An in-depth discussion of the disadvantages of solar energy as an alternative source of power.
Solar energy is considered as one of the best alternatives for fossil fuel. It is virtually free and clean. Over the years, man has extensively extended his efforts in harnessing this energy. However, like all other energy sources, certain disadvantages have been noted which hinder people from fully embracing the technology. Here are ten of the major disadvantages of solar power, specifically the utilization of solar cells and panels.
Cost. Solar energy technologies remain to be very costly alternative. The fabrication of solar modules and their installation entail large amount of resources. A single panel can cost almost $1000. Worse, large arrays of solar panels are needed to provide sufficient amount of electricity since generation from a single panel is quite small. Accordingly, solar energy prices are steadily declining owing to emergence of new technologies, subsidy programs, tax initiatives, rebate incentives, and mass production.
Location. Location is another consideration in putting up solar technologies. Tropical countries where there is abundance in sunlight are the most ideal locations. Moreover, solar panels must be situated far from possible obstructions such as surrounding buildings, structures, trees or landscape features. Lastly, places with wet climates may corrode parts of the system more quickly than expected.
Area. In order to be efficient enough to provide adequate amount of electricity, a solar technology requires large area. A single solar panel has dimensions of 1-2’ by 5-12’, and to install such in groups really take up space. Further, this unobstructed panel must be exposed to the sun for at least five hours. Such requirement would be a big disadvantage in locations where spaces are short or expensive such as in many urban areas.
Dependency to sunlight. This is the most obvious disadvantage of solar technology. Solar modules depend on the photons from the sunlight, and not from the sun’s heat, to generate electricity. As long as there is sunlight, there will always be a constant stream of photons to keep the electricity generating process going. When the sun sets, power will also gradually stop. Hence, such technology can only be worthy in places receiving optimal sunlight and during times when the sun is shining. During the night, the expensive technology would be ineffective, and even in daylight conditions when there is rain, fog or too much cloudiness. This means that there is the necessity to install solar batteries, or another alternative energy source, to guarantee steady power flow.
Inconsistency and unreliability. Related to the previous discussion, solar energy is an inconsistent power source. Besides the presence of sunlight, panels must also be in direct angle with the sun to maximize electricity generation. Hence, solar panels must be adjusted throughout the day to coincide with direct radiation. Manual adjustment is out of the question and so a mechanical orientation system must be implemented on the system to turn all of the solar panels.
Efficiency. For most solar panels, current efficiency rate is approximately 40%. This means that 60% of the solar energy is wasted. Due to this low efficiency, several arrays must be installed to have a stable and satisfying power supply. Yet, with the advances of technology, some state-of-the-art panels can reach as high as 80%.
Maintenance. Though solar power system requires little work, solar panels must still be protected by too much moisture and dirt. Corrosion of certain parts and soiling of the array surface, which in turn decreases uptake of photons, results when maintenance of the system is neglected. Moreover, solar panels are likely to last for 20 to 25 years, but the batteries are only for 5 years. Hence, the batteries which contain lead and sulphuric acid must be maintained on schedule.
Deterioration. Solar equipments are frequently exposed to sunlight, so they are not only exposed to photons but also to ultraviolet (UV) rays and other solar radiation. Just like any other materials left under the sun for extended period of time, solar panels are very prone to deterioration. Besides sunlight, other environmental factors like rain and dirt also contribute to their wear and tear.
Pollution. Though solar energy itself is not a pollutant, the components of the technology may pose hazard to the environment when improperly handled. As said earlier, solar battery contains lead and sulphuric acid which are highly toxic to marine life, dangerous to air, soil and water, and serious health risks to children. Yet, the battery is recyclable and so owners must be wise enough to retire them to recycling facility at the end of its life. Another harmful substance which is used on some solar cells is cadmium. This substance is known to be carcinogenic agent. Though it poses no health risk when contained within the cell, improper disposal may release it to the environment and consequently leach into soil and groundwater.
Aesthetics. For home solar powered system, solar panels are mostly installed on the roof. The large bulky solar arrays do not at all enhance the appearance of many roofs, like shingle or tile roofs. Furthermore, repair and replacement of old roofs can become expensive once the solar technology is installed. The system must be first removed and later reinstalled to accomplish major work on the roof. For houses with light roofing materials, the system may be installed in the backyard, which still sores the eyes of homeowners. Aesthetics alone, many are reluctant to embrace the technology.