In this article, we offer a comparison of solar energy vs fossil fuels. We look at how they compare on different levels covering everything from emissions through to cost and availability.
Let’s start by comparing the emissions of solar energy and fossil fuels. It might come as no surprise to you that renewable energy sources such as solar have a key advantage in this field.
Solar is one of the cleanest renewable energy sources available. Once solar panels have been installed, they will cause little to no pollution. They just sit there absorbing sunlight and transforming it into electricity. The lack of pollution is one of the main advantages of solar.
The main cause of pollution concerning solar energy is during the mining of silicon and the manufacturing of solar cells. This is however negligible when comparing it to the mining and combustion of fossil fuels.
We all know that fossil fuels are bad for the environment. They produce greenhouse gas emissions including both carbon dioxide and methane. Such gases are bad for our health and are contributing to climate change.
Not all fossil fuels are as bad as each other. Coal is generally the worst followed by Oil. Natural gas, on the other hand, is considered much cleaner, but still produces signficant emissions. In fact, many coal-fired power plants have been upgraded to natural gas to reduce their overall emissions.
The Winner – Solar
Here, solar is the clear winner as it produces zero emissions once installed. It, therefore, has far fewer emissions than the ongoing combustion of fossil fuels in traditional coal, oil, or gas-fired power plants.
Moving onto cost and this is more of a grey area. Solar energy continues to reduce in cost each year, however, fossil fuels are so cheap, they are hard to beat in this field.
Whether or not solar energy is a cost-effective alternative can vary depending on a range of factors. This can include where you live, the type of panels you install, and how long they actually last.
The key to making solar energy cheaper than fossil fuels is to provide a return on investment (ROI) for your project. Or, in a worst-case scenario, be cheaper than the energy you would have consumed from your utility company over the same period.
Of course, everyone should strive to achieve ROI. Professional renewable energy companies will be able to give you an idea of the ROI period for your project, but be sure you do your own research to back this up.
Fossil fuels are an incredibly cheap source of energy when it comes to power generation. As a result they are widely used in coal, oil, and natural gas-fired power plants. In fact, coal, oil, and natural gas alone were responsible for just under 85% of global energy consumption in 2018. This is according to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2019 (68th edition) which you can find here.
The Winner – Inconclusive
That’s right, today there is no clear winner here. In some countries and cities, solar power is just as affordable as energy from fossil fuels. In other countries, power from fossil fuels is still the clear winner.
Solar technology is becoming cheaper each and every year. As a result, there is greater adoption of the technology which helps to drive prices down even further. This also makes it more accessible to those with a limited budget.
Both solar energy and fossil fuels have their pros and cons when it comes to availability. Let’s now take a look at these in greater detail in the sections below.
Solar energy is one of the most readily available forms of renewable energy. The sun burns 24 hours a day, beaming solar radiation towards the earth. This makes it extremely predictable and therefore reliable. Whatsmore, solar energy is renewable, meaning it will be there for as long as life is supported on earth.
There is however one major concern when it comes to the availability of solar energy. Although the sun burns all day long, the earth still rotates, resulting in day and night. This is a major drawback for solar energy in that solar panels do not work at night.
Another availability concern is where you live. Solar energy is at its greatest along the equator. The further towards the poles you go, the lower its intensity.
Fossil fuels are readily available. It is safe to say that most countries have access to at least one of the three main fossil fuels; coal, oil, and natural gas. However, most of these countries also have access to several renewable energy sources.
On the other hand, fossil fuels are a finite resource. This means they will one day run out. As a result, we cannot consider them to be readily available for hundreds or thousands of years to come.
The Winner – Solar
If fossil fuels were renewable, this would be a close contest. However, the fact that they are nonrenewable means solar is a clear winner here. Solar energy has a greater availability than fossil fuels.
When comparing solar energy vs fossil fuels, there are several factors to consider; emissions, cost, and availability. In our opinion, solar wins the argument on emissions and availability.
Traditionally, fossil fuels would have won the cost argument, however, solar is becoming cheaper each and every year. As a result, whether fossil fuels are more cost-effective than solar energy is up for debate. In some locations, solar energy is as cost-effective as fossil fuels.
Looking for a comparison of renewable and nonrenewable resources as a whole? If so, we have an article covering this topic in detail here.