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.
What's In This Article
1. Initial Cost
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
Most residential properties have more than enough space to install solar panels to power all their electrical needs. Even RVs and cabins can be retrofitted with a solar power system.
Office buildings, large apartment complexes, and high-rises would need far more solar panels than their roofs will allow.
Unfortunately, larger establishments have space constraints that limit their opportunity to maximize solar energy. Adding to its difficulty is their high energy requirement and consumption, which will require more solar panels, solar batteries, and inverters vs. personal solar power applications. Thus, many commercial properties, albeit wanting to move to solar energy, will still prefer traditional electricity over going solar.
Despite these difficulties, many regions have solar fields in which panels span acres, harnessing more power to provide and sustain solar energy 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 (4):
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. Once solar panels begin to perform inefficiently, it’s time to ask the question, “How long should solar panels last?” to get the most out of your investment.
5. Energy Storage Cost
One of the most significant disadvantages of using solar energy is you’ll also have to invest in batteries and solar charge controllers if you intend to have power during nighttime. These two components work together to regulate and store collected energy for later use. Without them, you’re limiting energy consumption and usage only when the sun is shining.
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.
Thus, additional costs on top of the solar panels can be expected when switching to solar power. Although many homes and other single-family units can pick up a solar battery for solar power storage, buying multiple batteries and several controllers may be unavoidable, especially for large households or extended solar power use at nighttime.
Solar energy storage for enormous companies is still too costly, although innovators like Tesla are now manufacturing massive solar energy storage batteries.
6. Sunlight Unpredictability
When answering, “What are the 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 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.
How Can You Optimize Solar Energy Efficiency?
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.
Is the Initial Cost of Solar Energy Worth the Expense?
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 can have many benefits (found here).
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.
Does Solar Work at Night?
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