By: Marwan Alrawas
Over the last few years, the world has been shifting its focus to renewable energy in an effort to mitigate the effects of climate change. Major components of the renewable energy transition have been solar panels and solar farms. The utility and resourcefulness of these solar panels have been much talked about; and the panels have been portrayed as the gateway out of conventional energy. For this much talk about their benefits, it is important to discuss why they are not as common as they should be.
Solar panels, which are sometimes referred to as photovoltaic (PV) panels, are panels that consist of solar cells that are used to collect and convert sunlight into electricity for power generation. These solar cells are made up of silicon semiconductors consisting of a negative layer and a positive layer opposite to each other. These layers create an electric field and generate direct current (DC) electricity. In domestic applications, solar panels can achieve around 20% solar efficiency, meaning that it can convert 20% of the sunlight it collects into usable electricity.
Solar panels have numerous advantages along with some disadvantages. The biggest advantage of solar panels is the fact that they are clean and carbon free; they do not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Another major advantage of solar energy is that it is renewable; this form of energy is sustainable and, quite literally, endless. Other advantages of solar panels include, but are not limited to, their diverse application and their low maintenance costs. The installation of solar panels is also creating new jobs in the renewable energy sector. On the other hand, one of the disadvantages of solar panels is that solar panels are weather dependent. However, most panels come equipped with batteries that store electricity for later use. Another drawback for solar panels is that, due to their low efficiency, they require large areas for installation; however, with advancing technology in this field, solar efficiency is expected to increase in the coming years.
A number of factors have been holding back solar panels from becoming a leading source of energy in world. The first being the cost; the initial capital cost required for installation is very high relative to other energy sources. There is a positive return on investment (ROI) in the future; however, it is slow and can take up to a few years. This eliminates demographics, such as low-income households, from being solar panel owners. It also makes it an unattractive business prospect to build large solar farms or even produce solar panels. Recently, a project to build a solar farm that would supply 15% of Europe’s power failed because the cost of power transmission did not drop as quickly as the price of solar panels. Currently, producing electricity from solar panels is 2 to 3 times more expensive than from hydro, coal, or nuclear energy sources. However, things are looking up as the price of solar panels has decreased almost 65% in the last decade. A second factor is the overall grid infrastructure. The available power grid infrastructure was built to work with consistent power generation levels and these grids may not be able to cope with the inconsistency of solar energy. Another factor that reduces the competitiveness of solar energy is how often electricity is produced; also known as its capacity factor. Generally, a solar farm runs at 15% capacity. For reference, a coal plant can operate at up to 80 % capacity.
There are a number of solutions that can allow the solar energy sector to thrive and still be part of the conversation decades down the line. Large, efficient batteries can be used to store the excess power through the night and on cloudy/rainy days. These batteries are relatively expensive, but there has been a downward trend in its price over the years. Another solution involves merging other forms of renewable energy (i.e. wind or hydro) with solar energy to provide consistent power generation that satisfies the requirements of existing power grids. It is important to continue searching for solutions that accelerate the growth of the renewable energy sector. Addressing the challenges that stand in the way of the progress of solar energy and, in general renewable energy, is the first step to realizing their huge potential.
Edited for spelling, grammar, and clarity.
With the growing threat of climate change due to the excessive release of carbon emissions, many nations are looking to clean energy alternatives to replace traditional fossil fuels.
Of all the clean energy alternatives, solar has arguably been the most expensive though prices have been declining. However, after considering the pros and cons along with the expectation that prices will continue to decline, the future of solar energy is looking rather bright.
The pros of solar energy include that it is a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels and has a low impact on the environment and the potential for any country to produce it. The cons are that it only produces energy when the sun is shining, needs a significant amount of land, and that certain solar technologies require rare materials.
The advantage of solar energy is that it is a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. While fossil fuels have an expiration date that may be fast approaching, the sun is likely to be around for at least a few billion years.
Solar energy has a substantially reduced impact on the environment compared to fossil fuels. Its greenhouse gas emissions are inconsequential as the technology does not require any fuel combustion. Also, although concentrating solar thermal plants (CSP) are comparatively inefficient in their water usage depending on the type of technology being used, the right technology significantly increases efficiency while photovoltaic (PV) solar cells do not require any water when generating electricity.
Solar energy technology is becoming an increasingly cost-competitive alternative to fossil fuels, though it remains somewhat expensive in certain markets.
Since the sun shines across the globe, it makes every country a potential energy producer, thus allowing for greater energy independence and security. Solar energy doesn’t only promise to bring security and independence at the national level; solar panels can be installed on individual homes, providing power that does not depend on being connected to a larger electrical grid.
One of the biggest problems that solar energy technology poses is that energy is only generated while the sun is shining. That means nighttime and overcast days can interrupt the supply. The shortage created by this interruption would not be a problem if there were low-cost ways of storing energy as extremely sunny periods can actually generate excess capacity. As the global capacity for solar power continues to rise, nations like Japan and other global leaders in solar energy technology are focusing on developing adequate energy storage to deal with this issue.
Another concern is that solar energy may take up a significant amount of land and cause land degradation or habitat loss for wildlife. While solar PV systems can be fixed to already existing structures, larger utility-scale PV systems may require up to 3.5 to 10 acres per megawatt and CSP facilities require anywhere from 4 to 16.5 acres per megawatt. However, the impact can be reduced by placing facilities in low-quality areas or along existing transportation and transmission corridors.
Certain solar technologies require rare materials in their production. This, however, is primarily a problem for PV technology rather than CSP technology. Also, it is not so much a lack of known reserves as much as it is the inability of current production to meet future demand: Many of the rare materials are byproducts of other processes rather than the focus of targeted mining efforts. Recycling PV material and advances in nanotechnology that increase solar-cell efficiency could both help boost supply, but perhaps finding material substitutes that exist in greater abundance could play a role.
The one environmental downside to solar technology is that it contains many of the same hazardous materials as electronics. As solar becomes a more popular energy source, the problem of disposing the hazardous waste becomes an additional challenge. However, assuming the challenge of proper disposal is met, the reduced greenhouse gas emissions that solar energy offers make it an attractive alternative to fossil fuels.
More sustainable than fossil fuels
Interruptions in supply
The approximate number of terawatts of solar energy that shine on the Earth each day—10,000 times the daily global energy use.
The largest solar energy plant in the entire world is located in Rajasthan, India. The Bhadla Solar Park, which was completed in April 2020, boasts some impressive statistics. The plant occupies 10,000 acres and has an installed capacity of 2,245 megawatts. The total investment in the project is estimated to be around $1.4 billion.
The largest solar park in the United States is known as the Solar Star park near Rosamond, California. The power station consists of two separate installations named Solar Star-1 and Solar Star-2, with respective capacities of 314MW and 265MW. Like the plant in India, the location was selected due to its large exposure to the sun and minimal rain.
Both wind and solar energy are two of the fastest-growing sources of renewable energy. Both energy sources help to cut down pollution and offer alternatives to fossil fuels, however, there are notable differences between the two.
The turbines that power wind energy are less harmful to the environment than solar panels. Furthermore, they produce more electricity than solar panels and can be installed offshore. Unlike solar, wind energy can be harnessed both day and night. However, wind is an unpredictable energy source. Turbines are also quite noisy, and, like solar panels, require a lot of land space thus don't make sense for densely populated areas.
Ultimately, solar panels are the more powerful and predictable source of energy. They require less space, are less noisy, and can be installed on rooftops, etc. in densely populated areas.
Using solar energy for your home will save you money, increase your home value, help you become energy independent, and will decrease your carbon footprint. However, the large solar panels may alienate potential buyers. Furthermore, some HOA agreements may not allow you to install solar panels on your home.
Because installing solar panels increase the value of your home, they can also increase your property taxes. However, many states offer exemptions for residents. Check your county clerk's website for the most accurate, up-to-date information.
In nearly every case, installing solar panels will lower your monthly electric bill.
Yes. The federal solar investment tax credit, enacted in 2006, provides a 26% tax credit for solar panels installed on residential and commercial properties.