Solar energy has lots of benefits. We can use it to reduce our carbon emissions, save money on our energy bills, and generate electricity in remote locations. But what about the disadvantages of solar energy? In this article, we take a look at its main drawbacks.
1. Solar Panels Are Expensive
The cost of solar panels is one of the major drawbacks of solar energy. Whilst the sun is free for everybody to use, the technology isn’t. To install a solar energy system, homeowners face bills of tens of thousands of dollars.
Although the initial cost of solar technology is quite high, this can be recovered over the lifetime of the system. This ‘payback period’ is determined by how much your system will save you on your electricity bills over its lifetime. Other aspects can influence this such as the federal solar tax credit scheme available in the United States.
2. Solar Energy is Intermittent
Another key disadvantage of solar energy is that it is intermittent. During the day, the sun will shine allowing solar panels to absorb its energy and generate power. However, solar panels cannot produce electricity at night when the sun goes down.
Whilst this is a major drawback of solar, technologies do exist to mitigate the issue. For example, solar power systems can be fitted with a battery to store electricity for use at night. This can, however, add significant cost to the system.
3. It’s Efficiency Also Fluctuates
When the sun does shine, the efficiency of a solar panel system can fluctuate for a variety of reasons. This can include the time of year, cloud coverage, and pollution levels. All of these factors reduce the level of solar radiation that reaches the earth. As a result, the efficiency of a solar panel can vary.
Temperature can also affect efficiency. In hot climates, solar cells can overheat, reducing their efficiency.
4. Solar Panels Take Up Space
Solar panels can take up lots of space to provide adequate power for a building. To combat this, they are often installed on rooftops, making use of this otherwise unutilized space. Of course, this method isn’t suitable for every building. Large apartment blocks and skyscrapers don’t have enough roof space to provide enough solar power capacity for its residents.
Installing rooftop solar panels also poses a challenge when it comes to maintenance of the roof. Should you need to replace a slat or fix an underlying problem, your solar panels may need to be removed to gain access.
5. Solar Cells Deteriorate
All solar cells gradually deteriorate over time. This reduces their efficiency, resulting in lower power output. Most solar panel manufacturers guarantee their products for between 25 and 30 years. This doesn’t mean your system will be useless after 30 years but it is likely that its output has fallen.
You should always check the guarantee with your installer to make sure it meets your expectations. There may also be a maintenance program you need to follow as part of this guarantee. This might include regular servicing and cleaning by an approved installer.
6. Solar Panels Contain Hazardous Materials
Most solar panels contain materials that are hazardous to either our health of the environment. This is a key disadvantage but is mostly only applicable during manufacturing and decommissioning/disposal.
Cadmium Telluride is a key compound in Cadmium based thin-film solar cells. This compound can pose a danger during the installation and disposal of thin-film solar panels. Similarly, Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) is found in CIGS based thin-film solar cells and is toxic to the lungs. Anti-freeze is even found in solar thermal systems to stop these systems from freezing in winter.
7. Manufacturing Causes Pollution
We should also take into consideration the pollution caused by the manufacturing of solar panels.
Whilst most solar panel producers will take steps to power their factory from clean energy or offset their carbon footprint in other ways, mining companies often don’t. This means that the mining of raw materials that go into solar panels (such as copper and silicon) has a large carbon footprint.
Although manufacturing does cause pollution, once solar panels are installed, they will generate environmentally friendly electricity for years to come.
8. Solar Panels Create Visual Pollution
Another drawback of solar energy is that some people don’t like the look of solar panels. This does, however, depend on the individual and as more solar installations are completed, people are getting used to seeing the technology on rooftops and other areas.
So there we have our list of the main drawbacks of solar energy. Whilst all these disadvantages are valid, there are many more advantages outweighing them.
Solar is one of the main renewable energy sources and by using it we can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. This helps to curb global warming, improve air quality, and cut land pollution.
If you wish to compare both the pros and cons of solar, then we have an article dedicated to this topic here.