If you've looked at your energy bill lately and seen room for improvement, you just have to look toward the sky for a possible solution: the sun. Solar power allows you to harness the sun's energy and use it in your home. In some cases, you might even be able to fully disconnect from the main electrical grid or at the very least, reduce your dependence on it. Plus, it boasts low maintenance costs over its lifespan.
Installing solar panels is a big decision and investment. But, how do you know if solar is right for you?
What is Solar Energy?
Sunlight is a renewable energy source which can be converted into usable energy by solar panels. There are two main types of solar energy. Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels directly convert solar energy into a usable form of energy using a PV cell containing a semiconductor material. CSP (concentrating solar power) on the other hand, concentrate energy from sunlight to a heat receiver which transforms energy from heat into mechanical energy, and in turn, solar thermal electricity.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Solar panels capture the energy from the sun into usable energy for homes, buildings or swimming pools. A solar panel is made up of photovoltaic cells that convert the sunlight's energy to an electric current to power your home. Understand the pros and cons below.
Advantages of Solar Energy
1. Diversity of application
Solar energy can be used to create both heat and electricity – it is specifically useful in areas without an easily accessible power grid – as well as being used to power satellites and distill water. It can be integrated into building supplies (e.g., a solar panel roof).
2. Renewable power source
Solar energy is completely renewable. Modern technological advances and the development of solar energy panels make it possible for the power of the sun to be harnessed and utilized all over the world. As the sun is the source of the energy, there's an essentially endless supply.
The benefit becomes even more significant when you consider the environmental impact that, as a renewable resource, solar energy offers, cutting down on emissions of greenhouse gases, as well as on the use of limited and/or harmful resources (such as fossil fuels and oil).
3. Low maintenance costs
Once installed, solar panels can be maintained for as little as $300 per year (even if a professional cleaning company is used). Additionally, companies providing solar panels usually offer warranties, which further helps to minimize costs.
Solar panels can help both companies and individuals keep their electric bills low. Traditional sources of electricity only need to be used during times when, for an extended period, the sun isn't out, or during months when hours of available sunlight are restricted.
4. Reduces Electricity Bills
Since you will be meeting some of your energy needs with the electricity your solar system has generated, your energy bills will drop. How much you save on your bill will be dependent on the size of the solar system and your electricity or heat usage.
For example, if you are a business using commercial solar panels this switch can have huge benefits because the large system size can cover large chunks of your energy bills.
Moreover, not only will you be saving on the electricity bill, but there is also a possibility to receive payments for the surplus energy that you export back to the grid through the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG). If you generate more electricity than you use (considering that your solar panel system is connected to the grid).
5. Technology Development
Technology in the solar power industry is constantly advancing and improvements will intensify in the future. Innovations in quantum physics and nanotechnology can potentially increase the effectiveness of solar panels and double, or even triple, the electrical input of the solar power systems.
Disadvantages Of Solar Panels
1. High upfront cost
Unfortunately this is a downside to solar panels however the future is bright as prices are coming down.
Solar panels right now are fairly expensive, however with new government schemes and the latest technology the price is becoming more and more affordable.
2. Requires sunny weather to work best
Although solar panels can still generate power on cloudy days (as it's the UV light that generates the energy) they perform best on sunny days. If you are in a location that doesn't get much sun, it's probably best to look at other options for get a system that overcomes shading issues.
Your solar panel performance will be negatively affected if there is not enough sunlight hitting the panels on rainy days.
Just remember, luckily in Australia we get a lot of sun so it makes it worthwhile for us, even for those in Melbourne.
3. Manufacturing of solar panels can harm the environment
Unfortunately, this is one of the overlooked disadvantages of solar panels. They are not eco-friendly to mass manufacture. Then again, you can ask what is these days? This is quite a shame because solar panels stand for a big movement to fight the climate crisis.
This does become a disadvantage for solar panels although they themselves produce green, renewable energy. Overall, I'd say that they still do more good than they do bad.
4. Low energy conversion rate
However, there are many things that need to be considered like the direction of the panels and location.
Jinko solar panels have claimed the world record a few times. So have Canadian solar panels. You can read my full guide on the most efficient panels of 2021 here.
Although, I also want to stress that solar panel efficiency shouldn't be the most important thing. Especially when you're talking about 1-2% difference. Really, I'd be more concerned about the installation or warranties.
5. Cannot be used at night
This is a disadvantage of solar panels but may be something that is overcome in the future with new technology. There are already talks about an ‘anti solar panel' that is able to produce power at night.
Future Outlook for Solar Energy
In order for solar power to make further gains, the efficiency of solar cells will have to go up, and the price of solar cells will have to go down. The EIA expects nearly 100% increases in solar capacity in the U.S. between now and 2015. This will likely lead to a drop in prices as increased demand stimulates greater production. Meanwhile, there is a wide variety of research focusing on improving solar cell design and working with new materials to make solar cells cheaper and more efficient.