Solar power has always been something that humanity has attempted to harness. There is evidence that dates as far back as the 7th century B.C. where we used this energy in its most primitive state for heating and healing purposes. When we invented glass lenses, it did not take us long to discover that we could magnify the power of sunshine to create fire. We also knew that when people got lots of sunshine in safe ways, then they had more energy and a stronger immune system.
Sunrooms used to capture solar energy so that the natural warmth from the sun could get captured. Romans and Native Americans often used south-facing rooms to concentrate this resource, and it is a design trait that we still use in the modern home.
One unique story from history is that Archimedes once used bronze shields to reflect the energy of sunlight to set fire to wooden ships that were coming to commit war on behalf of Rome. The enemy couldn’t make landfall because of the power of the sun, and the possibility of the story was verified in the 1970s during an experiment by the Greek navy.
When we examine the advantages and disadvantages of solar power today, it is often under the lens of electricity generation. The invention of power cell technologies changed the way that we think about this resource.
List of the Advantages of Solar Power
1. Solar power is a sustainable resource everyone can use.
When we start using solar power consistently, then we are creating a reduction in the use of fossil fuels. Even though we need combustible resources to create the panels that collect energy from the sun, net greenhouse gas emissions savings can occur within five years or less with modern manufacturing practices. We don’t have the same expiration date with the sun as we potentially do with crude oil, natural gas, or coal.
The current estimates for our fossil fuel availability at current consumption levels without locating new resources is less than a century of use. Even with the amount of raw materials that are already stockpiled, a transition to solar energy (and other renewables) is almost seen as being mandatory by the year 2100.
2. It has a lower environmental impact than other forms of energy generation.
The use of solar energy has a substantially lower impact on the environment when compared to other resources, including those that fall into the renewables spectrum. Because this technology doesn’t require any fuel combustion beyond the manufacturing process, fewer particulates enter the atmosphere. Once we finish creating a global resource with panels, the net savings to our emissions profile will drop dramatically.
It only takes one year of fewer coal emissions and more solar energy to create significantly lower carbon dioxide releases. Although we might not ever get away from fossil fuels with the need to replace panels every 25-40 years, the amount we use will be much less than what it is today.
3. Solar energy allows for global energy independence.
The sun shines all across our planet every day. Only the extreme Polar north and Antarctic South are exceptions to this benefit, but there are also times during the year when they have year-round access to sunshine. Every country becomes a potential energy producer because of this advantage. That means there is a higher level of energy independence and security available for everyone.
Homeowners have the opportunity to install panels at individual locations, providing themselves with power that doesn’t depend on a connection to a larger electrical grid. Although there are economic implications of this benefit since several countries use oil as their primary revenue generator, it is tough to ignore the 173,000 terawatts of solar energy shining on our planet.
4. Solar power can reduce a homeowner’s electricity bills.
If homeowners use solar energy instead of traditional energy resources, then it can result in a significant level of financial savings for them. When you look at the use of photovoltaic panels over 20 years, a savings of up to $30,000 is possible with this technology. The final figure depends on the geographic location of the property, the size of the home, and how much electricity gets used each day.
There is also the option to sell back electricity generated from solar energy to some utilities, which means it is possible to earn money while saving it simultaneously.
5. Tax incentives are available for some homeowners and businesses.
State and federal tax benefits are often available for homeowners and businesses who decide to use solar energy. Some taxpayers can claim up to 30% of their installation costs against their income during the year of the installation occurred. The benefits vary by state and region, and some countries don’t provide the same levels of support that the United States does locally and nationally.
Another way to look at this benefit is through the lens of job creation. The solar energy industry generates numerous employment opportunities through photovoltaic panels manufacturing, installation jobs, and indirect support positions that all benefit local economies.
6. Solar energy can reduce your carbon footprint.
Although it takes a small down payment of greenhouse gas emissions to create photovoltaic panels, the act of generating power doesn’t create anything. That means everyone can see a significant reduction in their carbon footprint by switching to this technology. The average homeowner in the United States produces about 15,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year that escapes to the atmosphere. When you install solar panels for your energy generation needs, then that figure reduces by over 3,000 pounds.
7. Photovoltaic panels require very little maintenance over their lifetime.
Most of the solar panel energy systems that get installed today have an expected lifespan of at least 20 years. During that time, the photovoltaic panels and supportive equipment require very little maintenance to continue operating normally. You’ll want to speak with your contractor directly to choose the correct products and systems so that you can maximize this advantage. It might also be wise to wait since the technologies in this industry are consistently evolving. The same size of panels that are created today are even better than the same ones made last year.
8. Solar energy is a proven technology for us to use.
The history of photovoltaic panels began with a 19th-century scientific experiment. The first cells that became capable of converting energy from the sun into power that could operate electrical equipment reached the market in 1954. Home-based installations started appearing in the late 1970s so that property owners could begin to benefit from this technology. By 1983, electricity production exceeded 20 MW for the first time. Now the solar energy industry generates over 47 gigawatts in the United States alone.
That means it is safe to say that solar power is a safe and proven technology. It is a source of clean energy that we continue to develop and improve every year.
9. You can use solar power in almost any climate.
Even when a climate features overcast skies and cold weather, the energy from the sun is still a usable resource. Cold weather makes photovoltaic panels work more efficiently because excessive temperatures can reduce the output voltage of the system. Modern technology has created efficiencies that still generate energy in low-light situations. Although you’ll need a larger solar array to produce the same levels of electricity in Seattle compared to Florida, the fact that daylight is available allows for just about everyone to enjoy the benefits of this renewable resource.
10. The cost profile of solar power continues to decline.
The cost of a solar panel installation in the United States was $8.50 per watt in 2009. During the second half of 2019, the price reached an all-time low of only $2.99 per watt. This benefit is expected to continue into the decade of the 2020s. If this trend continues and a 65% reduction in price is available in 2030 compared to today’s costs, then this resource could become cheaper than any other method of electricity generation.
When looking at this benefit on a larger scale, the price of a standard 6-kilowatt solar power system suitable for home installation dropped from $51,000 in 2009 to less than $18,000 in 2019. When you subtract the maximum tax benefits available in the U.S. from that figure, then the final investment is less than $13,000 that comes out of pocket.
11. Solar energy is a highly sharable resource.
Many utilities can accept the energy created from solar panel installations to distribute through the rest of their grid. We can also use communal photovoltaic panels to generate power for entire neighborhoods. Shared solar allows homeowners to subscribe to community gardens that generate electricity without the need to have panels on the roof. Because there are no moving parts incorporated into this tech, noise pollution isn’t an issue with photovoltaic panels.
That’s why solar power is highly favored when compared to other forms of renewable energy. Even though geothermal might have more availability, there are no odors or sounds that people find to be bothersome with this installation.
List of the Disadvantages of Solar Power
1. Intermittency issues can disrupt the advantages of solar power.
One of the most significant issues with solar energy is that the technology can only generate power when the sun shines. If there is an overcast day with a high gloom index or nighttime hours arrive, then the resource receives an interruption of its supply. If there were low-cost ways to store electricity from the sunny periods to use overnight, then this disadvantage wouldn’t exist.
As it stands now, the cost to install four hours of storage from a solar power installation is about equal to the expense of having the panels placed at an individual location.
2. Some geographic locations are not well-suited for solar power.
Although sunshine hits every area of our planet throughout the year, there are some locations that are not well-suited to the use of solar energy. Some communities receive a lot less sunshine than others. Torshavn, which is in the Faroe Islands, receives the least amount, averaging only 2.4 hours per day and 840 for the year.
Additional examples of this disadvantage include Chongqing, China (1,054 hours), Sao Joaquim, Brazil (1,055 hours), and Dikson, Russia (1,164 hours). It is notable that the United States doesn’t have a city on the list that makes the top 15. Even Seattle, which is famous for its consistent rain patterns and cloudy days, receives over 2,000 annual hours of sunshine.
3. Solar energy requires a significant amount of land to be functional.
Solar energy farms require a significant amount of land to produce a usable level of electricity. Some of the largest facilities in the world use almost 20 km² of installed panels to generate enough power for more than 100,000 homes. The installation points can cause land degradation and habitat loss issues that impact local wildlife.
Although photovoltaic panels can affix to existing structures, utility-scale systems require up to 10 acres per megawatt generated. Concentrated facilities can require up to 16.5 acres per megawatt. We can reduce the effects of this disadvantage by placing solar panel farms in low-quality land areas or along existing transmission corridors, but it won’t disappear entirely.
4. Material scarcity is an issue that frequently impacts the solar power industry.
Some solar power technologies require rare materials as part of their manufacturing process. This issue is primarily a disadvantage for photovoltaic technology, but it does also apply to the concentrated market. Many of the rare materials are byproducts of other processes instead of the focus of specific mining efforts.
The list of items that apply to this disadvantage includes magnetic neodymium, silver, electronic indium, dysprosium, terbium, and praseodymium.
5. An environmental downside still exists for solar energy.
The solar panels that we use to collect energy from sunshine contain many of the same hazardous materials that you can find in modern electronics. As this resource becomes a more popular way to generate electricity and power, we will encounter the problem of disposing hazardous waste correctly.
We can avoid some of the problems with this disadvantage and others by encouraging recycling programs for photovoltaic panels in local communities. Although this issue could create areas of environmental harm, the benefit of reduced greenhouse gas in missions still makes the technology an attractive alternative when compared to fossil fuels.
6. Cost issues impact many homeowners who want to use solar power.
Even with the tax advantages that are possible with solar power in some states and countries, the final cost of an installation is usually about $20,000. That still means there is the potential to make or save up to $10,000 over the lifetime of the product, but it is not always easy to meet that initial investment requirement. If your setup requires devices that run on a direct current charge, it will be even more expensive to create the power that you need with this technology.
7. You can’t take a solar power installation with you when you move.
Although some proponents of solar energy would argue this disadvantage on a technicality, the logistics of taking photovoltaic panels with you when you move is virtually impossible. Contractors and manufacturers in this industry recommend that you leave panels alone once they go through the installation process. The system would need to be dismantled from the roof or property, and then retrofitted at the new location. That means the possibility of damage exists for both structures and the panels themselves.
8. Contractors are not always available in the solar power industry.
The solar power industry is continuing to grow, so there are more opportunities to find qualified contractors than ever before. That doesn’t mean every community has someone who can correctly install photovoltaic panels. If you live in a region that falls outside of the area of a solar energy company’s coverage, then it may be a challenge to find any options that you can use. Rural customers are already discovering that contacting service representatives for questions or needs isn’t easy to do when they go ahead with their investment already.
9. Some properties are not suitable for solar panel installations.
A system of photovoltaic panels requires a minimum of 100 ft.² of roof space for every one kilowatt of conventional energy produced. That means the use of solar power can be inconvenient in places where space limitations exist. Any homes or businesses that have a roof that is too sloped to be useful or doesn’t meet the spatial requirements should look at other renewable energy selections to see if a reduction in fossil fuel consumption is possible.
10. Solar panels require professional installation and ongoing maintenance.
Part of the expense that homeowners and businesses must pay for a solar power installation comes from the labor necessary to get the job done. This project is not something that a DIY expert can do. Professional installers must design a system that works for each specific property. This process is the only way to ensure that the system can capture a maximum amount of sunlight every day. Local permits and coding rules must also be followed, so hiring a contractor helps to make the job go as smoothly as possible. You’ll also need someone with electrical experience to handle the wiring unless that is your professional.
11. Solar panels can reduce the curb appeal of some homes.
One of the benefits that homeowners experience with photovoltaic panels is an improvement in their property value. The cost of the installation can increase the sales potential of a home by the same amount. Some buyers will look specifically for solar energy systems, but there will be others who find that the curb appeal of the panels is disruptive and not beneficial to them. You could potentially limit your sales market by installing this technology on your roof.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue this technology if you like the idea of reducing your carbon footprint. If you understand that there may be some resistance to your decision from future buyers, then you can be proactive about this situation if you do find that selling your home becomes necessary.
12. Some materials are exotic and potentially toxic.
Some solar cells require materials that are expensive to obtain because of their rarity in nature. This disadvantage primarily applies to thin-film cells based on copper indium gallium selenide or cadmium telluride, but scarcity does apply throughout the entire industry’s manufacturing chain. Some of the materials, such as lead, are even toxic. That’s why it is critical for us to begin creating recycling structures in each community.
Solar energy in 2020 is becoming a cost-competitive alternative to fossil fuels. It is a sustainable power resource that has a low environmental impact when it is correctly managed. These benefits help to promote energy independence for countries and individuals, especially since the price of installation has dropped by over 50% since this technology first became available in the 1970s.
Price is still an issue to consider for the average person who considers solar panels for their home. The average cost of an installation is still above $20,000 in many communities. Even with federal tax breaks available in the United States for this technology, it is simply out of the reach of many people.
If you plan to be in your home for at least 10 years, then now is the perfect time to review the solar panel advantages and disadvantages. The installation can add value to your property, and you might even make a little money each month. You’ll want to speak with a local contractor to determine the viability of this technology on your property.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Natalie Regoli, Esq. is the author of this post and the editor-in-chief of our blog. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington and her Masters in Law from The University of Texas School of Law. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Natalie has almost two decades of experience as a lawyer and banker. If you would like to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.