Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy

Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy

Slowly and steadily, technology is providing the world with newer ways to produce energy that don’t contribute to our planet’s (on the current rate, imminent) death. Various alternatives exist for non-renewable sources of energy like fossil fuels, thermal energy, etc. Wind energy, hydro energy, geothermal energy are few of the many, many options that now exist. One of them is solar energy, which has many advantages and disadvantages.

WHAT IS SOLAR ENERGY?

Solar heaters, photovoltaics, solar thermal energy, solar architecture, molten salt power plants and artificial photosynthesis harnessed the energy of the sun to create electricity. Techniques that help in harnessing this energy are broadly categorized into two parts: active and passive. Active solar techniques such as photovoltaic systems and concentrated solar power convert this energy into electrical energy to be used for a variety of purposes. Passive solar techniques include orienting a building to the Sun, selecting materials with favourable thermal mass or light-dispersing properties. Passive solar techniques are not useful for a wide variety of purposes.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy
Solar panel costs have fallen 99% since 1977.

WHEN WAS SOLAR ENERGY INVENTED?

Focusing the sun’s energy through a magnifying glass to start fires for cooking can be considered to be the first use of solar power. By the 3rd century B.C., Greeks and Romans bounced sunlight off of “burning mirrors” to light sacred torches for religious ceremonies. French physicist Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect in 1839. He was experimenting with a cell made of metal electrodes in a conducting solution. When it was exposed to light, the cell produced more electricity. The first working selenium solar cell was created 50 years after the photovoltaic effect’s discovery. American inventor Charles Fritz is credited with its creation in 1883. Though we use silicon in cells for modern solar panels, this solar cell was a major precursor to the technology used today.

But really, how good is this energy?

Let’s find out.

Advantages

Long Lasting

Given that scientists estimate that the sun will die in 5 billion years, we have access to solar energy for 5 billion years. The only non-manmade resource that this form of energy requires is the sun. So, as long as there’s the sun, there’s energy!

Location Not Important

Because it derives energy from the sun, there is no specific place that needs to be used for generating energy. It can be generated anywhere in the country, unlike wind energy or hydro energy.

Personal Source

Another advantage of this form of energy is that it can be done in small batches. Since it doesn’t have to be in a specific region, it can be set up anywhere and by anyone. People can set it up in their homes and generate electricity for themselves.

Reduced or Non-Existent Electricity Bill

The general supply of energy is a paid facility, a monthly bill has to be paid. Given the extreme dependence fo humans on electronic devices, this bill is usually quite high. What a home solar power plant does is that it allows some or all devices to run on solar energy. This allows the users to reduce their dependency on the general supply of general. The tangible benefit of this is that it leads to a lower electricity bill. Furthermore, in some households or localities where people are not that dependent on electricity, it might also completely eliminate the electricity bill.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy
Home solar energy system

Source of Revenue

Solar energy can also prove to be a source of revenue for households. When they generate their own electricity, the surplus can be exported back to the grid, considering that your solar panel system is connected to the grid.

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No Maintenance

Other than a clean-up two or three times a year, solar energy systems do not require any maintenance, hence lowering the cost involved.

Subsidy

In many states/nations, governments provide subsidy or financial help to individuals trying to install solar panels in their households. This is done to incentivize the usage of solar power. An obvious link that can be drawn is that switch to solar power means that people will reduce their usage of other fuels. In the current day, “other fuels” usually implies fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are extremely harmful to the environment. They emit large amounts of greenhouse gases and also contribute to land pollution. 

Increased Property Value

Because of the other benefits, pre-installed solar panels also allow homeowners to get a higher price for their property.

Silent

Some renewable sources of energy, like hydropower or wind energy, are extremely loud. Wind turbines make a lot of noise when they turn. Water falling from a height also makes loud, constant noise. This makes these sources of energy unsuitable for residential areas. Exposure to prolonged or excessive noise has been shown to cause a range of health problems ranging from stress, poor concentration, productivity losses in the workplace, and communication difficulties and fatigue from lack of sleep, to more serious issues such as cardiovascular disease, and cognitive impairment. It also leads to interrupted sleep, with its flow-on effects of tiredness, impaired memory and creativity, impaired judgement and weakened psychomotor skills. Unlike wind and hydro energy, solar energy works silently. Solar panels do not make any noise while working, and hence can be installed anywhere.

Disadvantages of Solar Energy

Cost

Even though it only requires a one-time investment, the cost incurred is extremely high. 

Doesn’t Work For Everyone

Even though solar panels can be installed in almost every region, they cannot be installed on every type of roof. They require a certain type of platform for the panels to be able to work properly.

Weather Dependent

Solar energy might be a viable source of energy forever, but that still comes with conditions. In order to generate solar energy, the solar panels need to be under direct sunlight. This is not possible during the monsoon, on a cloudy day and during the winter season. Hence, solar energy might be around forever, but not all the time.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy
China is the world leader in solar energy.

Not Completely Clean

The generation of solar energy in itself might be clean, but the transmission isn’t. The transmission of solar energy has been linked to the emission of greenhouse gases. There are also some toxic materials and hazardous products used during the manufacturing process of solar photovoltaic systems.

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Requires Space

Solar panels are quite large, and hence require a lot of space to be set up. They also need to be set up an area and in a way that they get sunlight for as long as possible.

Expensive Storage

All forms of energy, once generated, have to either be used immediately or stored in batteries. In the case of this form of energy, these batteries are rather expensive. These batteries can be used at night in off-the-grid systems. If these batteries are not an option, electricity requirements after sundown can be met by using the electricity from the grid.

Pros and Cons of Solar Energy

PROS

CONS

Long lasting

Cost

Location not important

Doesn’t work for everyone

Personal source

Weather dependent

Reduced or non-existent electricity bill

Not completely clean

Source of revenue

Requires space

No maintenance

Expensive storage

Subsidy

 

Increased property value

 

Silent

 

Conclusion

Technology hasn’t yet given us an energy source that can be termed as completely clean with absolutely no downsides. But, the benefits of solar energy far outweigh the disadvantages it poses.