Solar energy pros and cons – is it worth it?

Bob Farnham | August 26, 2015 | Industry Knowledge

Just Energy Solar’s core strength is in designing tailor made solutions in the space of solar Photovoltaic technology. As the solar power industry is quickly growing popularity with residences and businesses alike, there are several factors to consider when searching for a solar energy solution. We will explore solar energy pros and cons below.

Solar Energy Pros

  1. Renewable and Sustainable. Unlike fossil fuels, solar energy is a renewable source that will not run out (at least for another 6.5 billion years according to NASA). Solar energy is also sustainable as it will be able to meet the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations.
  2. Abundant. The earth’s surface receives 120,000 terawatts of solar radiation from the sun. That is 20,000 times more power than needed for the world.
  3. Low Emissions. The actual process of capturing the sun’s energy does not usually create pollution. The emissions associated with the manufacturing, transportation and installation of solar power systems are marginal compared to that released by fossil fuels.
  4. Accessible from Remote Areas. One of the incredible benefits of solar energy is the capability to provide power to off-grid areas that are not necessarily connected to a central grid. The establishment of small onsite solar panel installations in such remote areas is normally substantially more financially savvy than laying the high voltage wires that are necessary to provide these areas with grid supplied electricity.
  5. Homeowner Credits. With the introduction of net metering and feed-in tariff (FIT) schemes, homeowners can now ‘sell’ excess electricity, or receive bill credits, for when they produce more electricity than they consume.
  6. Variety of Uses. Solar energy can be used for many different purposes.
    • As concentrating solar power – produce electricity using mirrors or lenses to efficiently concentrate the sun’s energy.
    • As solar thermal collectors – solar hot water panels are commonly used to generate solar hot water for domestic and light industrial uses.
    • As solar photovoltaic technology – used to generate power in the form of solar cells that consist of two thin layers of semiconducting material using silicon that has been doped. The sunlight knocks the electrons from the doped semiconductor to generate a DC current.
    • As solar lighting – the use of natural light to provide illumination to offset energy use in electric lighting systems and reduce the cooling load on HVAC systems.
    • As shared solar- this concept allows homeowners to access power from ‘community solar gardens’ and generate solar electricity without actually having solar panels on their own rooftops.
  7. Low Maintenance. Solar PV panels have no mechanically moving parts, except in cases of –sun-tracking mechanical bases; consequently they have far less breakages or require less maintenance than other renewable energy systems (e.g. wind turbines).
  8. Zero Noise Pollution. Unlike wind turbines, solar PV panels are totally silent, producing no noise at all; consequently, they are a perfect solution for urban areas and for residential applications.
  9. Low Operating Costs. Operating and maintenance costs for PV panels are considered to be low, almost negligible, compared to costs of other renewable energy systems.
  10. Government Funding. Solar PV panels are promoted through government subsidy funding (FITs, tax credits etc.), making solar energy panels an attractive investment alternative.
  11. Warranties. PV panels do not require a lot of maintenance. Residential solar panels usually only require a few cleanings a year, and many come with 20-25 year warranties.
  12. Technological Advancement. Technological advancements are constantly being made in the solar power industry. Innovation in nanotechnology and quantum physics has the potential to triple the electrical output of solar panels.
  13. Efficient Use of Space. Solar panels can be installed on rooftops, which eliminate the problem of finding the required space for solar panel placement.
  14. Creates Jobs. Solar energy has more potential to create jobs than the other energy industries. Solar energy requires labor to produce the panels and install them.

Solar Energy Cons

Note: As solar technology advances, the cons of solar energy are likely short-term issues.

  1. Expensive Upfront Costs. Solar energy is pricey without subsides and incentives. The major con of solar energy is the initial cost of solar cells if you choose to buy your own panels. If you choose to lease your panels, there are typically no upfront costs through companies like Just Energy Solar. If you are in the market to buy, the good news is that the panel cost has come down to almost one dollar/watt, but the balance of system cost (BOS*) still stands at about 4-6 dollars/watt. However, economies of scale for manufacturing can help in dealing with this issue. As many players enter the solar market, they will be able to grow their manufacturing capacity for BOS components and thus reduce overall costs. (BOS * – All components other than the PV module, inverter, cables, wires, switches, fuses batteries and other soft costs like labor etc.)
  2. Consistency. Solar energy can have some intermittency issues. However, with grid-tied solar, consumers can still be fed energy from the grid when they need it. If they are in a remote location using a battery back-up system, they can use the stored energy.
  3. Costly Storage Systems. Energy storage systems such as batteries will help smooth out demand and load, making solar power more stable. Unfortunately, these technologies are currently expensive. With the solar technology progressing as quickly as it is, the prices will likely decrease in the future.
  4. External Factors. Sitting and designing of PV systems is dependent on many factors. Weather (cloudy days for example) and pollution play a big role. Pollution levels can affect the panel efficiency. Also, solar irradiance at a particular location is an important factor.
  5. Commercial Rooftop Limitations. PV installation requires space, which could be an issue with certain commercial or uniquely designed buildings. The panels may not fit on the roof of the building, in which case a large area of land would be necessary for the panels in order to produce the right amount of power. However, this problem is best addressed by opting for traditional solar panels, which have high efficiency and need less space.




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