Solar power is one of the most profoundly renewable resources available to mankind. Experts estimate that approximately 173,000 terawatts of solar energy are continuously hitting the Earth’s surface; that’s enough to power the world’s current energy consumption by more than 11,533 times.
Finding an effective way to collect this energy was a challenge that dates back to the late 1800s and continues to undergo rapid advances to this day. Pioneers in the field have developed two primary ways of harvesting solar energy:
1. Through photovoltaic solar cells, which is the process of converting light – or photons – directly into electricity – or voltage. This is call the photovoltaic (PV) effect.
2. Through solar thermal technology, which uses the sun’s energy to generate low-cost, environmentally friendly thermal energy. This type of energy is used largely to heat water and other fluids, and also is incredibly effective when powering solar cooling systems.
As one of the only renewable resources that can be collected virtually anywhere in the world, there are several advantages to using solar power. With that, however, also comes a few major disadvantages that have both skeptics and advocates of solar power considering the ultimate effect that harvesting the resource will have on the environment.
Disadvantages Of Solar Energy
Unlike other renewable resources such as wind and water, solar power can only be harvested during the day, and the amount collected is largely dependant on the season and time of day. Solar panels also aren’t always cost-effective. With a 20% efficiency rate, it would cost the average homeowner around $20,000 to install a typical solar panel system. Likewise, power plants running on solar photovoltaic electricity are dishing out a whopping 11 cents per kilowatt hour, which is significantly higher that natural gas and conventional coal plants which cost anywhere from six to nine cents per kilowatt hour.
Efficiency and cost are some of the more obvious disadvantages of solar energy. What many people don’t know, however, is that there are significant, underlying issues that must be considered.
Making solar panels inadvertently involves chemicals like sodium hydroxide, hydrofluoric acid, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, acetone, and more. The process also requires water and electricity which, in order to produce, emits greenhouse gases. Not only do workers face risks associated with inhaling things like silicon dust, but if these products aren’t handled and disposed of properly, they can pose environmental or public health risks.
Depending on the location, large-scale solar facilities often raise concerns regarding land degradation and loss of important habitat. Unlike other resources like wind, solar project are less capable for sharing land with other agricultural uses. There are, of course, ways around this issue like installing utility-scale projects in brownfields, old mining land, and transportation or transmission corridors.
Advantages Of Solar Energy
Solar energy has many well-known advantages. For starters, converting to solar power will help conserve energy. Think about how frequently you use electricity throughout the day; from the moment you wake up to the second you lay your head down at night, you are likely using electricity. In order to provide you with this electricity, utility companies must burn finite, exhaustible fossil fuels.
Solar energy, on the other hand, produces a small fraction of the toxic chemicals the utility companies do. Solar power can be used to generate clean electricity, and the panels that collect the energy require very little maintenance. While the efficiency of solar panels decreases over the course of several years, it actually can produce an impressive amount of energy for decades.
Along with being a silent producer of energy, solar power also offers advantages in the sense that the federal government offers generous tax credits for homeowners and companies that invest in solar energy. For example, the Solar Investment Tax Credit provides a 30% tax credit for residential and commercial solar systems, and has been extended through 2023.
If you can take advantage of tax credits and other incentives, then it’s possible in many cases to save quite a bit of money on energy costs for your family or your business. In the past, the high cost of solar panels was a big obstacle for most people–all that has been changing rapidly in just the last five years or so.
Advantages and disadvantages aside, solar power is expected to make further gains in the future. Prices for manufacturing and installation are projected to drop, more people and businesses will install solar panel systems, and advancing technologies will target the contamination issues that accompany solar panel production.
Drawing attention to some of the negative environmental effects of solar power is a good thing, because it allows for more innovation within the industry to address these issues. There is so much upside to solar power, and because the sun provides us with potentially a limitless amount energy, that it’s difficult not to be optimistic about the future of solar. And with some attractive tax credits reducing the cost of installing solar panels, there are fewer barriers to harnessing the power of the sun through solar energy than ever before.
About the Author
Garret Crosby is a freelance writer for multiple online publications. He has recently worked with Legend Solar. Garret is committed to learning about how businesses and homes can go green. When he is not busy writing, Garret loves to be outdoors, and he loves to be with friends.
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