The unpredictability of fossil fuels has spooked big players in the energy sector into exploring alternative, renewable and cheap sources of energy. The biggest investment is visibly slanting towards solar, wind and hydropower. While hydropower still rules the energy world, solar presents a clear choice for cheaper electricity moving into the future.
So, what is solar energy? It is energy derived from the sun. Renewable energy technologies such as solar cells and solar panels are used to harness the sun’s energy to provide light, heat, hot water and generation of electricity for homes, businesses, and industries. Although solar energy has some flaws like inconsistency, inefficiency and high initial capital outlay, the upsides pretty much dwarf the downsides.
The upsides to solar energy include low greenhouse emissions, beneficial to remote locations that are not connected to the main power grid, and the provision of green jobs. It’s also reliable in some areas and greatly reduces over-dependence on fossils fuels.
Solar energy is an inexhaustible source of energy with the most potential as it will continue to produce solar power as long as the sun is there. Solar energy is totally free, widely available, produces no pollution, no emission and no noise which means generating solar power produces no carbon footprint. Among all the renewable energy sources available on Earth, solar energy is one of the most widely used renewable source of energy.
Solar energy has a wide array of uses. It can be used to produce electricity, to run calculators, swimming pool heating, solar oven or solar cooker. Solar energy can now also be used to fly planes. This technology is however in its initial stage.
In the year 2015, Solar Impulse, the first solar-powered aircraft, started its Round-The-World flight from Abu Dhabi, on March 9. There is no doubt that solar energy is going to play a significant role in meeting the demand-supply gap for electricity.
Learn more about solar energy:
- Advantages of solar energy
- How Can Your Business Benefit From Commercial Solar Panels?
- Facts of solar energy
- DIY – Solar panel cooker
- Difference Between Active and Passive Solar Systems
- How solar energy works?
- How to build solar power panel
- How solar power panels work?
- What is Solar Energy and Solar Panels?
- 4 Surprising Signs Solar Panels Are Right For You
The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun.
~ Ralph Nader
Disadvantages of Solar Energy
Although a lot of good stuff is said every day about solar energy, people should familiarize themselves with the disadvantages of solar energy before committing any financial resource. Here is an outline of basic disadvantages to solar energy:
1. It’s Not 100% Reliable
This means that when the sun is not shining, there is no generation of energy. The generation of power is mostly affected at night and during winter months. Most people have now invested in battery backup systems, which store up power to be used when the sun is not shining. However, investing in backup systems can ramp up the overall cost of installing a solar panel. It mostly ends up not adding value to solar energy technology.
Unlike other renewable energy sources that can also be operated at night, solar panels prove to be useless which means you have to depend on the local utility grid to draw power in the night or you can buy solar batteries to store excess power which you can later utilize in the night. Apart from that, storms or hurricanes also reduce your ability to draw power during those days.
2. High Initial Capital Costs
Although the installation of solar panels would bring immense benefits in the long run, the upfront costs can be punitive. Depending on the company you choose to buy solar panels from, it could cost an arm and leg. It’s even difficult to quantify the entire cost of installation without the help of manufacturing companies.
Some nations have introduced rebates and tax credits to enable lots of people to install solar panels, but unless you are putting some money aside for this, it can be an unbearable cost.
Also, it might take up to 10 years to 15 years before you can break even with your initial investment. It’s not about how much payback period is, anything that can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels is worth trying.
However, with most governments looking to get ahead of the severe global warming impacts, they have liaised with solar panel manufacturers to dial back on solar panel prices. Today, the average cost of a solar panel is $0.65 per watt. The same solar panels were selling at $0.74 per watt just a year ago. This is a significant commitment to get everyone on board in the use of solar energy.
3. Problem of Efficiency
A lot has been documented about the inefficiency of solar energy. Most people do not understand what efficiency means. People look at 15% efficiency and think that it’s not good enough. They think that the ideal efficiency ought to be 100%. Efficiency is all about the amount of space it takes to generate energy.
It would shock you to know that a 250-watt solar panel featuring 15% efficiency produces the same power like a 250-watt solar panel featuring 20% efficiency. The disparity is shown in size. Smaller panels tend to be more efficient than larger panels.
Higher efficiency is vital when looking to power small electronics due to the space aspect. Nonetheless, a roof is adequate to generate power for any household use. This means people only invest in rooftop solar panels when the roof space is small. It’s also good to note that more efficient panels are relatively expensive.
4. Complications When Moving
Solar energy technologies like solar panels present challenges when looking to move. The solar contracting company will switch the lease agreement to the new user if you decide to move out. These companies do not want to incur any further cost of taking the solar panels down.
In fact, they have expert personnel that works in conjunction with realtors, title agents, and inspection agents to ensure a smooth transition to the new tenant. In case you choose to take the solar panel with you, plus the lease contract, the company can expedite things, but you’ll have to take care of the de-installation and re-installation cost.
5. Materials Used to Make Solar Panels Can Cause Pollution
There is no up-to-date information on the possibility to recycle PV panels. Although solar panels have a remarkable lifespan of about half a century, disposing of these materials can have severe impacts on the environment. This is a challenge that has been ignored over the years and must be addressed now.
6. Negative Energy Balance
The fact that the sun is unpredictable means solar energy cannot be relied upon to power a country’s economy. Solar energy technologies are still being developed, and scientists predict that the technologies will be able to cater to a majority of the world population by 2020. Until then, we will still rely on fossil fuels as the main energy source.
7. Installation Area
For home users, a solar energy installation may not require huge space as it can be installed on rooftops that can produce sufficient energy but for big companies, a large area is required for the system to be efficient in providing electricity on a constant basis.
Various Uses of Solar Energy
When you take into account the power resources and energy you throw into cooking only; the utility bill might send shock waves through your body. Utilizing solar energy to cook is simpler than you think. Imagine trading a conventional oven for a solar one?
It sounds interesting, to say the least. Solar cookers use a reflective solar box or a parabolic disc. This technology is more advantageous in developing nations as it takes away the burden of scavenging forests in search of firewood for cooking, reduces the burden of cooking for women and minimizes respiratory diseases associated with the emission of smoke from firewood. Solar dryers have also been invented to preserve vegetables and fruits in gardens.
2. Heating Homes
Statistically, more than 90% of Israeli homes are installed with solar water heaters. In Canada alone, over 600, 000 m2 of solar water collectors have been set up. This underlines the importance of solar energy as a heating mechanism for your home. The sun’s heat can be harnessed using flat plate or evacuated tubes. Just by committing less than $10, 000, this technology can provide 50 to 80% of your hot water needs.
3. Power Cars
Solar-powered cars are gradually making inroads into the market. This represents the best possibilities for saving your out-of-pocket fuel costs. A typical example of a solar power car is the Nissan Leaf EV.
4. To Produce Electricity
Experts project that by 2050; almost every roof in homes will be covered by solar panels. If you reflect back 30 years ago, the cost of photovoltaics (PV) stood at $100 per watt. Today, an installed PV system costs $3.8 per watt.
This shows that the 2050 dream will become a reality. Solar electricity has also provided an excellent backup to conventional electricity, which is prone to frequent interruptions.
5. To Disinfect Water
Some people live in areas where water sources are unsafe. The sun can play a critical role here by filtering muddy water. Also, filling up plastic pop bottles and placing them out in the sun for about six hours disinfect the water.
The sun’s UV rays have the power to exterminate any organisms or bacteria in the water, hence, minimizing the causes of diarrhea in the area. For those residing near seas, you’ll realize that desalinization plants are increasingly using solar energy to purify the water.
The need to use clean energy and to become self-sufficient will see an explosion of solar energy technologies in the future. The greatest beneficiaries will be people living in remote areas. Spread of solar energy technologies in these areas will mean more electricity, hence, rapid economic expansion, leading to improved quality of life.