Solar energy allows to take advantage of the energy that comes from solar radiation. One way to take advantage of sunlight is to convert the radiation into electrical energy (photovoltaic solar energy) or thermal energy (solar thermal energy). Photovoltaic solar energy requires a chemical process to obtain a continuous current, while solar thermal energy only requires a thermodynamic process.
The characteristics of solar energy imply certain advantages with respect to other sources of energy. Mainly if the other sources of energy are non-renewable energies that come from fossil fuels. But even if solar energy is compared with other sources of renewable energy, some advantages can also be seen.
Although the characteristics are different in photovoltaic solar installations and in solar thermal installations, we will treat the advantages globally.
The main advantages of solar energy are the following:
- Solar energy is a renewable energy and, therefore, it is inexhaustible
- Low pollution and respect for the environment.
- Facilities with a reduced installation and maintenance cost.
- Favorable for isolated sites.
- Favorable public opinion.
- In the case of photovoltaic solar energy connected to the network, it has the advantage that the overproduction of solar panels can be sold at times when it is not necessary to consume all the energy produced.
Inexhaustible source of energy
The most notable advantage of solar energy is that it is a renewable energy, which is why it is considered inexhaustible. This type of energy comes from the Sun so it will not run out as long as the Sun does not run out.
The energy emitted by the Sun is not inexhaustible, but it is estimated that it has a life of 5,000 million years. That is why, on a human scale, solar energy is considered inexhaustible.
Low pollution and respect for the environment
A great advantage of solar energy is related to low pollution in the environment. This property helps to reduce the greenhouse effect.
From the point of view of pollution we distinguish two moments:
- During the manufacture of solar equipment. In this process, pollution is not non-existent, but it is reduced and controllable. It must be borne in mind that the manufacture of solar panels, batteries and other elements requires a consumption of electrical energy. Likewise, it also requires certain contaminating materials (plastics, metals, etc.) that at the end of its useful cycle must be recycled.
- During the production of solar energy. In operation, solar thermal and photovoltaic installations do not generate any type of environmental contamination. Unlike non-renewable energies, such as thermal power plants that use fossil fuels, solar power plants do not contribute to the greenhouse effect or global warming of the planet.
Maintenance and cost of solar installations
Solar installations, especially in homes, have the advantage that they do not require major maintenance, maintenance costs are minimal.
Solar panels are becoming stronger every day and their cost is decreasing over time. This allows solar energy to be economically an increasingly viable solution.
Within the different types of solar installations we highlight the thermal solar energy installations with respect to the photovoltaic solar energy. The main advantage of these solar installations is their low investment cost. This type of facility is generally used to heat water and use it as hot water or heating.
The use of solar radiation is free.
Solar energy is an excellent resource for places that are difficult to access or very far from the installed electrical networks. For example, shelters, mountain homes, etc. Depending on the characteristics of the environment, solar energy can be a great advantage respecting renewable energies.
For its small-scale installation, it does not require large investments in transmission lines.
In tropical countries, the yield of solar energy is even higher due to the amount of solar radiation that they receive annually in almost the entire territory.
Public opinion favorable to renewable energies
Solar energy is a renewable energy. Its use does not imply a depletion of natural resources. This characteristic means that, in general, solar energy has a high acceptance and popularity among the population.
In comparison with other sources of renewable energy, the perception regarding sustainability is similar, but with respect to the impact on the environment, it still has an advantage. This difference is due to the visual impact of windmills in the case of wind energy or to the impact of the construction of a reservoir in the case of hydropower.
Another aspect in favor of solar energy is safety, especially when compared to nuclear energy. The general perception of the population is that the risk that is assumed in case of accident in a solar power plant is practically null, while in a nuclear power plant the impact is maximum.