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What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy

Solar energy offers with it the potential to eliminate an over-reliance on carbon burning sources of fuel. Within the United States, such a shift in energy production would represent a great deal of change as countless energy interests fight for a place of relevance in a future energy market. Putting politics and special interests aside, lets take a moment to carefully review the advantages and disadvantages of solar energy. Designed strictly for the purpose of edification, the conclusions you draw from these finding are entirely your own.

Advantages of Solar         

1. A Renewable Source Of Energy

Renewable energy comes from natural sources or processes that are continually replenished. It is also referred to as clean energy. Solar energy harnesses the power of sunlight to create electricity. The sun is an infinite source of light that can guarantee billions of years of potential electrical energy. . According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “more energy from the sun falls on the earth in one hour than is used by everyone in the world in one year.

This opposed to non-renewable energy that cannot be replenished after it is used. There are four major types of non- renewable energy this includes Oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear energy.  Oil, natural gas and coal are the most common and referred to as fossil fuels as they are formed from decayed dead plants and animals over millions of years. Fossil fuels are ultimately finite in nature and are bound to get used up at some point in time. Fossil fuels are also plentiful in some countries while not some countries have none at all.

Solar energy can be used to harness the light as a source of electricity or use the heat to provide heating. Solar Panels use Photovoltaic technology that converts light to DC electricity while Solar thermal uses another type of technology to harness the heat.  Other sources of renewable energy are wind, water (hydro), biomass, and geothermal.

2. Friendly To The Environment

Climate Change is no longer a subject as to when it will happen but is already happening. Scientists argue that climate change is caused by an increase of greenhouse gases emissions in the atmosphere.  People ask then why are the seasons not change yet, we still have winter and you claim that there is global warming?  Well the change is to a degree Celsius in a year’s temperature compared to the historical weather patterns (read climate).  While this is small the continued increases will lead to non -reversal effects.  

This is why scientists are making an argument for more healthier energy sources that do not produce CO2 emissions.  Non-renewable energy sources  like Oil and gas while being finite in nature produce a great deal of C02. On the contrary Solar energy is a renewable and carbon-free resource  of energy and using solar  could help reduce the need to burn these fuels decreasing the rate at which we destroy the environment.

However some might argue that some toxins are used in the production of solar panels that can harm the environment.   But with proper disposal and the fact that solar panels are used for over 25 years the effects are minimal.

3. Does Not Produce Noise

Solar panels are preferred to Generators for off grid residential use as they do not produce noise. Even when camping with trailers and you do not want to make noise to your neighbors while powering your appliances solar panels are a great choice.

The process of producing power in solar panels, storing or even using an inverter to convert it to AC power is noiseless. While some heat and in some cases dangerous gases can be produced (more on this later when we look at disadvantages though this not directly from solar panels)

Solar panels do not have any movable parts and just required to be positioned facing direct sunlight for maximum efficiency. This also means that they require little maintenance and just need to be cleaned at least once a year of any materials or residue and that’s it.

This compared to generators even the new and improved ones are still a nuisance and have to be set up far away to at least reduce the noise. The noise is not limited to combustion engine but even traditional power plants and other clean alternatives like hydro or wind turbines.

4. An Abundant Source Of Energy

As stated before, the sun is here to stay and can be relied upon any day.  As long as there is no constant cloud cover you can depend on your panels to provide a continuous stream of power. Solar panels can be used to power portable devices, house hold appliances and even your entire house from lights to refrigerators. This is totally dependent on the size of your system.  

A typical roof top system produces 6 kilowatts per day. This is from an average of twenty 300 watts solar panels. This kind of system will cover the annual needs of a household. Rooftop systems on commercial buildings can reach up to 100 kilowatts and even 1 Megawatt power plant. The number of solar panels can vary in each system but the average modules are between 300 and 400 watts. 

Not all locations receive the same amount of sunlight and also not all seasons provide same number of hours of sunlight. Sun’s rays strike the equator more directly giving the area more heat. The equator also gets equal number of hours of daylight every day for most of the year while areas closer to the poles get more hours of sunlight during summer and less hours during winter.

Some areas may also get more cloud cover and rainy days than others. But this is not to say they won’t get enough solar energy. Consider the success with solar that has been had in several parts of cloudy Germany, and it becomes evident that even when sunlight is reduced, energy is still created.

5. Availability

PV Solar technology is the fastest growing energy technology in the world and silicon is the most common semiconductor you will find in solar cells. Silicon is actually the second most abundant material on earth, first place being taken by oxygen. Crystalline silicon cells provide high efficiency, low cost and a long lifetime of 25 years or more.

China now manufactures more than half of the world’s PV modules with production rapidly escalating. China is also home to the biggest power plants in the world taking advantage of the availability of the PV modules. Canada, United States and Japan are ramping up production relying on research on different technology and increased demand at home and abroad.

Solar panels are also available across different distributors provide different range and sizes of PV modules that include small portable ones to big ones for rooftop systems.  The underlying technology behind solar panels is improving bringing down the price and helping boost power production making solar panels an increasingly smart move.

The Disadvantages Of Solar Energy

1. It Requires A Great Deal Of Space

As stated before you need an average of 20 solar panels for 6kw system to cover a typical household needs. This will require a great amount of space. Solar panels dimensions may vary slightly depending on the manufacturer and model. 

However, there are two common types used in most installations; the 60-cell and 72-cell panels.  The 60-cell panels or the residential panel measures around 65 by 39 inches while the 72-cell panel or commercial panel is slightly taller at 77 by 39 inches (it maintains the same width).

Solar Panel TypeDimensionsArea for 6kw system
60-cell65 in x 39 in
(5.42 ft x 3.25 ft)
340 ft2
72-cell77 in x 39 in
(6.42 ft x 3.25 ft)
280 ft2

For a small town to build a solar power plant the area required becomes even more substantial. This may not be an issue for in places with an arid or desert landscape as space is flat and abundant. But in parts of the world where there is uneven terrain the lack of flat surface may be an impediment to a solar power plant.

While solar panels can be portable the great number of panels required to power appliances is an impediment to their use in the RVs or in camping. It is close to impossible to get a portable system that can quench all your energy needs.

2. It Does Not Always Produce The Same Level Of Electricity

Solar panels are notoriously inefficient. A solar panel rated at 100 watts will only produce 24 watts at best and this again depends on sunlight. A 24% conversion is one of the best conversion in the markets right now.

The peak hours of sunlight when you can get the most out of your panels will be between 12 O’clock and 4 pm in the afternoon. Otherwise morning hours and later in the afternoon will not give you sufficient amount of sunlight.

Cloudy days have a noticeable effect on the energy produced.  While solar panels will continue producing in cloudy conditions it will not be as good as in clear days. However the ability to get peak performance when the weather is a bit cloudy can be improved with the use of a MPPT controller.

Hot temperatures also have an effect on solar panels efficiency. A solar panel will have a temperature coefficient rating. For example a solar panel can have a coefficient of -0.50% per degree Celsius meaning the output will decrease by 0.50% for every degree the temperature rises above 25 °C or 77 °F.

3. Its Expensive (The Expense Is Pushed To Storage)

Solar panels can produce sufficient amounts electricity for all your needs but this only happens in the day time. While some systems allow you to offload the excess to the grid this extra energy would otherwise be wasted. And this is where batteries come in.

Battery storage helps store the excess energy to be used at night or when the solar panels are not producing as much. It is almost unthinkable not to add a battery bank to your solar panels. And this is where the extra expense comes from and especially because a good solar battery does not come cheap. You will also need more than one battery depending on how much energy you need to store for later use. Also to build a battery bank requires other components around the bank to ensure safe use and efficient energy use.

A solar battery needs to be a deep cycle battery. That’s the type of battery that can be charged quickly and used over a long period of time. This is opposite to the car battery types that should not be used for solar. They can be either old type of lead acid batteries that were cheaper but required maintenance to the new type of sealed lead acid types (SLA) that require zero maintenance but a bit more pricier to the premium type of Lithium LIFEPO4 batteries that are light weight and efficient.

4.  Installation Requires some Expertise

If you need to use a solar panel to charge your devices there are a lot of plug and play options available that will not require expertise.  Even a small set up with a charge controller is easy to set up anyone can follow the instructions to install.

However after the one panel even adding a second panel to basic system is where it gets tricky for some. You need to understand whether to connect them in series or in parallel and how this affects your output.

When you get to bigger off-grid or grid tied systems you definitely need expertise. Not only in the installation process but also picking out the panels, sizing your system, sizing your battery bank and choosing the best configuration.

5. Can Create Some Hazards

Solar panel system includes many components that conduct electricity and a sizeable system can expose you or others to shocks that can lead to injuries and even death.  If the system is not installed on the roof ensure it well fenced. Also ensure the battery bank and inverters are kept in a locked storage away from children and is free of water, oil and other substances.  

Solar roofing systems also combine roofing, electric work and carpentry which are all high risks by themselves.  This is why working on such a system should be left to professionals who have been trained and have experience in averting the risks and can do these installations safely.

Battery banks can also overheat and produce dangerous gases. The old type of lead acid batteries required venting to release these gases.  The new types of batteries may claim to be maintenance free but the SLA types of batteries have valves used to release this gas.

3 thoughts on “What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy”

  1. My girlfriend and I are planning to have a house in a remote area down south because we want to try living off-grid for at least a year or two. We’ve been debating between solar panel solutions and generators for our electrical source. I like that you said solar energy does not produce noise when it generates power, unlike generators, damn, and wind turbines. Since we’re also planning to start a little farm in the property, I think solar panels would be a better choice so we wouldn’t stress out our farm animals with a generator’s loud roaring sounds. Thanks for this!

    Reply
    • Good to hear this Levi! Solar Power is not a solution to fit all but is one of the best for small off-grid use and is definitely better than diesel generators. Enjoy your life at the farm!

      Reply

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