Like all technologies, solar power comes with advantages and disadvantages. The earth provides enough natural energy to meet the world’s power needs for a whole year in just one minute, without generating waste or pollution. However, it has drawbacks, such as being unable to harness energy at night. Weighing the pros and cons of installing solar panels can help you decide whether to invest in solar energy to power your own home or business.
Pro: It’s a Renewable Resource
One of the greatest draws toward solar power is that it’s a renewable resource. The world will not run out of solar energy like it could run out of coal, fossil fuels, or nuclear energy. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) estimates the sun has about 6.5 billion years of life remaining – plenty of time to harness its energy, especially since scientists estimate in about 5 billion years the sun will “swallow” the Earth.
Con: It’s Associated With Pollution
Solar energy itself does not cause pollution, but some of its manufacturing processes are associated with greenhouse gas emissions. The production of solar panels creates sulfur hexafluoride and nitrogen trifluroide, two highly potent greenhouse gases. There are currently no 100% risk-free ways to supply energy to the world. Compared with all other available technologies, solar power is the top choice for cutting down on pollution despite its association with these gases.
Pro: It’s Sustainable
Harnessing the sun’s rays through solar panels converts the light into energy for use in an efficient way. As an abundant and renewable resource, solar energy does not compromise future generations. There is no way to “over-consume” the sun’s energy, so there is no risk of using it up and leaving the next generation in the lurch. The sun gives Earth more than enough energy to power the world for years to come.
Con: It Requires Exotic Materials
Producing certain solar cells requires special materials that are exotic on Earth’s surface. Scientists base thin-film solar cells on expensive and rare materials: copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) and cadmium telluride (CdTe). However, there are many forms of CIGS that work well for creating solar cells, and several ways to make the substance. One process, called three-stage co-evaporation, is currently the preferred way to obtain CIGS, but it’s also the most difficult.
Pro: It Saves Money
After the initial cost of the equipment and installation, consumers can enjoy lowered electricity costs. Paying for energy you don’t need to consume is a thing of the past – with net metering and feed-in tariff (FIT) capabilities, homeowners can receive bill credits when they produce excess electricity. Consumers can also receive financial support from the government for choosing solar energy in the form of tax credits. In some states and counties, there are other rebates available. Use the solar calculator from SolarReviews to get an estimate of the incentives you’ll receive based on your location and utility company.
Con: Initial Investment
One of the most common reasons for consumers to decide against solar power is the initial cost investment. The total cost of installation can be anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000 depending on the size of the system. However, this is before the 30% federal tax credit and other incentives. Factor in the lifetime of electricity bill savings and you can eventually make up the cost of installation. For example, California residents can save about $28,000 in 20 years with solar panels. There are also leasing and financing agreements available.
Pro: Many Ways to Use It
Solar energy is ideal for generating electricity, even in locations that lack a grid connection. However, it also works well for many other applications. For example, it can distill water in Africa or power space satellites. Deployable solar panels, both solar thermal and photovoltaic, are easy to use at the consumer level for a number of uses. Now, with the advent of flexible thin- film solar cells, scientists are exploring building-integrated photovoltaics, or solar power integrated into building materials. Solar power technology is only getting better.
Con: Intermittent Energy
In locations where sunlight is limited, homeowners will not see the type of savings that residents of California or Hawaii will see, for example. On overcast days, the solar panels will not be operating at optimal capacity. Cloud cover can reduce the amount of energy produced. At night, solar panels are out of commission. For these reasons, solar power is not the choice for the world’s base energy source. Solar power is better than wind power for intermittency.
Pro: Low Maintenance and Instant Results
There are no moving parts when you install a solar power system. This means no noise pollution and little maintenance. Other renewable energy technologies, such as wind turbines, do not provide the same advantages. Consumers who install a solar panel see immediate returns on investment, as it works right away to conserve energy and save money on electric bills. Examine the advantages and disadvantages of solar power to decide if it’s right for you.