Ecology

Advantages and disadvantages of solar energy

Within the set of renewable energies, solar energy has experienced a boom in recent decades that has made it one of the most promising, popular and common sources of clean energy.

What is solar energy and what is it for?

Solar energy is a type of renewable energy that, as its name suggests, comes from the energy of the Sun, the largest star, and is converted into electrical or thermal energy . It is a clean and abundant source of energy with multiple applications, such as the generation of electricity and, thus, light and hot water supply, among others.

Types of solar energy and how they work

There are three types of solar energy or ways to exploit it:

  • Photovoltaic energy: photovoltaic panels are used that capture sunlight, which releases the electrons contained in the semiconductor materials of the panels, thus generating electrical energy. The energy produced will be directly proportional to the amount of solar rays captured by the panels. Its uses are multiple and diverse, such as supplying energy to electrical devices and homes.
  • Concentrating thermal energy: they use mirrors or lenses of various types that concentrate the sunlight and take advantage of its heat (solar thermal energy) to generate water vapor, which moves turbines with which electrical energy is generated. Solar concentrating plants are also capable of storing heat during the day and releasing it at night for the electricity supply at night.
  • Solar heating and cooling: solar heat energy is collected through solar thermal panels and is used in heating water and spaces or in cooling areas in buildings, etc.

To expand this information we recommend you discover more about solar panels with these other Green Ecology posts about What are solar panels and how they work and How to install solar panels . Having described the existing types, let’s see what are the advantages and disadvantages of solar energy .

Advantages of solar energy

Among the benefits of solar energy , we can highlight:

  • It is a form of clean energy, the use of which significantly reduces the carbon footprint since, unlike fossil fuels, it does not generate greenhouse gases nor does it have pollution associated with its use beyond that which occurs during the production process of solar panels.
  • It is a renewable, virtually inexhaustible and sustainable source of energy.
  • It is versatile in its utility because, in addition to generating electricity, solar energy is also used for heating, unlike other sources of renewable energy, such as wind turbines.
  • Solar energy is free, as it does not require constant extraction of raw materials that have to be refined and transported to a plant. The useful life expectancy of solar panels can reach 40 years and they usually have guarantees of 25 or 30 years. In addition, its low maintenance cost guarantees the amortization of the initial investment during its useful life.
  • The use of solar energy does not generate noise pollution, since the solar panels hardly emit any sound during their operation.
  • Sunlight is abundant and widely available, reaching everywhere. This is why the use of solar panels is a viable option in any geographic location, even in remote locations where dependence on electrical wiring may not be feasible.
  • The use of solar energy promotes energy independence and security, by reducing dependence on external supplies. Energy security is the State’s way of guaranteeing a sustainable and economically profitable energy supply through external supply and the generation of indigenous sources. Energy independence reduces a country’s energy vulnerability to factors such as wars or sanctions.
  • Technological development in the field of solar energy has led to an increase in its demand, thus generating a global and growing industry of manufacturers, suppliers and installers, which continues to create jobs around the world. According to data from the International Renewable Energy Agency, in 2018 the solar photovoltaic industry hired more than 3.6 million people in the world.
  • The use of solar energy reduces dependence on fossil fuels (non-renewable energy sources) and helps conserve the planet’s natural resources, benefiting future generations.

Although there are many benefits or advantages that this green energy has, it is true that, as with everything, there are also disadvantages of solar energy ; in which professionals work so that every day they are less.

  • The efficiency of solar panels, this is the amount of solar energy that they can convert into electrical energy, is relatively low, around 22%. However, with technological development, a growing trend is being observed in said efficiency, which is expected to continue over time.
  • The use of solar energy implies a high initial cost derived from the installation of solar panels, which may not be accessible to the entire population.
  • Due to the relatively low energy efficiency of photovoltaic panels, at the moment, a large installation area is required to produce an adequate amount of electrical energy to meet energy needs. This inconvenience can be alleviated by installing solar panels on rooftops.
  • Solar energy is not constant, but fluctuates throughout the day, such as at night, when it is not available. To alleviate this inconvenience, energy storage must be used during those moments. In addition to daily fluctuations, solar energy production decreases during the winter months, when there are fewer hours of sunlight and the solar radiation is less intense, compared to the summer.
  • Current solar electric energy storage technology is not perfected, since existing batteries are expensive and bulky, and, in addition, they may not provide the energy required to meet energy needs, leading to electricity shortages during, for example, the night time.
  • The performance of solar panels can be reduced under certain atmospheric conditions, such as long periods of heat and humidity (which can even break the constituent sheets of the panels) or with clouds and fog. In turn, pollution can reduce the performance of the panels, so their use may not be recommended in cities with high air pollution.
  • Although the use of solar panels does not pollute, during their manufacture (especially during the silicone extraction process in blast furnaces) toxic waste materials are produced, as well as large amounts of greenhouse gases. However, compared to a fossil fuel use scenario, coming from a clean energy source, the use of solar energy will offset the carbon footprint generated during the panel manufacturing process.
  • The installation of solar panels can have a polluting visual impact that negatively affects the landscape.

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