What is solar energy?
The sun’s solar radiation is one of the most abundant energy sources on the planet. Offering a number of advantages, solar energy has the capacity to power everything from food production to the electric vehicles we drive.
The sun’s radiation can be used for three energy types: thermal, electrical, and biofuel. All of which are already operational in some parts of the world with high levels of interest due to climate awareness.
The sun provides enough energy to power the entire planet, however, the current global consumption of solar energy annually is less than 1%, which is far from acceptable.
The reason behind this is that the entire energy production industry is still based on oil and gas, with high degrees of vested interests and politics surrounding solar energy.
The fact is that solar energy can greatly help align countries with their commitments to renewable and clean energy, as one of the top features of solar power is its capacity to produce electricity that is ecologically safe and free from dangerous emissions.
On the other hand, solar production also presents a number of disadvantages. This article looks at the advantages and disadvantages of solar energy, offering a comparative analysis to guide readers to make an informed choice on solar energy.
Increasing worldwide populations and energy access, has greatly increased the demand for low-cost energy. This increase in demand has placed more stress and increased the reliance on fossil fuel sources.
This has led to a boom in fossil fuel energy production, with 2 major unfortunate effects: greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
The technology and automation revolution of the past few decades has further increased the need for power and made the transition to renewable energy more important than ever.
Solar energy, which is clean and renewable, could help bridge the fossil fuel gap while ensuring universal access to electricity. It is the reason why many worldwide corporations are also stepping up and investing in solar energy projects.
Those investments are minor compared to what has been spent on oil and gas exploration and extraction, however, the rapid adoption and development made solar energy the fastest-growing renewable energy source on the planet.
Despite the numerous advantages of using solar energy for power and electricity needs, it is not all sunshine and rainbows.
Solar production, like all other forms of energy generation, does have a carbon footprint.
The non-renewable energy scope of solar systems, mainly the infrastructure and parts production, is still highly dependent on fossil fuel sources.
But imagine this simple scenario: Either exploit and drain all-natural reservoirs at the cost of social and economic degradation on one hand, or try to make solar energy more abundant and invest in the update and upgrade of power-hungry equipment with energy-efficient ones.
All that is needed is a collective decision and approach.
Through education and awareness, citizens can pressure policymakers to set green policies and take proper decisions. These decisions and policies will not only benefit the climate but will also reduce the cost to end-users.
These decisions would ultimately lead to affordable electricity, and ultimately this would reflect on affordable public transportation.
These renovations and introductions in society will lead to a new job market, solving unemployment problems.
Solar cells and solar panels have a wide range of applications.
You can find them in everyday items such as calculators, watches, and flashlights. Solar-powered toys, radios, MP3 players, cell phones and pagers are widely available in the market.
Using solar-powered devices relieves users from the constant worry of buying and replacing batteries.
In addition, solar systems can be used to generate electricity for roadside emergency phones, parking meters and some ATMs.
How solar cells make use of light
Did you know that only a portion of the energy emitted by the sun reaches the Earth’s surface. Some solar energy is reflected into space, while the air absorbs the remaining energy.
The sun is a blazing energy star which is the main source of energy.
The solar energy that does reach the Earth’s surface takes the form of visible light. Solar cells can generate electricity by harnessing the energy from this light.
They do not, however, work equally well with all types of light.
Different types of solar cells operate at different wavelengths which means that a cell can only use a portion of the solar energy that it receives.
Advantages of solar energy
The benefits of using solar energy outweigh the drawbacks as most of the disadvantages have implementable solutions. Solar energy remains one of the best and cleanest energy sources.
Once you have installed a solar power system, it operates over many years, with lifetimes of 25-30 years, and with very minimal maintenance.
The main advantage of owning a solar power system is that it gives the user direct ownership of electricity production without the need to pay fees.
This will also allow the user to calculate the exact amount of monthly and yearly energy usage.
Another great benefit of solar energy is that it requires very little maintenance. Maintenance of solar panels involves simple cleaning of the panel surfaces to remove dust, dirt and rubble.
Compared to other power generation sources that require extensive maintenance and parts inspection, solar maintenance is an easy, smooth task.
Solar energy installation can benefit the economy in a number of ways.
First, the installation of solar panel systems helps reduce the amount of fuel imported from other countries, which tips the trade balance in the favor of the local economy.
Second, It reduces the high importation and logistical costs to get the fossil fuels into the country and store and transport them safely.
Reducing the dependence on foreign countries gives citizens and governments much needed control for the means to generate power and effectively frees much needed capital to be used in more essential industries.
Solar technology is constantly evolving, and continuous research promises further advancements in the future.
Quantum physics and nanotechnology advancements have the potential to increase the effectiveness of solar panels and double, or even triple, the efficiency and effective electrical output of solar power systems.
Disadvantages of solar energy
The main financial setback of solar is the high installation cost, which can often reach levels that make it impractical for homeowners with limited incomes, as it could sometimes cost more than the house construction cost.
The average price of installing effective solar panels ranges from $10,000 to $20,000. The cost of batteries can also be quite significant for solar power system users.
Solar panels are not suitable for all types of roofs, such as those made of slates or cedar tiles.
Rooftop additions and skylights may also impede the installation and decrease the roof space that can be used for solar panels, thus decreasing the power to be generated.
Although the installation of solar panels on some buildings adds to their beauty, this is not always the case.
It is possible that the addition of solar panels to certain vintage or architectural buildings may reduce their aesthetic value.
The building’s final appearance might be of key importance to an owner refusing to compromise, even for the gain of free energy.
This is one of the most significant disadvantages of a solar power system. Solar panels can not produce electrical energy during the night due to the absence of the sun.
Additionally, during winter, the sun shines intermittently, with several heavy clouded days and storms. All these weather patterns lead to decreased energy production.
These set-backs, however, can be easily accounted for by installing battery banks that store excess unused energy for night use and use during storms.
Solar panels have a low efficiency of about 15-20%. This means that only about 20% of the sunlight that reaches the panels is converted to solar energy.
When solar panels can not be installed on rooftops, they tend to take up more land space and effectively the amount of energy trapped tends to increase with the area of the solar panel.
Depending on their location, some countries are more exposed to the sun’s rays than others; for example, Senegal and Mauritania receive adequate solar energy because of their proximity to the equator.
A 6kW solar panel system for a 1,500 square foot home costs on average $18,500 to install.
The cost of solar panels per watt can range from $2.50 to $3.50, depending on the home’s geographical location.
Residential solar panels are typically 3kW to 8kW in size and can cost between $9,255 and $28,000 in total installation costs. See the average cost of a solar panel system by size (before tax credits or discounts).
More about solar panel
Solar panels have a 25-year average lifespan.
This does not imply that the panels on your roof will stop producing electricity after a few decades, rather, it means that after that point, their energy production may fall below what the manufacturers guarantee as rated production output.
When you install solar panels, you can expect them to withstand high pressure and fairly extreme conditions.
They are not, however, impervious to damage. Weather changes, for example, put a strain on solar panels, resulting in micro-cracks.
Debris may also accumulate and cause damage. Wind, snow, and even strong sunlight can cause the panels to deteriorate.
The materials and components in the panel, such as solar glass, aluminium frames, and the solar cells can easily break if they are of poor quality.
Some manufacturers tend to reduce the amount of aluminium used in the frame to keep costs down, and thinner frames are more prone to damage.
So while the panel may have a low initial cost, it may cost more in the long run.
Advantages and disadvantages of solar energy (Infographic view)
Advantages and disadvantages of solar energy: Final thought
Solar power, when properly planned, installed and maintained, is one of the most cost-effective sources of green energy for the long run.
It is also available to almost every home around the country. It is low-maintenance, requires minimum repairs and comes with long-term warranties.
The average lifespan of solar cell panels is 25 years or longer if it’s properly installed and maintained.