Panels photovoltaic solar energy

Disadvantages of solar energy

Disadvantages of solar energy

The main drawbacks of solar energy are:

  • Environmental impact in large solar installations.

  • The performance is a function of the weather.

  • Limitations on solar hours that vary depending on the time of year.

  • The energy efficiency is poor compared to other types of energy.

  • The economic cost compared to other options.

  • Limitations to store the energy generated by solar panels.

  • Solar panels gradually become damaged by ultraviolet radiation. They can be damaged because of rain, snow, temperature fluctuations, dirt, wind, and hail among other causes.

There are two different types of solar installations: photovoltaic and thermal. Each of these types of installation has different advantages and disadvantages.

How does solar energy affect the environment?

Solar energy systems are much less harmful than burning fossil fuels. It does not emit greenhouse gases and it is environmentally friendly but has other disadvantages:

  • Large-scale solar installations require large areas of land. This can lead to land degradation and loss of habitat.

  • In solar thermal plants, water is used for cooling and for cleaning reflective surfaces.

  • The photovoltaic cell manufacturing process includes a number of hazardous materials.

Why the weather can be an inconvenience for solar energy?

Solar radiation varies according to the weather. There is a variation in the quantities produced according to the weather situation (rain, snow) that make energy forecasting difficult. This variation does not allow forecasting. 

The main con of the climate is that it is hard to make very accurate production forecasts in the short term. In addition, this feature can turn solar energy into an unfortunate option in places with a large number of cloudy days.

To solve this problem, you can choose one of these options:

  • An alternative energy source (wind or electric generators)

  • The use of batteries in photovoltaic installations.

  • Installation of a hot water tank or storage tank in solar thermal energy installations.

Why is solar time a disadvantage?

The main cons of solar energy occurs at night. When there is more energy demand is when there is no solar radiation and less energy produced.

Mid- and high-latitude locations experience sudden drops in production during winter. We can see some examples in Finland, Iceland, New Zealand and the south of Argentina and Chile.

The solar schedule also has an influence on the inclination of solar radiation. The performance of solar panels varies depending on the inclination of the Sun. solar panels work better if the more perpendicular is solar radiation received.

Low energy efficiency

In order to evaluate energy efficiency, it is necessary to take into account many things. At first, the energy and resources that are consumed to manufacture the elements of an installation.

Solar technologies consume a large amount of energy to be manufactured. Sometimes the energy consumed can be greater than the power generated by it throughout its useful life.

Economic cost compared to other energy sources of energy

The initial investment for a large solar plant is high compared to other renewable energy sources. Especially with regard to photovoltaic solar energy that requires large extensions of photovoltaic modules.

Photovoltaic energy competes to a lesser extent with the cost of fossil fuels or nuclear energy. The great advantage of nuclear energy is that the price per kilowatt generated is very competitive.

For domestic systems, it is possible to save in the energy bill. In some countries, like the United States, there are tax credits.

However, it is possible that the weather conditions are not favorable enough. In that case, it is possible that savings in the electricity bill do not compensate for the initial cost.

In addition, solar arrays need expansive battery banks needed. They are typically not covered under the warranty for the panels themselves. These batteries do not have a life as long as the solar panels.

Finally, it is difficult to calculate precisely the payback period of installing a solar system. This is because future energy rates and net-metering laws could change over time.

Energy storage

Due to the irregularity of the production capacity, efficient storage systems are required. For this, batteries allow to store the energy produced. Although it supposes a great advantage of solar energy, they are not really efficient.

Batteries are needed in the case of electrical energy generated by photovoltaic panels. On the other hand, solar thermal energy generated by solar collectors requires the installation of well-insulated tanks.

In spite of everything, the forms of storage of solar energy are inefficient in comparison with other sources. For instance, fossil fuels or hydropower which have higher ratios.

Publication Date: April 23, 2018
Last Revision: August 18, 2020