Solar energy negatives overview can and should be discussed by everyone. Considering the renewable energy goals in the U.S. and in the world up to 2040, public opinion matters a lot.
To fight climate change in the energy sector, people need information to join the conversation and understand the best solar panels sollutions available, distribution and usage.
Disadvantages and advantages of solar energy
In this Hourglass articles you can check the overall disvantages of solar energy and the advantages of adopting this power system. Starting by solar energy disadvantages.
1. High initial investment
The installation of an On-Grid or Off-Grid photovoltaic system can entail a high initial investment, since connected systems of 5000W, for example, are not priced below $3,500.
A large part of the investment is due to the interactive inverters, also known as “grid-tie”. These devices cost around $12,600 for this power.
For isolated systems of the same power, stationary batteries are the main components, and they usually have a price tag of around $7000 each.
Solar energy consortiums and subsidized financing, along with public and private banks that make special credit lines available for investments in sustainable resources are extremely favorable resources for the photovoltaic energy sector.
2. Dependence on the grid and the utilities
One solar energy limitations is that solar panels are only able to produce electricity during the day, because at night there is no sunlight to provide power generation. Therefore, during the nighttime hours the necessary electricity is supplied from other sources.
Although consumption during the night can be compensated for by credits, the on-grid system does not offer independence from the national grid, nor from the power utility. See how solar energy works.
In addition, for safety reasons, if the grid runs out of power, the on-grid solar system is forced to shut down, which happens automatically. In other words, if the power from the street runs out, you will also be without power, even if you have sun.
3. Weather dependence
The efficiency of solar power plants depends to a large extent on the incidence of sunlight for the energy harvesting to be complete. Therefore, cloudy and rainy days can impact its performance.
4. Solar panels don’t generate energy during the night
The solar energy system has the possibility of generating credits granted by the electric energy concessionaire to compensate for night-time periods or rainy/cloudy days.
Both with respect to time (day/night) and climate, it is also possible to count on hybrid systems for storage.
Advantages of solar energy
As we have seen above, the high cost of installing solar energy harvesting makes it difficult to popularize the technology.
However, this does not mean that the investment is not profitable. Therefore, we will list some of the advantages of installing this renewable energy source.
Reduces the electric energy bill
Solar energy dispenses with the use of power supplied by the utilities. This allows photovoltaic systems to reduce energy costs up to 95% compared with the traditional distribution system.
In addition, solar energy is a clean and renewable source, which means that it does not pollute the environment.
Long service life
Despite the high initial investment, installing solar panels proves to be an extremely wise choice over time.
Approximately five years will be enough to recover all the money invested, and the benefits of this system can be enjoyed for twenty-five years, without the need for major maintenance.
Renewable and free energy
We know that the sun is a universal good that offers several advantages, the main one being free energy, which can reduce our electricity bills by up to 90%.
Therefore, betting on this natural resource is an excellent way to save money and still preserve the environment.
Versatility and agility in installation
The installation of solar panels is a viable option for most cases, companies, and energy needs.
Since they can be easily attached to roofs, slabs, soil, and water, there are a variety of possibilities for allocating the panels. In addition, they are relatively compact, taking up little space.
With the help of professionals, installation is quick, especially in homes or small businesses.
Appreciation of the property
Investing in solar energy systems is a great business for homeowners, as they will not only generate financial gains, but also increase the price of the property.
In addition, owners will enjoy significant savings on their electricity bill compared to other buildings.
This savings is recognized by the market and is reflected in the value of the property. A potential buyer will recognize this added value and be willing to pay more for the property.
Low maintenance cost
Investing financial resources in energy production systems from solar radiation can be highly profitable. In addition, the devices require no moving parts, which results in little mechanical degradation.
Finally, solar panels have a longevity of more than 25 years, requiring only annual maintenance.
Low environmental impact
Harnessing solar energy has proven to be one of the most environmentally friendly methods when compared to other energy sources.
Although the manufacture of photovoltaic modules releases carbon dioxide, its use over its long useful life, which exceeds 25 years, makes the environment healthier.
Once installed, the photovoltaic system is capable of producing electrical energy without emitting carbon dioxide. The worlwide solar energy matrix emits, on average, 50g of C02 per kWh generated, which does not change this source position as one of the most sustainable in the world.
Are solar panels bad for the environment?
The silicon photovoltaic panels – the most used in the world and the ones you probably know – go through a long production process before they can be installed on rooftops (Distributed Generation – DG) or in a solar plant (Centralized Generation – CG).
To produce the photovoltaic cells initially requires mining activities that can generate surface water contamination, vegetation removal, soil contamination, forced evasion of wild animals previously existing in the mineral extraction area, etc.
Besides these, to produce the solar cells a huge amount of energy is needed and the big problem is that the main producer – China – has an energy matrix with 85.4% of primary energy generated from non-renewable sources, coal being the main source (68%) – BP Statistical Review (2019). Not to mention the carbon footprint of distributing these solar cells to all countries.
Each nation, depending on its geographical qualities, can either import the ready-made modules or manufacture them in-house with the imported cells.
When the panel is ready it can have two main destinations: GD and GC. In DG, there are few negative environmental impacts, unlike what is observed in CG.
The implementation of large solar plants requires vast areas, which can lead to the loss of native vegetation, changes in the landscape, formation of degraded areas, intensification of erosive processes, loss of habitat for local fauna, etc.
After photovoltaic modules and plates reach the end of their useful life (they last 25 to 30 years, but can be replaced much sooner) they become waste. What to do with them?
Incorrect management of photovoltaic waste involves the loss of scarce precious metals (e.g. silver, copper, gallium, indium, germanium) and conventional materials (such as aluminum and glass) and major environmental issues arising from the release of hazardous substances such as the highly toxic metal lead.
Panel recycling has proven to be the most appropriate option, but policies and regulations are needed to make it mandatory or at least encouraged.
Even with all the negative environmental impacts exposed, it is important to highlight that the choice of using solar energy is very positive when compared to other energy sources, mainly of fossil origin.
Types of solar energy
There are two main types of solar energy: photovoltaic and heliothermal.
Solar heliothermal energy
In this system, the heat receiver is heated by sunlight that is reflected on solar panels.
It is this liquid that is responsible for storing the heat that heats water in the power plants, producing steam for the machinery to run.
The steam makes the turbines of each power plant move, driving the generators that convert the generated energy into electricity.
This type of solar energy is the best choice for regions with high incidence of sunlight. In other words, regions with flat terrain and few clouds.
Photovoltaic solar energy
Photovoltaic solar energy is simpler than heliothermal.
Here, solar panels capture solar radiation and convert it into electrical energy through photovoltaic cells.
The solar panels production is based on semiconductor materials, for example, silicon. Why is that? Because eletrons love to play around. So, we need a material that gives them the chance to “walk” through.
With the sun heat touching the solar cells, the eletrons start their moviment across this panel towards an electric field, where the power generation magic happens.
The photovoltaic system, unlike the heliothermic system, does not require an environment with high radiation for its operation.
In this case, the energy generated by each solar panel depends on the weather and climate conditions of the region where the solar energy is installed. The less clouds, the greater the production of electrical energy.
Will solar panels get cheaper?
Yes, solar panels will get cheaper. Likewiseevery new technology, they came to market in a completely unaffordable price to the average customer, but the predictions are good: prices tend to get lower and lower folks.
In the last 20 years, the average price of solar panels has dropped by more than 80 percent. And every year the price of the solar panel drops more.
This happens for two reasons: firstly, the energy industry finds new solutions to make production and distribution cheaper.
Researchers from the UK, Portugal, and Brazil have developed research that showed higher absorption in solar energy cells, making them thinner, and that will help to lower the price of solar panels on sale. The increase found was 125%.
Another factor in making solar panels cheaper starting in 2023 is the goals of each nation to decarbonize the economy.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) goal, for example, is to decarbonize electricity by 2035, so that by 2050 the power sector (responsible for 73% of U.S. CO2 emissions) will be completely sustainable and decarbonized.
Solar energy overview: is it worth it?
This renewable source of power have this advantages and disvantages. It can be very expensive to buy, but save you thousands of dollars in power bills.
The solar panels have a low carbon footprint in energy generation, but the sollar cells finding and the equipment production can emit lots of carbon and be extremely harmful for the environment because of mining.
Anyway, it’s a better alternative to coal, one of the more clean sources of energy, loosing only to wind energy. Solar energy is the future and the problems that we have it solar panels should be discussed and solved rather than being a strong reason to avoid it’s adoption.
In Hourglass you can find all the information needed about solar panels and how this technology can transform not only your home, but the whole planet.