Solar Energy Pros And Cons: Getting Started

Getting Started: Solar Energy Pros And Cons

There are several solar energy pros and cons to consider. For example, it is cheap in the long run, but not in the short run.

PROS

First, we will start with the pros of solar energy.

1. Renewable – Solar energy is a clean and renewable energy source.

This means that we cannot run out of solar energy. This is a sharp contrast 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.

Solar panels also give off no contamination. The main contamination that occurs as a consequence of solar panels is the assembling of these gadgets in industrial facilities. This also happens in the transportation of the merchandise and the installation.

That means once a solar panel installation is complete on your home, they are doing absolutely nothing negative to the atmosphere. This is a huge difference from what you see with other forms of standard energy.

2. Abundant – The potential of solar energy is beyond imagination.

The surface of the earth receives 120,000 terawatts of solar radiation (sunlight). This is 20,000 times more power than what the world needs.

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. Solar energy is sustainable because there is no way we can over-consume.

4. Environmentally Friendly – Harnessing solar energy generally does not cause pollution.

However, emissions have an association with the manufacturing, transportation, and installation of solar power systems. This is almost nothing compared to most conventional energy sources.

It is clear that solar energy reduces our dependence on nonrenewable 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.

The level of solar irradiation that falls upon the earth varies with the geography of the planet. Generally, the closer to the equator the more solar energy, but what most don’t realize is that solar energy can be used anywhere.

For example, in the sunniest parts of America a solar system will produce on average 4.7 kWh of power per 1 kilowatt of solar panels.

But in the least sunny areas, such as the mountains and north east, it will still produce 2.9 kilowatt hours per kilowatt, per day. So although some areas are better than others for solar power it is still viable in almost all locations.

6. Power Remote Areas

One of the incredible benefits of solar energy is the capability to bridle power in remote areas that are not connected to a national electrical matrix.

A prime example of this is in space, where satellites are controlled by high productivity solar cells.

The establishment of solar panels in remote areas is normally substantially more financially savvy than laying the high voltage wires that are necessary to provide these areas with electricity.

Solar energy might be extremely productive in an expansive region of the globe. New innovations take into account a more effective energy generation on cloudy or dull days.

7. Reduces Electricity Costs

With the introduction of net metering and feed-in tariff (FIT) schemes, homeowners can now “sell” excess electricity. They can also 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 www.solar-estimate.org reveals that adding solar panels to your home can bring in annual savings of well above $1000 per year in many states.

In California, residents save on average $28,000 after 20 years! The availability of solar finance options in the form of Solar PPA agreements and various zero down loan facilities has grown in recent years. This means solar is now more affordable and more available than ever before.

7A. 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.

8. Marginal cost –  Generation cost is zero

For most American homeowners the most significant attraction to solar power is that once the capital cost of installing it is paid off, the energy is free. This means the only real question is whether the payback period on the capital investment is better than the returns they would get from investing their money in other ways.

What will surprise you is that we now list this as the leading advantage of solar energy. The reason we do this is that most homeowners are now more interested in the financial aspects of installing solar rather than the environmental benefits.

9. 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.” This 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 integrated into the material of buildings (building integrated photovoltaics). Sharp, a solar panel manufacturer with headquarters in Japan, recently introduced transparent solar power windows.

10. Shared Solar

Because of shading, insufficient space and ownership issues, 1/5 American homes are simply unfit for solar panels.

With the introduction of shared solar, homeowners can subscribe to “community solar gardens.” They generate solar electricity without actually having solar panels on their own rooftops.

11. Silent

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

Because there are really no moving parts in solar power systems there is no noise at all with photovoltaics.

12. Insurance against rising power prices

Installing a solar power system on your home means you can lock in a price of energy for at least the 25 year life of the solar panels.

You know how much energy the solar panels will produce so that once you get an accurate price quote you know exactly how much each kilowatt hour of energy will cost you over the next 25 years.

Many consumers are now able to get a cost of energy of $0.10 per kilowatt hour. Compare this to the average amount you will pay to your utility for power over the next 25 years. The average consumer with a $150 per month power bill can see savings in the range $30,000 over the life of a solar system.

The monthly savings don’t start out being huge, perhaps only $50 per month but in the 25th year it can reach savings of $300 per month.

You can use this solar savings calculator to check what your savings will be based on usage and utility rates.

13. Community Solar can be used to overcome installation issues

Because of shading, insufficient space, and ownership issues, many American homes are simply unfit for solar panels.

With the introduction of shared solar, homeowners can subscribe to “community solar gardens.” This means you can generate solar electricity without actually having solar panels on your own rooftops.

The advantage of this is that installation costs can be cheaper if large numbers of panels are put in on vacant land.

You must pass legislation to enable community solar in each state. While there have been some laws in effect for a while in smaller states, it is only just now coming into play in key states such as California and New York.

14. Financial Support from Government Entities

In December 2015 the US Senate passed an extension to the 30 percent Renewable Tax Credit, extending this tax credit for a further 8 years.

In addition to this Federal incentive, there are also rebates available in some jurisdictions at either the state, county or utility company level.

Financial Support from Federal 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%.

15. Technology is Improving

People are constantly making technological advancements in the design and manufacture of solar power equipment.

As the cells in solar panels become more efficient at turning solar energy into electricity the amount of space necessary to generate solar power will fall.

16. It improves the value of your home.

Millions of U.S. homeowners want solar panels but haven’t researched what it takes to install them. This consumer reality, and the undeniable benefits of having solar panels on a home, complements recent studies that found property values increase after solar is installed.

Even if you’re planning on moving in the near future, you’ll earn back your solar panel investment and then some when you sell your home.

17. It can pay you money while you’re earning back your investment.

Solar panels can actually turn you a profit in addition to generating bill savings that pay off the cost of the system. This is due to a number of awesome solar incentives in the U.S.

Solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) and net metering are two key benefits of solar that allow you to earn bill credits (or even extra cash) as your system produces electricity.

In these scenarios, you are being compensated for the electricity that your solar panels generate. If you live in a state where either of these incentives applies, you can expect both immediate and long-term returns from your solar investment.

CONS

Here are some cons of solar energy which might give you pause before taking the plunge.

1. Expensive

Is solar power really expensive? This is probably the most debatable aspect on this entire solar energy pros and cons list. The driving forces behind the development of solar energy are rooted in politics.

There is a built-in incentive in solar power to compete against other energy sources on the market. On the other hand, the U.S. government provides incentives to every major energy production market. This is not just solar. This is similar to the rest of the world.

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

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.

1A. Initial Cost

The most significant con of solar energy is how much it costs to install the solar panels on your home.

Costs of the best quality solar cells right now might be above $1000. A few families may require more than one. This makes the starting cost of solar panels expensive.

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.

Here are some more details. There are three aspects of the intermittent nature of solar power;

  • The sun doesn’t shine at night, so solar panels don’t generate power at night.
  • The sun shines with different intensity at different times of year and different times of each day.
  • Cloud cover can have a significant effect on the amount of energy produced by solar panels.

All of these factors have meant that to date the prevailing wisdom is that solar power can not be relied on for base load or for mission critical applications.

However, this is changing. An announcement last year by Tesla Motors that it intends to sell a Lithium Ion battery solution suitable to allow consumers to cost-effectively store solar power is a sign that this may not be a limitation on solar power for long.

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 is 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. You can trace nitrogen trifluoride and sulfur hexafluoride back to the production of solar panels.

These are some of the most potent greenhouse gasses 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 that 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. One needs too much low power density to provide the power we demand at reasonable prices.

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

7. Solar Doesn’t Move House

One of the disadvantages with installing solar panels on your home is that it is expensive to move them should you decide to move. The net metering agreement with your utility is fixed to the property.

However, solar panels add value to a home, so even if you do move you are likely to see the value of your investment in solar panels reflected in a higher sale price.

It is much easier if you purchase the solar panels outright if you do move because with a lease or PPA you need to the new owner to agree to take over the agreement

8. Solar Cells Effectiveness

If there is air pollution in your area already, it could cause some problems for you. Pollution levels can influence solar cells’ effectiveness. This would be a significant con for organizations or industries that are looking to introduce solar panels in high pollution zones (high population areas, cities, etc).

9. It doesn’t work for every type of roof

Rooftop solar panels are installed by connecting a mounting system (also known as “racking”) to your roof. Certain roofing materials used in older or historical homes, such as slate or cedar tiles, can be difficult for solar installers to work with, throwing up a road block for solar power.

Additionally, many homes and apartment buildings have skylights or other rooftop additions like roof decks that can make the solar installation process difficult or costly.

In the long run, however, this shouldn’t be a barrier to the mass adoption of solar power in the U.S. If your home doesn’t qualify for a rooftop solar installation, you still have options. These include ground mounted solar panels or buying a share in a community solar garden can get you around this disadvantage of solar energy.

10. Finding quality, local installers and easily comparing quotes can be difficult.

There’s a common association that many homeowners have with solar. It has to do with pushy door-to-door solar sales reps. They pressure consumers to sign a 20-year solar contract before they explain the full scope of the offer or the credibility of the solar company.

Solar is one of the fastest growing markets in the world, and there are plenty of companies that are deploying aggressive sales tactics to get their fair share of the market.

As a result, for many people, shopping for solar can be a stressful and confusing scenario. Luckily, there are easier ways to shop for solar that puts the homeowner in control.

Sources: Energy Informative, Solar Reviews, Conserve Energy, Sunpower, Energy Sage

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Craig Scott
 

I love to spend all the time I can outdoors and find every excuse to leave my house. I write about everything about our planet and I edit even more of it. I hope you'll join me in making the Earth a cleaner and greener place!

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