As the calendar approaches 2020, one of the most heated topics to demand attention faster and with more frequency is climate change. Like a timebomb ticking, we watch as everyday our world produces more pollution, more garbage and trash, and more toxic chemicals. How close are we to the final countdown? Stark evidence and worrying predictions for the future of our planet, and thus our very wellbeing, force us to examine the disadvantages of how we continue to rely on non-renewable resources. It forces us to confront our responsibility to build a sustainable global future. We ask how to best build a healthy and successful future, and it is renewable resources, and solar power in particular, that answers our call.
Solar power is at the leading edge of renewable energy and gains strength in the market year after year. It’s quickly becoming the more affordable consumer resource for powering homes, businesses, and institutes. The rising cost of non-renewable utilities is another major reason solar power continues to excel. More and more consumers are not only concerned with the damage done to the environment, but also to the bottom line, and traditional gas and electric are simply not the better choices any longer.
This coupled with the sheer convenience of solar power, turns more individuals to this green, sustainable option at an increasing rate. For businesses like hotels and shopping malls, and institutes like schools and hospitals, solar farming is an attractive, viable option. Using solar power as a supplement to traditional power, and as a power generation back-up system, is a cost-effective, easy-to-maintain solution to make sure operations are not interrupted. For individual consumers, the convenience of being able to charge home appliances or devices on the go, with free, off-grid power is undeniable. Whether for work or for fun, we travel more frequently as we rely more heavily on phones and devices to get things done. It’s no wonder the need to stay powered all day becomes so significant. It’s also no surprise that solar makes a perfect solution for people on the move, like business professionals, outdoor enthusiasts, and emergency preppers.
With so many advantages to solar power, you may wonder, what’s the catch? Are there negative aspects of solar power to be considered, too? To answer these questions (and others), continue reading for a look at the basics of solar energy and the major pros and cons you should examine before you go solar.
Solar Energy 101
As discussed in a variety of solar energy books, a solar energy system harnesses the power of sunlight and converts it into electricity for homes and businesses. A few essential components are necessary for such a system to function correctly. This includes:
These panels are made of several dozen solar power cells and are either mounted on the roof of your home, supported by standing frames, or even mounted in water like with marine solar panels. To power an entire residential solar system, you’ll need upwards of 20 panels, depending on your monthly energy consumption, but also depending on the quality of the panels and the amount of exposure to direct sunlight they’ll get throughout the day. (To find out how long solar panels last, click the preceding link!)
One of the disadvantages to solar energy is that the system only collects power for essentially half of the day. Solar power obviously only works while there’s exposure to the sun. To provide electricity for your household during the night or when other power sources fail, you’ll need to connect one or several batteries to your solar power system. This will act as a bank of power that you can continuously recharge for use.
Control Panel and Inverter
Most any solar power system is going to require a control panel that allows the owner to control AC/DC power, among other controls. These panels often display a system status and a monitor system that ensures optimal functionality. These tools also ensure that there will be no unintentional battery depletion by discharge or overcharging.
It’s worth knowing that in addition to the stationary panels often seen on roofs and in fields to power buildings, there are portable solar solutions, too. A perfect example of this might be folding solar panels and that can be easily mounted to, or transported by your camper or boat. While there’s a wide variety of impressive portable solar solutions available, we’ll consider the pros and cons of solar power for homes and businesses for the sake of ease and focus.
With these basics in mind, now let’s consider both the advantages and disadvantages of solar power. We’ll focus primarily on the concerns of eco-consciousness, cost, efficiency, and maintenance and safety. Continue reading for a breakdown of the good, the bad, and the sunny.
Pros & Cons: #1 – The Environment
Generally speaking, this is no contest. Solar energy is renewable, sustainable, and does far less damage and destruction than the dwindling resources our planet runs with everyday. But let’s take a closer look:
It’s a renewable resource
Fossil fuels used in the traditional production of electricity are becoming increasingly scarce worldwide, whereas we cannot run out of solar energy. So long as the sun is alive (about 6.5 billion years, give or take, says NASA), we can benefit from solar power.
Solar energy is not scarce. In fact, enough photons hit the surface of the earth to satisfy global energy needs for a year in just one hour.
Because it’s renewable and abundant, solar power is a way for us to satisfy our electricity needs without compromising the ability of our children and of future generations to satisfy theirs.
It’s pollution-free power
We don’t need to burn fossil fuels or pollute the atmosphere with harmful CO2 emissions and greenhouse gases in order to harness solar energy. This is an important reason why going solar is viewed as a potential solution to our current climate crisis and considered a great way to power things like outdoor solar lights.
It’s not completely pollution-free
Pollution during manufacturing is a major concern to environmentalists. Sulfur hexafluoride and nitrogen trifluoride, two greenhouse gases that are far more dangerous than CO2, have been associated with the production of solar panels.
Batteries Still Required
Most solar generators and solar power systems require batteries in order to provide electricity during the night or during cloudy days. These batteries are difficult to manufacture, and can often be made of heavy metals and other toxic waste that causes damage when disposed of. Though solar power systems typically lower the amount of battery consumption for an average user, it does still require batteries that must, at some point, be replaced.
Pros & Cons: #2 – The Financial Aspect
While it is relatively clear that solar energy is preferable to traditional sources of electricity from the standpoint of environmental safety, to decide whether going solar is an option for you, you must first examine the financial pros and cons of solar energy.
Return on investment is guaranteed
After the initial cost of equipment and materials, a solar power system will start to save you significant money on utilities. Statistics show that you can offset your power consumption by as much as 76%, while saving up to $1,500 on your monthly power bill. In the best case scenario, you’ll recover your investment in no more than 5 years, while the total amount of savings you’ll benefit from over the entire lifetime of the system is upwards of $580,000.
Another way you save with solar is on your taxes. Homes and businesses are encouraged to employ solar energy and are rewarded with tax credits for doing so.
If your solar power system is efficient enough to meet all your needs and then some, you can actually make money by selling this power back to the grid.
Equipment and materials are costly
Initial investment in a solar powered system can be expensive, especially if you invest in high-quality, high-capacity systems and panels and a custom solar panel installation.
Pros & Cons: #3 – The Efficiency Factor
If going solar is something you can afford and you would like to make the change for a more sustainable future, you’re probably also interested in whether solar energy can keep up with traditional resources.
Installation is easy
It’s much more efficient and cost-effective to install a solar power system than an electric and gas system. Old, non-renewable systems require expensive permits and professionals. Solar lighting and other systems are easy enough for a DIY enthusiast and have minimal wiring and setup.
Electricity in remote locations
If you own a remote cabin or want to travel to remote locations in your converted bus, getting your place connected to an electricity grid can be an exorbitant cost, as well as an inconvenience. A portable solar generator or solar energy system, on the other hand, can be far more affordable and only takes minutes to install.
Travelling and camping
Small solar generators are more than enough to power devices such as phones, tablets, and even laptops. The advantage of going solar when you travel as opposed to using a traditional electric generator is that you do not require fuel to recharge your batteries. As a result, you will worry less about safety, while the solar generator will emit no fumes, will operate silently, and will not run out of power so long as it will be exposed to the sun.
Solar power can only be harnessed during the day and must be stored for use during periods of time when solar panels are not exposed to sunlight.
Rechargeable doesn’t always mean dependable
Batteries used in solar systems are not necessarily powerful enough to ensure that a household or business can run on solar power for extensive periods of time, especially in the absence of sunlight. This is why, for the time being, homes that have already gone solar remain connected to the power grid and sometimes depend on electricity from fossil fuels.
Pros & Cons: #4 – Maintenance and Safety
As an experienced entrepreneur or homeowner, you’re obviously thinking about the benefits and risks associated with the maintenance of solar panels. Although you’re not wrong to think that some upkeep will be necessary, you can mostly sit back and let the sun shine.
Maintenance and Safety Advantages
Maintenance is Simple
Once your system is initially installed, there won’t be too much for you to do after that. Every so often, it’s recommended that you check on your panels to make sure nothing is obstructing them like branches, debris, or thick dust or soot. Other than that, you may need to replace a battery every so often. Depending on the system, that could be every 2 or 3 years, or upwards of 10 years.
No wires mean less danger
Without the need for traditional wiring, especially when it comes to outdoor lighting, there is much less risk of hazard for children and pets around the home.
Avoid the risk of home fires
Solar power is also much safer for homes in that it poses much less threat for a home fire than traditional electrical and gas power systems. Gas and electric are much more volatile and pose a bigger threat for fire hazard than solar.
Maintenance and Safety Disadvantages
Though solar panel systems are very low maintenance, in the instances where you need to hire a professional for advice and service, it can be harder to find a certified technician and it can be more expensive to pay for services.
Takeaways for Solar Consumers
While we may sit on the precipice of a leading new technology, it’s still evident that we aren’t quite ready to make a full global switch to renewable energy only. For this reason, for now, we must strike a balance between the future of energy, and the grandfather of it. Both still offer benefits and until we iron out the disadvantages of one, the other will remain. There are three main advantages of solar energy available to the wider public at present:
Solar is the most sustainable
Conversion into electricity doesn’t require the burning of fossil fuels, nor does it produce pollution of the caliber of traditional sources of electricity.
Solar energy is financially sound
From return-on-investment, to tax breaks, to making money from excess power, individuals and businesses stand to gain financial success from solar power.
Solar energy is easy
Whether it’s learning to use your system or maintain it, solar power is very easy, especially compared to the old, traditional methods. Even installing a system is quite a bit easier than installing electrical systems.
The biggest disadvantages to solar power are still:
- It’s an intermittent energy resource that must be supplemented with batteries or power banks
- The initial cost to switch and install can be expensive
All in all, if you put together the pros and cons of solar energy, you’ll notice that if the investment is something you can afford, then the rewards are considerable. Yes, solar energy is still at an early stage in its development, but any issues currently affecting its efficiency will likely be resolved in the near future. By going solar, you’ll not only save money in the long run, you’ll contribute to the very survival and preservation of our planet.