Everything has its advantages and disadvantages, its pluses and minuses. So, naturally, there must be a number of solar power advantages and solar power disadvantages too, right? It’s been awhile since I ran down a list of solar power advantages and disadvantages, so I figured this topic was ripe for a refresher.
Solar Power Advantages
There are many solar power advantages worth noting. In no particular order (well, perhaps simply the order in which they come to mind), here are some of the top advantages:
Solar power helps to slow/stop global warming. Global warming threatens the survival of human society, as well as the survival of countless species. Luckily, decades (or even centuries) of research have led to efficient solar panel systems that create electricity without producing global warming pollution. Solar power is now very clearly one of the most important solutions to the global warming crisis.
Solar power saves society billions or trillions of dollars. Even long before society’s very existence is threatened by global warming, within the coming decades, global warming is projected to cost society trillions of dollars if left unabated. So, even ignoring the very long-term threat of societal suicide, fighting global warming with solar power will likely save society billions or even trillions of dollars.
Solar power saves you money. Putting solar PV panels on your roof is likely to save you tens of thousands of dollars. The average 20-year savings for Americans who went solar in 2011 were projected to be a little over $20,000. In the populous states of New York, California, and Florida, the projected savings were over $30,000. In the sunny but expensive paradise known as Hawaii, the projected savings were nearly $65,000!
Beyond solar PV panels, it’s worth noting that solar energy can actually save you money in about a dozen other ways as well — with proper planning and household design choices.
Solar power provides energy reliability. The rising and setting of the sun is extremely consistent. All across the world, we know exactly when it will rise and set every day of the year. While clouds may be a bit less predictable, we do also have fairly good seasonal and daily projections for the amount of sunlight that will be received in different locations. All in all, this makes solar power an extremely reliable source of energy.
Solar power provides energy security. On top of the above reliability benefit, no one can go and buy the sun or turn sunlight into a monopoly. Combined with the simplicity of solar panels, this also provides the notable solar power advantage of energy security, something the US military has pointed out for years, and a major reason why it is also putting a lot of its money into the development and installation of solar power systems.
Solar power provides energy independence. Similar to the energy security boost, solar power provides the great benefit of energy independence. Again, the “fuel” for solar panels cannot be bought or monopolized. It is free for all to use. Once you have solar panels on your roof, you have an essentially independent source of electricity that is all yours. This is important for individuals, but also for cities, counties, states, countries, and even companies. I was recently in Ukraine touring various cleantech initiatives and projects. While there, I discovered that Ukraine in recent years has saved approximately $3 billion in reduced oil and gas imports from Russia thanks to the solar power plants developed by a single developer. Impressive.
Solar power creates jobs. As a source of energy, solar power is a job-creating powerhouse. Money invested in solar power creates two to three times more jobs than money invested in coal or natural gas. Here’s a simple chart on that point:
So, there are 7 big solar power advantages that you should remember and share. There are actually several more, but I think we can leave it at that for today. Let’s move on to solar power disadvantages….
Solar Power Disadvantages
Solar power disadvantages are actually not so plentiful. In fact, there’s only one notable disadvantage to solar power that I can think of. That disadvantage is that the sun doesn’t shine 24 hours a day. When the sun goes down or is heavily shaded, solar PV panels stop producing electricity. If we need electricity at that time, we have to get it from some other source. In other words, we couldn’t be 100% powered by solar panels. At the very least, we need batteries to store electricity produced by solar panels for use sometime later.
However, there are a couple of key things to note regarding this solar power disadvantage. Firstly, the sun actually does shine when we need electricity most. As humans (not vampires), our days more or less follow the movement of the sun. Society more or less wakes up when the sun rises. At the time of the sun’s greatest height and visibility, humans tend to be most active. At this time, we are of course using much more electricity than in the middle of the night, so electricity is in greater demand. (This also makes electricity more expensive in the middle of the day, making electricity produced from solar panels more valuable.)
Another important point worth noting on this front is that, with storage, solar power could theoretically supply the world with all of its electricity needs. In fact, nothing on earth compares to the energy potential of sunshine:
So, those are the solar power advantages and disadvantages that I think are most notable. Feel free to chime in with something else if you think I missed something.