Solar Energy Pros and Cons

 

Below you`ll find a list over the various pros and cons of solar energy. By clicking on one of the blue links, you will be taken further down on the page for more in-depth information. Everything you are about to read is properly referenced at the bottom.

Advantages of Solar Energy

1. Renewable

Solar energy is a renewable energy source. This means that we cannot run out of solar energy, as opposed to non-renewable energy sources (e.g. fossil fuels, coal and nuclear).

We will have access to solar energy for as long as the sun is alive – another 6.5 billion years according to NASA[1]. We have worse things to worry about; in fact, scientists have estimated that the sun itself will swallow Earth 5 billion years from now.

 

2. Abundant

The potential of solar energy is beyond imagination. The surface of the earth receives 120,000 terawatts of solar radiation (sunlight) – 20,000 times more power than what is needed to supply the entire world.[2]

 

3. Sustainable

An abundant and renewable energy source is also sustainable. Sustainable energy sources meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. In other words, solar energy is sustainable because there is no way we can over-consume.

 

4. Environmentally Friendly

Harnessing solar energy does generally not cause pollution. However, there are emissions associated with the manufacturing, transportation and installation of solar power systems – almost nothing compared to most conventional energy sources. It is clear that solar energy reduces our dependence on non-renewable energy sources. This is an important step in fighting the climate crisis.

 

5. Good Availability

Solar energy is available all over the world. Not only the countries that are closest to the Equator can put solar energy to use – Germany, for example, has by far the highest capacity of solar power in the world.

 

6. Reduces Electricity Costs

With the introduction of net metering and feed-in tariff (FIT) schemes, homeowners can now “sell” excess electricity, or receive bill credits, during times when they produce more electricity than what they actually consume.

This means that homeowners can reduce their overall electricity expenses by going solar. Data from One Block Off the Grid reveals that adding solar panels to your home can bring in monthly savings of well above $100 in many states. In Hawaii, residents save on average $64,000 after 20 years!

Nowadays, most homeowners choose leasing or power purchase agreements to finance their solar panels. This drastically reduces, or in some cases completely eliminates, the upfront costs of a solar panel system, and allows homeowners to start saving money from the first day.

 

If you want to learn more about the advantages specifically related to residential solar photovoltaic panels (generating electricity with solar energy at home), then check out Benefits of Solar Panels.

 

7. Many Applications

Solar energy can be used for many different purposes. It can be used to generate electricity in places that lack a grid connection, for distilling water in Africa, or even to power satellites in space.

Solar power is also known as “The People`s Power”, which refers to how easily deployable solar panels are at the consumer level (both photovoltaic and solar thermal).

With the introduction of flexible thin-film solar cells, solar power can even be seemingly integrated into the material of buildings (building integrated photovoltaics) – Sharp, a solar panel manufacturer with headquarters in Japan, recently introduced transparent solar power windows.

 

8. Shared Solar

Because of shading, insufficient space and ownership issues, 1/5 American homes are simply unfit for solar panels.[3] With the introduction of shared solar, homeowners can subscribe to “community solar gardens”, and generate solar electricity without actually having solar panels on their own rooftops.

 

9. Silent

There are no moving parts involved in most applications of solar power. There is no noise associated with photovoltaics. This compares favorable to certain other green-techs such as wind turbines.

 

10. Financial Support from Government/State

Government and state rebates have become available both on utility-scale and for the majority of homeowners. This means that the effective costs of solar panels are much less than what they used to be. In some cases, the price of a residential photovoltaic system can be cut more than 50%.

As of 12/31/2008, the U.S. government offers a 30% tax credit with no upper limit. Chances are your home is also eligible for other grants and rebates.

Find out what applies to you by searching through the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) – or find out in minutes with our free guide How to Go Solar.

 

11. Low Maintenance

The majority of today`s solar power systems do not required a lot of maintenance. Residential solar panels usually only require cleaning a couple of times a year. Serious solar manufacturers ship 20- or 25-year warranties with their solar panels.

 

12. Technology is Improving

Technological advancements are constantly being made in the solar power industry. Innovation in nanotechnology and quantum physics has the potential to triple the electrical output of solar panels.

 

Disadvantages of Solar Energy

1. Expensive

Is solar power really expensive? This is probably the most debatable aspect on the entire solar energy pros and cons list. The driving forces behind the development of solar energy are rooted in politics. Solar power is incentivized to compete against other energy sources on the market. On the other hand, the U.S. government, similarly to the rest of the world, provides incentives to every major energy production market – not just solar.

In 2010, coal received $1,189 billion in federal subsidies and support for electricity production while solar is not far behind at $968 billion.[4]

Nowadays, the best solar panels can in many situations be cheaper than buying electricity from the utility. This wouldn`t have been possible without incentives.

 

2. Intermittent

Solar energy is an intermittent energy source. Access to sunlight is limited at certain times (e.g. morning and night). Predicting overcast days can be difficult. This is why solar power is not our first choice when it comes to meeting the base load energy demand. However, solar power has fewer problems than wind power when it comes to intermittence.

 

3. Energy Storage is Expensive

Energy storage systems such as batteries will help smoothen out demand and load, making solar power more stable, but these technologies are also expensive.

Luckily, there`s a good correspondence between our access to solar energy and human energy demand. Our electricity demand peaks in the middle of the day, which also happens to be the same time there`s a lot of sunlight!

 

4. Associated with Pollution

While solar power certainly is less polluting than fossil fuels, some problems do exist. Some manufacturing processes are associated with greenhouse gas emissions. Nitrogen trifluroide and sulfur hexafluoride has been traced back to the production of solar panels. These are some of the most potent greenhouse gases and have many thousand times the impact on global warming compared to carbon dioxide. Transportation and installation of solar power systems can also indirectly cause pollution.

The bottom line is this: There’s nothing that’s completely risk-free in the energy world, but solar power compares very favorably with all other technologies.

 

5. Exotic Materials

Certain solar cells require materials that are expensive and rare in nature. This is especially true for thin-film solar cells that are based on either cadmium telluride (CdTe) or copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS).

 

6. Requires Space

Power density, or watt per square meter (W/m²), is essential when looking at how much power can be derived from a certain area of real estate of an energy source. Low power density indicates that too much real estate is required to provide the power we demand at reasonably prices.

The global mean power density for solar radiation is 170 W/m².[5] This is more than any other renewable energy source, but not comparable to oil, gas and nuclear power.

 

Author:
Last Update: 16 October 2012

Comments

  1. Agnes Peterson says

    I am looking into solar energy because my electric bills are so high. I would like to know about “the grid”. When we collect the energy from the sun where does it go? How are we credited for the amount we save and the amount we use?

    • Mathias says

      If your household generates more electricity with the solar panels than what you can use, the surplus is put onto the electrical utility power grid, so other people can use it, and your power meter will “spin backwards” – the result is a lower electricity bill from the utility company.

      This is called net metering, and its caps and limits vary from where you live. Feed-in tarfiff schemes (FITs) are similar programs that are being used in some countries.

      Read more about these things in Feed-In Tariffs, Gross, Net and Virtual Net Metering – What’s the Difference?

  2. Jørn says

    Hi
    Re nr. 5: Solar thermal energy convertion today can be up to nearly ten times more efficient than PV – the farther north the better (of course depending in several factors…).

  3. Gaby Mayorga says

    This website is awesome. This helped me with a report I am doing for school. I can’t believe they have so much information on different types of sources of energy!

  4. Joey Carver says

    Hi, I was wondering if I could have permission to use your information on a project that I have to do for my senior year. I am a student at the Scioto County Career Technical Center and I am also part of BPA (Business Professions Of America). I have to make a website on Solar, Water, Wind, and Conventional powers to generate a household. I will link this website into my webpage and if I win, could be put online. Please, if you could reply back soon, Thanks.

    Joey Carver

  5. says

    I think everything posted made a great deal of sense. However,
    what about this? what if you composed a catchier title?
    I mean, I don’t wish to tell you how to run your website, but what if you added a
    title that grabbed people’s attention? I mean Solar Energy Pros and Cons – Energy Informative
    is kinda boring. You might peek at Yahoo’s front page and see how they create article
    titles to grab viewers to click. You might add a
    related video or a related picture or two to grab people interested about everything’ve written.
    In my opinion, it would make your posts a
    little livelier.

  6. Dwyanne June says

    Hi, I’m very interested in solar panels for my 2000sq ft home. I have an adequate roof space, and exposed to plenty of San Diego, CA sun. I have researched the cost against my electric bill, which, already is pretty low – about $100, and found a list of companies that are recommended by the electric company.
    The Cons I get is: too expensive to install, we wouldn’t qualify because of the low monthly electric bill, and – “The Biggie” – future sale of property related to transferring ownership of the property with solar attached to the property to the Buyer.
    I need any information on that from trusted sources, especially on the last issue.

    Thanks

  7. John says

    Thank you for creating this article. It is just the thing to finish up one of my projects. Again, thanks a billion.

  8. Cecil Sharkey says

    Solar energy is USELESS and expensive in Ireland. All the info about it is warped to make sales.

  9. Virginia says

    I am considering solar panels. My average electric bill is over $300 a month, more in the winter. But I was told the battery replacement is very expensive. Can you give me an idea how long the battery would last? I live in northeast pa. Is this something that can be used as a heater for an above ground pool?

  10. says

    I don’t agree with point 6 in the advantages.
    It only works in theory, but in the real case it is never convenient under the financial balance.
    First, in order to have a home plant that allows you to be net-indipendent it takes a very good quality which still has a very high cost (in italy where i write from the minimum for a 50 sqmeter flat is 7500 – 9000 euros) and, unless you have cash, you are forced to ask for a loan that lasts 10 years at least.
    Second, the portion you sell to the network is paid less than you pay the portion you use from the network when you don’t produce (tipically night, rainy or cloudy days, etc).
    Third, the governments and energy suppliers that govern the network are increasing the renewable quota in the electricity mix but they are raising the cost in the bill. Here in italy we have different sections in the bill amongst which one is called ‘componente A3′ which consists of a restitution in the bill of the financial support previously offered from the state to all that decided to use PV and renewables… that is… the state gives money to promote the renewables, some people use them, but we all have to pay back the financial support. This ‘componente A3′ has never lowered so far and in the last 7 years, because of renewables.
    The result is that in Italy, and as far as i have been said from some friend of mine living in england and in spain, a new market is flourishing: people selling used PV plants and buying them second-hand in order to reduce the initial cost.

    Let alone this point, i believe this is a very nice and balanced article, one of the best i have ever read on the theme.
    Thumbs up!
    Alex

  11. says

    When there’s the sun the solar panels charge the
    electric batteries and mechanically disconnect when the electric batteries are full.
    Even though California has experienced drought conditions,
    rain shortages, and reduced levels of water in rivers and reservoirs, California state energy officials are
    not panicking since energy providers diversify their power sources.
    Change your light bulbs with energy saving, there
    are many different types the choice is yours.

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