In the race to reach net-zero emissions, countries around the world are looking to scale up and eventually depend on renewable energy to substitute polluting fossil fuels. Solar is the most abundant, fastest, and cheapest energy source on Earth, and it generates minimal greenhouse gas emissions. Although this renewable energy is rapidly growing across the globe, with an increasing number of countries investing in it, there are some factors that could hinder its growth. What are the main disadvantages of portable solar panels and how does this valuable renewable resource work?
Solar Energy is Still Expensive for Households
Did we not just say that solar energy is getting cheaper? Well, it is true. However, there are some aspects of solar technology that are still quite expensive. Indeed, purchasing a solar system requires a significant initial investment to cover the costs of panels, inverter, batteries, wiring, and the installation of the system itself. One of the most expensive parts of the system is the batteries used for solar power storage, which can cost upwards of USD$5,000. When solar energy started being commercialised 40 years ago, the price of panels was also incredibly high. Nevertheless, solar technologies are constantly developing and this is contributing to a significant decrease in prices. Statistics show that the average global cost of solar PV modules has gone down drastically in the first two decades of commercial solar power production and it has been slowly but consistently decreasing ever since. Just a decade ago, an average 6-kilowatt hour residential solar system could cost USD$50,000 or more. However, the price has gone down by an annual average of 62% and nowadays, a typical home installation rarely exceeds UDS$20,000.
Solar Energy is Weather Dependent
An undoubted disadvantage of solar energy is that this technology is not equally efficient around the world. While solar power can be generated on a cloudy day, some level of daylight is still required in order to harness the sun’s energy, and the amount of energy that can be produced varies greatly depending on many factors, such as the amount and quality of direct sunlight that the panels receive as well as the size, number, and locations of the panels themselves. Thus, in countries that receive limited sunlight throughout the year, alternative renewable resources like geothermal energy and hydropower might work better. In Iceland, an area with little sunlight and wind, for example, these two energy sources make up 27% and 73% respectively, allowing the country to generate 100% of its energy from renewables.
Solar Power Plants Are Not the Most Environmentally Friendly Option
As we said before, the carbon footprint of solar energy is minimal. However, this renewable still has some aspects, mainly related to land use and waste generation, that can still harm the environment. First and foremost, solar power plants require space. For example, a solar power plant to provide electricity for 1,000 homes would require 32 acres of land. This means that, in order to meet the US energy consumption needs, nearly 19 million acres, equivalent to 0.8% of the entire country, would be necessary.
Another factor to consider is the management and disposal of hazardous materials such as metals and glass needed to build some components of solar infrastructure that are energy-intensive to produce and thus responsible for the generation of carbon emissions. Building PV cells and panels also requires some hazardous chemicals and heavy metals. To avoid harming the environment, such materials necessitate careful management and disposal procedures once the solar plant’s life comes to an end. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) projects that by 2050, solar energy systems could be responsible for up to 78 million tonnes of waste.