Disadvantages of Solar Energy: Top 7 You Should Know
While manufacturers, governments, and green energy activists espouse many solar energy benefits as a clean, renewable source of power, it begs the question, “What are some disadvantages of solar energy?”
This article explores seven key issues if you’re wondering what the disadvantages of solar energy for at-home or large-scale operations are.
1. Initial Cost
The initial cost of solar panel installation is very expensive, averaging around $29,000 for systems producing up to 8Kw of power, which is enough to power a four-bedroom home (1).
Installment costs cover the equipment such as panels, inverters, charge controllers, wiring, permits, labor, repairs, and maintenance. It is an investment that pays off over time, but it takes an extended amount of time for the savings made on solar energy to compensate for the initial costs.
2. Pollution and Environmental Impact
One of the lesser-known disadvantages of passive solar energy is the environmental impact that materials, space, and production have. Solar energy fields take up a lot of land, invading agricultural lands and habitats for native flora and fauna (2).
Depending on their location, larger utility-scale solar facilities can raise concerns about land degradation and habitat loss.
While solar energy is certainly less harmful to the environment than non-renewable energy sources, it does present some obstacles to its green-energy proclamations. For example, solar panels use some toxic materials in their production.
While the U.S. implements safety protocols to dispose of hazardous waste or recycle materials that people can still use, many other countries do not practice safe waste disposal and end up contaminating soil, air, and water sources.
3. Space Limitations
While homes, cabins, and RVs provide more than enough space to fit enough solar panels to power all their electrical needs, larger establishments contend with space limitations.
Office buildings, large apartment complexes, and high-rises would need far more solar panels than their roofs will allow.
However, many regions have solar fields in which panels span acres, harnessing power for larger populations.
4. Inefficient Energy Conversion
Solar panels have an average efficiency of 15-19%, with the most efficient solar panels reaching 22-23% efficiency. Therefore, the most efficient solar panels on the market can transform 23% of the energy they harness from the sun into usable electricity (3).
The darkest panels — with the most reflection — are most efficient. Energy.gov states:
Anti-reflection coatings and textured surfaces help decrease reflection. A high-efficiency cell will appear dark blue or black.
While an average efficiency of 15-19% may seem like a small percentage when compared to the most efficient renewable energy sources available, the solar energy industry steadily increases energy efficiency each year. With the right setup, customers using solar panels to power their homes receive more than enough energy to cover their daily needs.
5. Energy Storage Cost
If solar energy isn’t used while the sun is shining and you don’t have a proper battery system and solar charge controllers, the energy will go to waste.
This makes cost-effectively storing energy one of the greatest disadvantages of using solar energy. Homes and other single-family units can purchase a battery that stores enough solar energy to power night-time activities.
However, storing a full day’s worth of energy isn’t possible without spending a large amount of money on multiple large batteries and charge controllers.
Solar energy storage for enormous companies is still too costly, although innovators like Tesla are starting to manufacture massive solar energy storage batteries.
6. Sunlight Unpredictability
When answering, “What are disadvantages of solar energy?” you must mention the sun’s unpredictability.
Sunlight production varies from dawn to dusk, day to day, season, and geographical location. The disadvantage to solar energy for inhabitants of northern latitudes with long, dark winter seasons is far greater than for inhabitants of sunnier latitudes closer to the equator.
The early morning and late afternoon hours provide less solar energy than the midday sun. This could be an issue, for example, if you’re a farmer using a solar electric fence charger to herd your flock with an insufficient sized battery.
Also, winter months have shorter days and less sun than spring and summer months, so you will harness less solar energy during the winter.
If you live in a shady area or a region with significant cloud cover, you may not get enough sunlight for solar panels to be worth the installation.
7. No Energy Production at Night
Since you must use solar energy as the sun produces it and your panels convert it, you will be completely bereft of energy at night when the sun no longer shines. This poses a problem for night-time activity if you rely solely on solar energy.
A fantastic video by Science at Sheffield, of the University of Sheffield in England helps to clarify this:
Ultimately, you will either need to use energy stored in a purchased battery or switch from solar energy to a grid at night. For RVS, cabins, and other off-grid establishments, you may not have an electrical grid to support night-time activity.
One way you can optimize solar energy efficiency is by using monocrystalline panels, since they’re more efficient due to their uniform composition (5). You should also ensure that your panels’ placement assumes the proper angle and direction to receive the most sunlight possible.
The initial cost of solar energy is usually worth the expense for smaller households, cabins, and RVs as you can buy a solar panel kit and install it yourself. Even for large businesses, solar energy is an investment that will pay itself off financially and ecologically over time.
For more information on solar energy and how you can recoup initial costs involved with switching over, Click or Tap This for our Homepage to see the latest in the industry.
No, solar doesn’t technically work at night. Photovoltaic cells in solar panels need sunlight to create energy, which there is none of during the nighttime.
However, solar energy offers two nighttime solutions so you’re not left in the dark. Net metering and proper solar battery storage can both help to provide you with the power you need when you need it (6).
- Cost of solar. Retrieved from: https://www.sunrun.com/solar-lease/cost-of-solar
- Environmental Impacts of Solar Power. Retrieved from: https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/environmental-impacts-solar-power#.WEV3IPkrJkg
- How does solar power work?. Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-does-solar-power-work/
- Solar Performance and Efficiency. Retrieved from: https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/solar-performance-and-efficiency
- Solar Panel Efficiency – Pick the Most Efficient Solar Panels. Retrieved from: https://www.solar.com/learn/solar-panel-efficiency/
- Do Solar Panels Work at Night? Retrieved from: https://www.sunrun.com/go-solar-center/solar-articles/do-solar-panels-work-at-night
Hi, Im Dara. Born and raised in Farmingdale NY and I spend my time online covering alternative energy news and local developments,in the space. My mission is to help more people realise the benefits of using alternative energy. When i’m not blogging about energy you’ll find me walking my dog, working out, or practicing meditation!