10 Advantages and 10 disadvantages of solar energy

The advantages and disadvantages of solar energy refers to the benefits and risks of using technologies to capture and use light energy from the sun.

Of all the solar energy that reaches the Earth:

  • 43% is used to heat the atmosphere and the ground;
  • 35% returns to space by reflecting back to Earth;
  • 22% is used in the water cycle: evaporation, precipitation and condensation;
  • 0.2% is used in wind generation; Y
  • 0.02% is used by plants in the process of photosynthesis.

Solar energy Advantages Disadvantages

For society
  • Use of urban space.
  • Low maintenance cost.
  • Diversity of applications.
  • Technological development
  • High initial investment cost.
  • Requires storage systems (batteries).
  • Low energy production efficiency.
  • Lack of information and technical support.
For the enviroment
  • Alternative energy.
  • Renewable energy.
  • Low emission of greenhouse gases
  • It depends on the weather.
  • Sunlight variability.
  • Affected by air pollution.
for the planet
  • Use of desert regions.
  • Worldwide availability.
  • Access in secluded sites.
  • Large tracts of land for large-scale production.
  • Disposal and recycling of toxic materials.
  • Ideal production sites (deserts) far from populated centers.

Solar energy: advantages

1. Renewable energy source

The energy coming from the sun is unlimited in practical terms.

2. Energy alternative

Solar panels (photovoltaic systems) can be used in homes, industries and other facilities, thereby reducing dependence on energy from fossil fuels.

3. Diversity of applications

We can use solar energy for different purposes:

  • To generate electricity: through photovoltaic systems (solar panels).
  • To generate heat: through thermal systems, solar energy is used to heat water and facilities.

Applications depend on the technology involved.

4. Use of urban space

The installation of photovoltaic or thermal systems can be carried out on urban constructions, roofs of buildings and houses, thus taking advantage of this space for the generation of electrical and/or thermal energy.

5. Low maintenance cost

Maintenance of solar energy collector systems is low once installed.

6. Technological development

The technological development of the solar energy industry is constantly advancing. One of the aspects to be improved is the manufacture of photovoltaic cells that are more economically attractive, more durable and more efficient.

7. Use of desert regions

Deserts are considered insufferable regions, practically abandoned due to the difficulty of surviving when one is not adapted. However, they are an excellent option for the use of solar energy throughout the year.

For example, the El Romero Solar plant in the Atacama desert in Chile produces energy equivalent to the consumption of 240,000 homes and provides 100% of the energy required in the Google data center in Chile.

8. Low emission of greenhouse gases

Electricity that is generated by solar power is virtually pollution free when compared to fossil fuels. Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced for two reasons:

  • Once installed, the operation of photovoltaic systems does not release greenhouse gases;
  • By obtaining energy in this way, fossil fuels are being stopped.
  • 9. Availability globally and beyond

    The International Space Station obtains its energy through solar panels (Credits NASA).

    Solar energy is available all over the world: the sun illuminates every corner of the Earth. Even in outer space. For example, the International Space Station’s solar arrays provide all the electrical power required by members of the various expeditions.

    10. Electricity access in remote places

    In some places where access to the public power grid is restricted, the use of photovoltaic systems is an acceptable option. For example:

    • to put into operation irrigation systems in the fields,
    • for road lighting,
    • to operate emergency call booths on highways,
    • for navigation systems and buoys,
    • to start hydraulic pumps, and
    • for electric fences.

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    Solar energy: disadvantages

    1. Large tracts of land

    The technology to collect and produce electricity on a large scale from solar energy requires large tracts of land, so it would compete with land for agriculture or forests. For example, the El Romero Solar plant comprises 776,000 photovoltaic modules covering an area of ​​280 hectares in the Atacama desert in Chile.

    2. High investment cost

    The initial investment for the purchase of the photovoltaic system is high, since it requires, apart from the photovoltaic modules, the inverter, the charge regulator, the wiring, the batteries and the installation.

    3. Weather dependent

    On cloudy and rainy days, the efficiency of capturing solar energy decreases considerably. For example, on the rainiest days of winter, less than a tenth of what can be obtained on a bright summer day is generated.

    4. Sunlight variability

    The angle at which sunlight strikes a particular region varies throughout the day. In fixed solar energy collection equipment, it is difficult to make the most of solar energy throughout the day.

    Sunlight also varies depending on the time of year. For tropical countries, the number of daylight hours is roughly the same throughout the year; however, countries in temperate zones receive fewer daylight hours during fall-winter.

    5. Population centers far from power generation centers

    Ideal production sites, such as deserts, are far away from large population centers. Although these sites provide the most efficient power generation, distributing this power to consumers presents a logistical problem. For example, El Romero Solar, in the Atacama Desert in Chile, is located 645 km from the capital, Santiago.

    6. Disposal and recycling of toxic materials

    The biggest environmental problem associated with photovoltaic systems is the use of toxic chemicals such as cadmium sulfide and gallium arsenide in their manufacture. These chemicals are highly toxic and persist in the environment for centuries, so locating and recycling cell materials is a serious problem.

    7. Low energy production efficiency

    Of all the solar energy that reaches the photovoltaic panels, on average only one fifth is transformed into electricity. Although it is possible to increase efficiency with different materials, the economic cost is very high. However, the efficiency cannot exceed 30% due to the physics of current technologies.

    8. Affected by air pollution

    Air pollution, smog and dust interfere with light transmission. Thus, in cities with significant air pollution, the efficiency of solar panels will be reduced.

    9. Depends on backup systems

    To maintain current electricity consumption levels, it is required to have a backup system:

    • Storage system: such as batteries, to store energy when there is sun and use it when there is no sun.

    • Backup systems: either using an electric generator or connected to the city’s conventional electrical system.

    10. Lack of information and technical support

    There is a lot of ignorance about how solar-powered power generation systems work and how much they produce. This is reflected in the fact that few companies have dominance of the systems market.

    If any equipment or solar panels are damaged, private users rely exclusively on the technical support of the selling companies, whose technical knowledge is very limited.

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