Solar energy is becoming popular as al alternative to other types of energy created with non-renewable resources. It is solving one of the greatest problems that the modern energy sector is facing. It is also helping us in reducing the production of dangerous chemicals that are formed by energy generation processes.
Fossil fuels are one of the biggest culprits in the climate change process, and they are quickly depleting as well. They can no ling be depended on. The change that we all have been waiting for has arrived in the form of solar energy. But solar energy has its own benefits and drawbacks.
In this article, we will discuss the limitations of solar energy.
The traditional fuel sources are quickly depleting, and are bad for the environment as well. That is why the world is forced to move away from them. Although the progress in this sector has been slow, but the environmental factors and depleting resources will soon force us to find the alternatives.
For thousands of years, fossil fuels have provided lots of benefits to mankind. Different types of fuels were used for range of different purposes in the old times. But the earth’s reserves of fossil fuels are nearing their end, and the reserves can no longer keep up with the needs of our modern society.
Some careful estimates suggest that fuel and gas will be exhausted in the next 50 years or so. So, we must need a solution before this converts into a crisis. Although there have been lots of different options introduced, solar energy continue to lead. Solar energy is only 7% of the total world energy generation, but is expected to grow up to 50% by 2050.
While solar energy can indeed be a great alternative, we first need to understand it fully and know its limitations before passing any judgements. The future society relies on us making the right decisions now, and for that, we must consider the limitations of solar energy as well.
It Depends on Weather
The main issue that we face when using the solar energy system is dealing with the unpredictable weather. Ymir whole solar setup will rely on the sunlight exposure to generate electricity.
Whenever the weather is bad, or at night, the solar panels do not get enough sunlight exposure to generate energy, and you can not get any power production out of the solar setup. This is a huge limitation of using the solar setup for energy generation.
In the US, most of the places in get seven hours per day of sunlight on an average. But most of the places also get 3 to 5 hours of sunlight. This also varies depending on the factors like weather and the time of the year. With 3 to 5 hours of sunlight, we only have a small window of time to generate electricity. Any bad day with bad weather can ruin your chances of generating electricity.
So, we can clearly see that not every place is suitable for solar energy production.
With this out of the way, let’s discuss the second point, the costs.
Cost of Solar Setups
Solar setups are not a cheap thing, you have to pay a big price for them. You can even use just one hour of direct sunlight to generate electricity and replace fossil fuels to some extent, but you will have to pay the full price.
It is not yet feasible for mist of the businesses to invest in solar setup. That is because the efficiency is not yet there to meet their energy generation needs.
According to an estimate, it would cost $4.5 trillion to convert the US to full renewable energy, and even more to convert it to solar energy. Main cost associated with the solar setup is in its storage and delivery.
Another issue with solar energy is that it generates power when we least need it. The power generation is maximum when the sunlight exposure is maximum. We mostly need electricity for lighting up and heating our houses at night. So, you will have to handle the gap between electricity generation and usage. That is the main reason why solar energy storage needs a big investments in order to keel the energy stored for later use.
A 100% conversion to solar energy would cost the US 4.5 trillion dollars. But fossil fuels are already getting $5 trillion per annum in subsidies all over the world. So, if the subsidy is cut, and large scale business leave the fossil fuel behind, this can offset the cost of solar energy.
But for an average homeowner, converting to solar energy is a big investment. Although the costs have gone down a lot in the recent years, it still remains a big investment to make. An average solar setup in the US still costs around $13,000 after tax credits.
This might still look like a lot, but a decade ago, the same 6 kV solar system would have cost you $50,000 approximately. So, the prices are going down, and the efficiency is increasing. The price will further go down when the demand of more solar panels and related accessories increases.
Governments around the world should take immediate steps to use solar energy, and drop the prices to a point where a common man can afford converting to a solar setup. Otherwise, let’s just wait for the oil and gas reserves to disappear in the next 50 years or so.
Efficiency is Also Considered
Converting to solar setup is really expensive these days, that is because of the high prices of the materials involved. Efficiency of the solar panels is also calculated in the equation when considering the overall cost.
Solar panels already get less sunlight exposure hours, on top of that, the solar panels sold today are not as efficient as they can be. So, you loose a lot of potential energy in the process.
An average solar panel has an efficiency of around 20%. You can increase the efficiency by a few points if you invest in an expensive system. The highest efficiency solar panels being sold in 2020 are 22.8% efficient. Rest (80%) of the total sunlight falling on the surface of your solar panels is converted into heat. These numbers indicate that the sunlight we receive here on earth is still not being utilized to its full potential. This is also a limitation of the solar energy.
This is not the end. As your 20% efficient solar panel will further decrease in efficiency after dust settles on top of the panels. This means you will have to provide regular maintenance to the solar system that you have in your house or office.
The research being done to increase the efficiency of solar panels is also driving the costs higher.
Geographical location has a big role to play when it comes to calculating the total sunlight exposure that you will get. You location determines the total sunlight exposure hours and the intensity of the sunlight that you will receive.
The ideal location for a solar panel array is either a detached home, or in a remote area in an open field. This is an ideal situation, and it not possible in every situation. Most of the houses that are converting to solar systems are urban. This only increases the problem, as most of the houses are under the shades of taller buildings. In situations like these, solar panels do not offer a clear solution.
Apartment buildings face the same issue, if we cover the top of an apartment building with solar panels, the benefit would be very little for the single apartments. So, solar system is best installed in a low density urban or rural setting. Modern living is all about confining people into small apartments, where they do not have a garden and individual space as their home.
The apartment lifestyle makes using the solar energy difficult for the residents.
But here is a solution. People living in low density areas can help those living in high density areas. For example, those people can make 200-300% of their total demand, and sell the leftover back to the energy company for some profit. This solution has shown some promising results in some test areas.
Incentives like these will encourage people to help in generating more electricity then they need for the people who can not generate their own solar energy due to any of the aforementioned reasons. This could, for example, help the people living in apartments.
There are lots to obstacles that need to be cleared in order to make solar energy affordable and accessible for everyone.
It Keeps The Environment Clean
You ever wonder why solar energy is becoming so mainstream? And why investments in this type of energy are increasing.
The answer to these questions is pretty simple. That is because solar energy is a sustainable solution to the current increasing energy needs. It can also help humankind in getting rid of the non-renewable energy resources like fuel and gas. We simply use sunlight to generate energy, and sunlight is in abundance.
But how good is this type of energy solution actually is for the environment?
A solar setup can keep generating power with no emissions for almost 30 years after its installation, but the manufacturing process is not so environmentally friendly. Since the raw materials have to change their state to be fit for use in a solar panel, a lot of energy is required in the process.
There are many processes involved in the production process of solar panels, and these processes use lots of energy. But despite all these processes , the net result in the long run still remains positive.
Recycling is Also an Issue
Due to all the harmful materials used in the production of solar panels, recycling is also a big issue.
Solar panels have a long lifespan, but still the materials used in their production are harmful, and should not be left in the landfill. But this is happening everywhere these days.
Solar panels have so much harmful chemicals packed in them that they are very difficult to recycle. The costs of recycling a solar panel are still higher, and the recovery made from the panel can not offset the cost of recycling it. However, recycling a large number of solar panels is feasible to some extent.
This price can also be offset by including some of the recycling price in the upfront costs of buying a solar panel. This will surely affect the demand, but it will at least serve to keep the environment safe.
We Only Have So Much Time
While we already have mentioned most of the limitations of solar setups, the lack of time is one of the biggest limitations.
There is a solution to every problem listed above, but we must act upon those solutions quickly to resolve the environmental issues that we are facing these days.
Nuclear, fuel, gas and coal based power plants are being shut down these days, and if the solar sector does not solve its problems soon, the world might face another energy crisis in the near future. Many estimates suggest that the storage capacity of the solar systems must be increased in order to store electricity for long periods of time, and to tackle the possible energy crisis.
We can conclude that while solar energy is surely a ray of hope for both the humans and the environment, it still has lots of unresolved issues that must be resolved in order to make it a feasible solution.
The lobbyists against solar energy misuse its limitations to change the political opinion in their own favor. That is why the solar industry will need to work on eliminating its limitations if it is to receive any political support from the masses and governments. The sluggish process if mainstreaming solar energy must be accelerated in order to save our environment.