) means they are built to last. But nothing lasts forever, so new technologies must be developed to dispose of them in the most environmentally friendly way possible.
Sunlight is irregular
Access to sunlight is limited or non-existent at night and on cloudy days. Fortunately, we use less electricity at night anyway. On average, electricity consumption peaks around midday, when the Earth receives the most sunlight.
Sunlight is a fluctuating energy source, but fortunately, energy storage systems have been developed to ensure that solar power is constantly available. Solar storage has revolutionized off grid solar systems by capturing the extra energy generated in a solar battery bank. Your house uses this reserved solar energy at night or in bad weather. The cost is relatively high, but as technology improves, solar batteries will inevitably become more affordable and even more sophisticated than they already are.
Requires a lot of space
In theory, the sun could provide enough light to power the entire world, but the logistics of such an endeavor are not that easy to manage.
It takes a lot of space to get a good amount of electricity from solar energy. That's why you often see solar cell farms occupying huge areas in fields or the desert. That's because solar energy produces fewer watts per square meter than traditional energy sources such as oil, gas, or nuclear power. The good news is that in-home system, the solar panels are usually installed on a roof rack or even in a carport, so no additional space is required.
The conclusion: Solar energy is the energy of the future
Solar energy has pros and cons, and much research must be done to improve this technology before it can be fully relied upon.
However, the continued use of fossil fuels is not sustainable. Although solar energy has some disadvantages, they pale compared to the problems associated with fossil fuel energy. Therefore, one should focus on mitigating the disadvantages of solar energy rather than abandoning it altogether. Looking ahead, improvements in technology and careful planning can achieve this goal as we commit to a more sustainable future.
Ultimately, there is a lot to consider when choosing the energy source for your home. Take a look at your household energy needs and speak to a local installer to learn more about whether solar energy is the right choice for you!