Advantages and Disadvantages Of Solar Power

Originally published on Cost of Solar by Zachary Shahan

Everything has its advantages and disadvantages, its pluses and minuses. So, naturally, there must be a number of solar power advantages and solar power disadvantages too, right? It’s been awhile since I ran down a list of solar power advantages and disadvantages, so I figured this topic was ripe for a refresher.

Annual energy potential of renewable energy resources vs. total known recoverable reserves of non-renewable energy sources.
Annual energy potential of renewable energy resources vs. total known recoverable reserves of non-renewable energy sources. Perez & Perez 2009a

Solar Power Advantages

There are many solar power advantages worth noting. In no particular order, here are some of the top advantages:

clean energy sources
Energy sources and their respective footprints.

Solar power helps to slow/stop global warming. Global warming threatens the survival of human society, as well as the survival of countless species. Luckily, decades (or even centuries) of research have led to efficient solar panel systems that create electricity without producing global warming pollution. Solar power is now very clearly one of the most important solutions to the global warming crisis.

Solar power saves society billions or trillions of dollars. Even long before society’s very existence is threatened by global warming, within the coming decades, global warming is projected to cost society trillions of dollars if left unabated. So, even ignoring the very long-term threat of societal suicide, fighting global warming with solar power will likely save society billions or even trillions of dollars.

Solar power saves you money

Putting solar PV panels on your roof is likely to save you tens of thousands of dollars. The average 20-year savings for Americans who went solar in 2011 were projected to be a little over $20,000. In the populous states of New York, California, and Florida, the projected savings were over $30,000. In the sunny but expensive paradise known as Hawaii, the projected savings were nearly $65,000!

Beyond solar PV panels, it’s worth noting that solar energy can actually save you money in about a dozen other ways as well — with proper planning and household design choices.

Solar power provides energy reliability. The rising and setting of the sun is extremely consistent. All across the world, we know exactly when it will rise and set every day of the year. While clouds may be a bit less predictable, we do also have fairly good seasonal and daily projections for the amount of sunlight that will be received in different locations. All in all, this makes solar power an extremely reliable source of energy.

Solar power provides energy security. On top of the above reliability benefit, no one can go and buy the sun or turn sunlight into a monopoly. Combined with the simplicity of solar panels, this also provides the notable solar power advantage of energy security, something the US military has pointed out for years, and a major reason why it is also putting a lot of its money into the development and installation of solar power systems.

Solar power provides energy independence. Similar to the energy security boost, solar power provides the great benefit of energy independence. Again, the “fuel” for solar panels cannot be bought or monopolized. It is free for all to use. Once you have solar panels on your roof, you have an essentially independent source of electricity that is all yours. This is important for individuals, but also for cities, counties, states, countries, and even companies.

I was recently in Ukraine touring various cleantech initiatives and projects. While there, I discovered that Ukraine in recent years has saved approximately $3 billion in reduced oil and gas imports from Russia thanks to the solar power plants developed by a single developer. Impressive.

Solar power creates jobs. As a source of energy, solar power is a job-creating powerhouse. Money invested in solar power creates two to three times more jobs than money invested in coal or natural gas. Here’s a simple chart on that point:

solar energy advantages jobs
One of the best solar energy advantages — Jobs!

So, there are 7 big solar power advantages that you should remember and share. There are actually several more, but I think we can leave it at that for today. Let’s move on to solar power disadvantages.

Solar Power Disadvantages

Solar power disadvantages are actually not so plentiful. In fact, there’s only one notable disadvantage to solar power that I can think of. That disadvantage is that the sun doesn’t shine 24 hours a day. When the sun goes down or is heavily shaded, solar PV panels stop producing electricity. If we need electricity at that time, we have to get it from some other source. In other words, we couldn’t be 100% powered by solar panels. At the very least, we need batteries to store electricity produced by solar panels for use sometime later.

However, there are a couple of key things to note regarding this solar power disadvantage. Firstly, the sun actually does shine when we need electricity most. As humans (not vampires), our days more or less follow the movement of the sun. Society more or less wakes up when the sun rises. At the time of the sun’s greatest height and visibility, humans tend to be most active. At this time, we are of course using much more electricity than in the middle of the night, so electricity is in greater demand. (This also makes electricity more expensive in the middle of the day, making electricity produced from solar panels more valuable.)

Another important point worth noting on this front is that, with storage, solar power could theoretically supply the world with all of its electricity needs. In fact, nothing on earth compares to the energy potential of sunshine.

So, those are the solar power advantages and disadvantages that I think are most notable. Feel free to chime in with something else if you think I missed something.

This article, Advantages & Disadvantages Of Solar Power, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Zachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.

To Be… or not to Be… Green!

Planetary energy graphic - Perez & Perez 2009a
Planetary energy graphic compares finite and infinite (renewable) planetary energy reserves. Finite reserves are absolute totals– while the yearly available potential is shown for infinite (renewable) resources. Image courtesy of: Perez & Perez 2009a

by John Brian Shannon

What energy shall we use between now and 2050? That’s the real question, isn’t it? Our choices are laid out before us just like at the shoe store – all we have to do is choose!

So, lets see what’s available.

It turns out that there are two kinds of energy. Non-renewable and renewable.

Non-renewable energy:

Our worldwide 2009 energy consumption including all forms of transportation, was 16 Terawatt-years. We can see from the Perez & Perez graphic that the finite,  non-renewable energy sources are estimated to total 1445 – 1655 Terawatts. The total energy available from those sources is equal to 90.3 – 103.44 years of energy usage at 2009 consumption.

Once consumed, this kind of energy will be gone forever.

Renewable energy:

Keeping in mind the 2009 energy consumption total of 16 Terawatts per year, we see that renewable energy sources total 23,034.2 – 23095.7 Terawatts per year. That’s 1439 – 1443 times more energy than we required in 2009 – including all forms of transportation.

This kind of energy will be available every year until the sun burns out, the ocean’s freeze and the wind stops blowing.

What’s the difference some might ask, why worry? Even in the worst-case scenario we’re covered for 90 years of fossil fuel use if we keep our energy consumption at 2009 levels.

One, the difference in the actual cost per energy unit. Costs for renewable energy have been falling dramatically and it looks set to continue. Some kinds of renewable energy are already reaching price parity with coal and nuclear power.

Two, sustainable energy per-kilowatt-hour cost savings are becoming apparent when compared to conventional energy, because of something called “Merit Order” ranking, which is a program designed to help utility companies choose from the different kinds of energy available at different times of the day.

Three, the costs associated with certain kinds of energy use must be factored in as China’s leaders (for just one example) are now realizing that  410,000 people per year die from pollution of the air, water, soil and locally-grown food in that country.

Energy usage will continue to increase in developed nations with their 1-billion citizens. In developing nations, energy requirements will continue to increase exponentially along with their 6-billion citizens. Almost 3-billion more developing world citizens are expected by 2050.

To be… or not to be… Green? Isn’t the answer obvious?

Please see: “A FUNDAMENTAL LOOK AT ENERGY RESERVES FOR THE PLANET” — by Richard Perez and Marc Perez

 

JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

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