Over the past few decades, the growing concerns surrounding environmental sustainability have called for alternate approaches to meet our energy needs. Renewable energy resources have gained a lot of attention in this regard, but even out of these, solar energy stands out from the rest. After all, it is one of the cleanest, greenest, and cheapest sources of energy production. For the same reason, solar energy is now being used for urban and rural electrification all across the world.
But all that glitter is not gold, and while the use of solar energy comes with an array of benefits, it does have some downsides too that can not be ignored. A major concern regarding solar energy extraction is that the solar panels are quite inefficient, and in this article, we will explore the reasons for that. If you want to know the truth behind the inefficiencies of solar panels, keep on reading.
Does Size Matter?
We all know that solar panels come in many different sizes, from those that can power up a football field to those that can light up an average house. But the question is – does size really matter? Solar panels that need to power up huge spaces like solar farms do need to be massive, with thickness up to 15 inches, but that’s not the case for use in households.
A solar panel size can be indicated in terms of its physical size, but that’s not a very useful description in terms of its capability to power the required area. Just like light bulbs, solar panels have a power rating given in watts, which indicates the maximum power they can provide under standard conditions.
For most households in the US, the average energy requirement is around 5000 Watts, and thus, solar panels rated at 5kW should be enough to fulfill this purpose. However, we should remember that location matters as well, but we will get to that at a further point in this article.
The Cost of Solar Panels
There should be no price tag associated with conserving the environment for our future generations, and therefore, it sounds logical that the cost of installing solar panels should be within reach of every individual.
Although the advancements in the field of renewable power and solar technology have considerably driven the cost associated with solar power setup, it is still somewhat expensive for an average person. According to research undertaken in Virginia some years back, the cost of setting up a solar power setup was a staggering $300, 000. Not to forget that the panels have a lifetime of 25 years after which they need to be replaced.
On average, relying on solar power to meet our energy needs can cost somewhere around $200. In contrast, the costs associated with the non-renewable coal-based generation is about a quarter of that. With these figures in mind, convincing people to opt for solar power instead of relying on the conventional coal-based generation is a bit difficult regardless of the impacts on the environment. After all, you can’t blame an average earner if they don’t want to spend more than half of their fortune on sustainable living.
What Effects The Efficiency of Solar Panels?
The answer to this question becomes obvious if we look at it logically. We all know that solar panels extract energy from the sunlight and use it to generate electricity, and hence, it’s the distance from the sun that actually matters.
The intensity of solar radiation varies everywhere, and this can influence the output of the panels. Moreover, the output of solar panels is rated under Standard Testing Conditions, which are 1000W per square meter of sunlight, and this may not be available even during periods of maximum sunlight intensity at some places. For this reason, the rated and actual power output from your panels may have a great mismatch, making them quite inefficient.
Another factor that affects the efficiency of solar panels is the weather. Some countries have a very short summer season, and so the panels may operate inefficiently at such locations because of the low irradiations. The same stands true for most Nordic regions where harsh and long winters dominate over sunny summers. Moreover, short days and cloud cover also impact the efficiency of the panels as they can’t operate at their maximum potential. Hence, we recommend that you consider your location and the weather dynamics there before you opt for a solar energy system for your house.
Why Does The Location Matter?
We may sound a bit too discouraging, but the purpose of this article is to show you that side of solar panels that is usually kept from you. Having said that, solar panels can be really useful if you live in an ideal location that is the one that receives plenty of sunlight all around the year. You should keep factors like the weather and latitude of your location in mind if you plan on installing solar panels at your residence. Generally, summers are the best time to extract energy from solar panels as temperatures all across the world are higher during the summers.
Another important factor to consider is the placement of the panels since you want them to receive maximum sunlight. Ideally, you should place them on the rooftop such that they are facing the sun for the most part of the day and are not covered by any shadows. You might have to trim off the nearby trees or change the angle of the panels to ensure that they absorb maximum sunlight throughout the year without any hindrance. You can also get tracking panels that track the movement of the sun (or the maximum power point) for maximum efficiency.
The Need For Storage
It is no secret that solar energy is one of the most versatile and readily available energy sources that can be used right away or be stored in batteries for use later on.
Solar energy can be used directly to meet your needs during the daytime, and the excess can be stored in batteries for use during the night. The recommended battery type for use with solar panels is the lithium-ion battery, the same ones that are used in our mobile phones. They are the most efficient out of all battery types, but they are also the most expensive batteries out there and can drive the cost of a solar powered system for your house over the roof. Another thing you should keep in mind is that these batteries have a lifetime of 5-10 years after which they need to be replaced.
The best thing to avoid the humongous costs for these batteries is to manage your energy load smartly. To be more precise, you should plan energy intensive tasks during the day time so that you can minimize the energy needs during the night time. This will reduce the overall energy storage requirements.
Environment Impact: Is Everything As Good As It Sounds?
It is true that out of all the other energy resources, solar energy is the cleanest and most environmentally friendly option. But does that mean it doesn’t have any negative environmental impact? Certainly not!
A sad reality is that grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and the same holds true about solar energy. Building solar farms require a vast area of land that often needs to be cleared out. As a result, the land may become useless for other purposes, and the wildlife in that area may also be disturbed.
Moreover, the process of manufacturing solar panels also involves a lot of toxic chemicals that are a hazard to public health and the environment, if not disposed off properly. Manufacturing solar cells involves some harmful chemicals that, if inhaled by accident, can risk the lives of the workers and must be handled carefully. Not to forget about the harmful emissions involved in the transportation, installation, maintenance, and the decomposition process of the solar panels.
As mentioned previously, solar panels have a lifetime of around 25 years, and so, it’s important to consider the damage they can do if they are not used properly.
How to Find The Right Balance?
You might be getting second thoughts about giving solar energy a try up till this point, but trust us, there are some really good things about opting for solar power systems.
We know that it will take a few years until solar energy is able to meet the energy needs of an average household without requiring a hefty initial investment. However, the best approach for now is to use solar energy in amalgamation with another not-so-harmful power source to form a hybrid set up.
The prospects of solar energy extraction becoming more affordable and efficient seem bright as more advanced technologies come forward. Let’s take the example of gallium- arsenide triple-junction solar cells. Not only are they light and flexible, but they also have high resistance to moisture and can work efficiently in low radiations as well. As research in this field continues, these cells can be integrated into solar panels for mass production, driving down the cost of the panels.
Having said that, you can still go for a purely solar based system for your household needs if you want, and in that case, you can take certain steps to ensure that the panels work as efficiently as possible. For instance, you can keep them clean from any dust and make sure that they don’t fall under any shade. Also, don’t be afraid to change the direction of the panels so that they face the sun most time, and you’ll be amazed at how efficiently they can work.
So, are solar panes really inefficient or not? Well, the answer to this question is still open for debate as most research continues on this topic, but one thing is clear – you need to do your homework if you want to go for solar energy set up to meet your household energy demands. An array of factors are involved in determining the efficiency of the solar panels, but if you plan smartly, you can enjoy all the great benefits they have to offer. Solar energy does plan a part in ensuring a sustainable future and minimizing the harmful environmental impact from other sources, but that should not come at the cost of endangering your own livelihood and wellbeing.
In the end, we would recommend to jot down the pros and cons of opting for solar energy system for you and your family and draw the best solution considering your lifestyle and budget. Also keep an out for the latest trends and advancements in the field of solar energy so that you can befit from them as efficiently as possible.