Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy

Last Updated: 5 March, 2019 by Alexander Thomas

Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy

The benefits of solar energy are many. And as more people become worried about sustainability and the damage that conventional power sources like fossil fuels and nuclear power are having on our environment, more people are turning to this clean, green energy source. But what are the main advantages and disadvantages of solar energy?

Here are some of the biggest solar power pros and cons to help you decide whether joining the solar energy revolution is right for you.

Pros of Solar Energy

The pros of solar energy are many. There are significant benefits to investing in this method of power generation both individually, and as a society. Here are some of the major advantages of investing in solar power.

1. Advantage of Solar Energy: Clean And Renewable Energy

One of the main benefits of solar energy is the clean energy it generates. Once solar panels are installed on your home, site, or in a power plant, every bit of energy they create is clean and green.

Solar panels work by collecting photons from sunlight. Photons are already energy–they’re the  light and heat from the sun that you sense when you step outside on a sunny day. The solar panel simply collects this energy and converts it into a form that can be used for powering the electronics in your home, from your lights to your appliances.

One of the pros of solar energy is that there’s no chemical reaction or combustion involved in power generation through solar. This means there are no polluting byproducts created from the generation of solar energy.

Solar panels in use don’t give off any carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases. They don’t produce any emissions that would pollute the air, ground, or water. Just a simple conversion of the sun’s energy to energy that we can use to power our homes and businesses.

And solar panels last a long time without need for replacement parts. There is little waste generation from maintenance of solar panels because there are few to no moving parts to replace over the life of the solar panel. And the panels themselves last for a quarter century or more before they need updating or replacement.

One of the pros of solar energy over certain other clean energy sources is that worn out parts aren’t constantly entering the landfill. The consumption of elements that make up a solar panel is a one-time thing, rather than having power generation that regularly needs its fuel or parts replaced.

2. Advantage of Solar Energy: Reduce Reliance on Utilities

Another one of the major benefits of solar energy is the reduced need to rely on big utility companies for your electric needs. When you purchase and install solar panels you can drastically reduce the amount of energy your home needs to draw from the power grid. This reduces your consumption of pollution-causing energy, and saves you money.

The money saved from utilities can help you recover the costs of purchasing and installing solar panels. And one of the pros of solar energy is that with a sufficiently sunny location and a good array of panels, you may actually be able to create enough energy to power your home independently, or even to sell power back to the electric utility.

Especially during summer months, when the sun is up late, well into the “peak usage” times of the power companies, a well-placed solar panel array can generate more energy than a single home needs. Depending on your agreement with your utility, that may mean that they buy the extra power back from you creating a profit.

Who wouldn’t be pleased to receive a check rather than a bill from a power company?

Alternatively, this reduced reliance on utilities can be used to allow you to sever your relationship with the big power companies totally and go of the grid.

One of the benefits of solar energy is that you have the flexibility to join your solar array to the existing power grid, or to use your own converters and battery backup to instead keep the solar power that you have generated. It’s your choice, depending upon your individual needs and goals for solar generation.

3. Advantage of Solar Energy: Many Methods of Solar Collection

While a whole-home solar panel array can be a significant investment, entry into the solar power market can actually be as easy as a trip to your local big box store. Many common devices and appliances come with solar power options.

While a whole-home solar panel array can be a significant investment, entry into the solar power market can actually be as easy as a trip to your local big box store. Many common devices and appliances come with solar power options.

This is one of the pros of solar energy: solar panels can be added to most items that are intended to be used outdoors. Many solar powered appliances, big and small, exist. These can work independently of whole-home solar systems to reduce your need to use conventional appliances or light sources.

For example, you could light your home’s exterior with solar powered pathway or flood lights. You could cook food with a solar oven. You could cool your home with solar powered fans. Or even recharge your phone with solar powered charging banks.

This is one of the great benefits of solar energy. There is space for everyone to join in in whatever way works for their home. Live in an apartment and you can’t install solar panels on your roof? No problem. You can still support solar power by installing lights on your patio or balcony that use solar power and don’t draw on the conventional power grid.

And these many solar powered appliances can be particularly handy for those of us who enjoy an outdoor lifestyle, or want to be prepared in an emergency. Solar powered battery backups are particularly popular to purchase and add to an emergency kit for those who live somewhere where inclement weather might cause power failures.C

4. Advantage of Solar Energy: Limited Maintenance

Another one of the pros of solar energy is the limited ongoing maintenance of solar panels. Once solar panels are installed, they typically need little in the way of regular maintenance or part replacement.

Solar panels do need to be inspected regularly to make sure they are clear of debris like leaves or snow cover, but they typically have little in the way of moving parts that might wear out. One of the pros of solar power is that it is so low on the maintenance scale compared to many other methods power generation that require frequent fuel refilling or part replacement.

Compare solar power to wind power which is based on collecting kinetic energy from the wind and converting that to power: there are rotating blades, and a number of internal parts meant to spin or move all needed to work perfectly to convert wind power into useable electrical energy form.

These many moving parts mean that portions of the windmill may wear or break more frequently. That involves downtime while the windmill is broken and being repaired, and creates waste because the broken parts must be discarded, and pollution for new parts to be manufactured and shipped.

Solar energy isn’t subject to the same issues because the moving parts are either nonexistent, or limited to a positioning device like a hinge or axis that allows the panel to track across the sky with the sun.

5. Advantage of Solar Energy: Tax Credits and Rebates

One of the benefits of solar energy is the potential for tax benefits. There’s no denying that installing solar power involves a significant cost. However, that cost can be defrayed by a number of tax credits and rebates available.

In the US, most taxpayers who install a solar energy system is the ITC or investment tax credit. This allows you to deduct 30% of the cost of installing a solar panel array from your taxes.

For the average home installing a solar panel array, that is an additional $5,000 added to your tax refund. Of course, tax benefits vary based on your individual situation, so your deduction may be more or less depending on your personal circumstances.

Keep in mind, however, that the 30% credit expires after 2019. Under the current laws, it will reduce to 26% in 2020, and gradually go down to 10% in the years following.

However, if you have been seriously considering a solar panel array, this may just be the year to act on it, because the benefits are at their peak. This may be just the incentive you need.

Cons of Solar Energy

The benefits of solar energy are many, but unfortunately, that is not the whole story. There are both advantages and disadvantages of solar energy. Some of the cons of solar energy can be overcome, but others may make solar power installation impractical for your situation.

Here are some of the cons of solar energy that you may find when you are considering making the switch to solar power:

1. Disadvantage of Solar Energy: Panel Cost

One of the biggest disadvantages of solar energy is the upfront cost. There is a significant outlay involved in installing a solar panel array. Systems designed to let you go “off grid” require installing enough panels to generate energy for everything in your home, and creating a battery system that lets you charge during the day so you can light and heat your home at night.

A totally independent solar setup like this may cost well over thirty thousand dollars. And even a less ambitious setup that relies on the power grid for backup will often cost between ten and twenty thousand dollars. There is no denying it, solar power installation is a significant and costly investment.

While some of that cost can be recouped quickly via tax credits (see above in the benefits section) the remainder of your investment will be recovered over time in terms of energy savings.

It takes, on average, about eight years for a solar panel array to save you enough on energy costs to recover the initial expense. This significant outlay, and the long investment time to see rewards can be one of the most significant disadvantages of solar energy for many consumers who would otherwise like to employ this clean energy source.

2. Disadvantage of Solar Energy: Energy Storage

If you are feeding your solar energy into the power grid, then the use and storage of power is up to your utility company. However, if you are interested in going off-grid and removing your reliance on big energy companies completely, you must account for the need to store energy when it is generated during the day for your use at night.

If you are feeding your solar energy into the power grid, then the use and storage of power is up to your utility company. However, if you are interested in going off-grid and removing your reliance on big energy companies completely, you must account for the need to store energy when it is generated during the day for your use at night.

One of the cons of solar solar energy is the amount of space that a battery backup system can take up, and the cost of acquiring and maintaining such a system.

In addition to the costs associated with solar panel purchases, the solar energy you collect must be stored. If you want your home to be totally solar-run and independent of the utility grid, then you need to have a battery array to hold the solar power generated during the day so you can light and heat your home when the sun goes down.

A battery system large enough to hold all that energy requires significant space and is heavy, and must be placed on the floor, or very sturdy shelving.

Many people who are attempting to disengage from the power grid are not just interested in solar power, but are interested in low waste or carbon neutral living in general. If having a small home that requires fewer construction materials and less energy to heat and cool is important to you, then making additional space for a mass of batteries is one of the cons of solar energy they will have to contend with.

3. Disadvantage of Solar Energy: Weather Dependent

Another one of the disadvantages of solar energy is that it is dependent on highly variable factors like the weather. Since solar energy generation relies on photons from the sun, cloud cover can be a significant impediment to generating enough solar energy to power your home.

This means on most overcast or rainy days your home’s solar energy system will be operating well below peak performance. If you live in a location that frequently has rain, fog, or heavy cloud cover, this can mean that your solar panels are below peak performance for a significant part of the year.

Additionally, the quality and angle of sunlight varies throughout the year. This is especially true at the higher north latitudes. Shorter winter days will translate to less time collecting sunlight for energy generation, and the change in the angle of light between summer and winter can also mean less energy collection.

Depending on your setup, the pitch of your roof, and your location your energy generation may vary quite a bit from what your system is capable of. This means that the advantages of solar energy in sunny Arizona, might actually be a disadvantage of solar energy in rainy Seattle.

Solar power pros and cons can often be two sides of the same thing. That is the case with weather. The sun shines everywhere, but it doesn’t do so equally.

4. Disadvantage of Solar Energy: Low Mobility

Solar panels are installed into your homes infrastructure. One of the cons of solar energy is that it cannot move with you.

In today’s society we are more mobile than ever. Moving for a new job or buying a larger home for a growing family is very common. And while you can take your furniture, appliances, and personal effects with you, your home solar energy system stays with the building.

If you have to sell your home before you’ve recovered your investment in solar panels, then you may lose money. Someone else will move in and reap the benefits of your investment through energy savings, while you may need to start over in your next home.

On the other hand, having a solar-ready home may be a draw for a new buyer, and allow for you to fetch a better price for your property. This isn’t guaranteed, however, and even if you recover your costs, you’ll have to go through the process of solar installation on your new property if you want to continue to take advantage of solar power.

5. Disadvantage of Solar Energy: Solar Panel Construction Issues

While solar panels generate energy that is clean and green, the construction of solar panels themselves is not always so. One of the benefits of solar energy above was the lack of pollution and byproducts that it generated, but this is true of an already constructed solar panel.

When the construction of the solar panel is factored in, the picture is a little less green. Many solar panels functionality requires the use of rare elements that must be mined from the earth. Mining for elements like tellurium or indium is often damaging to the environment local to the mines.

It is not necessarily that these elements are hard to find, but they are very diffuse in the Earth’s crust. Unlike iron or gold, they don’t collect in relatively pure deposits. Therefore, much ore must be mined and processed to produce even small amounts of such elements. This is obviously quite disruptive to the local environment, and can contribute particularly to ground and water pollution.

Additionally some of these materials are mined in areas where working conditions are very poor. Workers rights to fair and safe conditions are limited, and the pay they receive may be low compared to the danger and physical toll of the work itself.

While solar energy may be clean and green when installed on your roof, there is still a human and environmental cost to get to that point. When you view the entire chain of production, solar energy is not 100% clean.

In Conclusion

There are many solar power pros and cons. The benefits of solar energy are not unlimited–it’s not a magic bullet in the fight for a greener world. However, the disadvantages of solar energy do not eliminate the good that it does in the world.

As we invest more energy and money into creating sustainable solar power for our energy needs, some of the disadvantages may be reduced. The balance of solar power pros and cons will be shifted as technological advances may make it cleaner and greener to manufacture solar panels, and to acquire the materials needed to make the energy cells that collect the power.

And as solar technology advances, we may find that the cost becomes more effective. This is especially true as conventional energy prices increase as fossil fuel production becomes unsustainable. The solar power pros and cons that exist today are likely to shift significantly as we move forward. The pros of solar energy are growing as the cons of solar energy are shrinking. Though there will always be a balance that needs to be struck, the future looks bright for solar power.