Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past decade, you’ll know that solar energy is a hot topic. Not only is it being used increasingly on a large scale by governments and businesses, but the technology itself is also improving, allowing for more rapid deployment of high-quality panels. Learn more about the Solar Energy pros and cons as we have listed them below.
But it’s certainly not without controversy, with some experts arguing that the cost exceeds the benefits. However, with the science of global warming becoming more and more concrete each year, experts believe that we don’t have much time to start transitioning to a more renewable energy source like the sun:
Whether you’re a homeowner or a business person, solar energy is an attractive investment, but what precisely are the pros and cons of using solar over traditional energy sources. In this article, we’ll be taking a deep dive, including explaining how solar energy works and whether we think it’s worth the cost.
How Does Solar Energy Work?
Everything on our planet relies on the sun for life, and without it, we wouldn’t have any forms of life at all. The sun burns at an incredibly hot temperature and the chemical reactions inside of it release a considerable amount of particles including photons, which are light, which we can detect on Earth.
Solar panels work by allowing these photons to free electrons from atoms, which causes results in electricity. A little complicated, right? But all that means is that particles are coming from the sun and creating a small disturbance which we can capture in the form of electricity.
Solar panels aren’t one solid piece. Instead, they are many smaller units called photovoltaic cells, which capture and convert the sunlight that we see into energy.
A set amount of photons hit a given area of the Earth each second, and therefore the only way to generate more energy using solar panels is to make the panels either much larger or more efficient.
Making them more efficient is very challenging because it involves increasing the density of atoms for the photons to hit while expanding the size of the panels is far simpler. For this reason, most commercial panels are enormous and often in groups of hundreds or thousands to generate enough power for the city.
Typically this energy from the panels is then stored in large lithium-ion batteries, so that it can be used periodically throughout the day, even when there is little to no sunlight, and therefore less energy.
The Pros of Solar Energy
Solar energy is quite controversial, especially for a renewable and green energy source, but experts believe that there are many benefits to the technology, especially in a few select situations which you’ll see below.
Gives Access to Power in Remote Areas
If you live or adventure in remote areas, getting access to things like power can be incredibly challenging. Rural villages in Africa have been using solar panels for years now because building and creating the infrastructure to get power to them using traditional sources is cost prohibitive.
While it would cost hundreds of millions to install the wiring to transmit power from a nuclear reactor to the village, solar panels are only thousands of dollars.
Similarly, if you find yourself moving around on adventures, then it can be advantageous to have access to power without any need for infrastructure. Portable solar panels are becoming more popular than ever before, meaning that you can bring one with you on your next camping or RV trip.
In these unique situations, no energy source is more plentiful, accessible and affordable than solar, giving power to those who might need it the most.
Works Despite Power Outages
The biggest downside, in practical terms, to traditional power sources like coal or nuclear is that the infrastructure can be easily damaged, causing widespread outages. In these cases, having access to your power sources in the form of a generator, or a solar panel can be life-saving.
It’s not just the frustration of the TV turning off during the Super Bowl; it could be an Earthquake or a military invasion that leads to the destruction of a nation's infrastructure. Although unlikely, these extreme circumstances are when you want access to power the most and having your own personal and infinite source of energy is fantastic.
That’s not to say that solar panels can’t have outages, just that if you have them installed on your own home then you’re not reliant on the national infrastructure.
Green and Renewable Energy
By far the most commonly discussed benefit of solar energy, it doesn’t use fossil fuels or create waste which needs to be disposed of, making it green and renewable. While the sun will eventually burn out and stop producing photons, at that point the Earth will end, so, it’s not a big concern!
Realistically, the burning of coal and other non-renewable energy sources produces greenhouse gases, and carbon dioxide which scientists believe are causing global warming. This warming of the planet is leading to the death of many plant and animal species, creating an unbalanced ecosystem.
While humans have felt very little of the impacts of global warming, it’s starting to become more noticeable with increased global disasters like hurricane and tsunamis. It’s critical for us to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels to prevent this problem.
Solar energy is believed to be the most comprehensive and realistic alternative, giving us access to power without the need for anything but the sun and our panels. If you care about the environment at all, making the switch to a renewable energy source can be empowering and will have a real impact on the world.
Can Generate Low KWH Power
While it’s great to talk about the environmental impact of solar energy, the average person is struggling to pay their bills. As a result, it’s crucial for us to discuss the financial implications of switching to solar, both for individuals and at a government level.
Research has shown that the price of solar energy can vary dramatically, but all evidence points to a decreasing cost of power through solar. This news is fantastic, with some research suggesting that solar energy can be cheaper in many cases than the energy we can currently get from our existing infrastructure.
The Cons of Solar Energy
While there are a wide variety of benefits, not everybody is convinced. There are some valid arguments to be made against the use of solar energy, especially in the short-term as the technology is still developing.
Panels Can Become Damaged
As with any infrastructure, protecting against damage is critical. Unfortunately, you can’t cover up a solar panel to defend it because that would block out all of the sunlight and make them ineffective. For this reason, it’s relatively challenging to make panels tough and durable.
A hurricane, for example, could potentially cause the panels to be torn from the roof or send debris crashing into them, causing them to break. Whereas a large nuclear power station is less likely to experience this same fate, you only need to look to Japan to see the worst case scenario.
Panels aren’t a ‘set and forget’ energy source either; they must be cleaned periodically to prevent dust and debris build-up which will prevent the photons from reaching the solar cells. While not a huge issue for a homeowner, on an industrial level it means employing thousands of workers to wipe millions of panels throughout the year.
High Upfront Investment
While the data is controversial regarding the ongoing cost of solar energy, what’s for sure is that the upfront cost is very high. For a government to switch to solar, it would cost billions of dollars, and even a homeowner might be looking at tens of thousands to install enough panels to power their home.
Although this cost isn’t likely to be an issue for a government, for an individual it’s expected that solar is cost-prohibitive because most of us don’t have thousands of dollars to spare in our bank accounts.
Requires Decent Sunlight
As you might imagine, solar panels need sunlight to perform optimally. However, despite this, they can still operate with cloud cover. The problem is that they don’t function optimally without direct sunlight throughout the day and without this, the cost will be much higher.
The result of this is that solar panels are only realistic for a relatively small percentage of the globe, but scientists believe that as the technology improves we may be able to use them in other areas.
For now, places like Nevada and New Mexico are perfect for solar energy because there is a vast amount of unused land where you can install panels, and there is constant sunlight with little cloud cover or rain.
Demands Large Panels for Household Use
As we discussed earlier in this article, increasing the size of the panels is the best way to generate more electricity. The problem with this is that for a family to power their entire home using solar power; you’ll need multiple large panels to prevent frequent outages caused by a lack of power.
Again, this can make it cost-prohibitive, as well as unsightly. However, some companies like Solar City are making improvements each year, offering affordable alternatives as well as roofing slate that has inbuilt solar cells to hide the panels away from your neighbors.