At first glance, solar energy seems like a perfect solution to all our energy needs: sunlight is readily if not abundantly available, it consumes no fuel, gives off no emissions and once it’s set up, it’s cheap to run. However, to reverse the old proverb, every silver lining has its cloud, and solar energy has some disadvantages.
These disadvantages can be summed up briefly:
site suitability and other practical considerations,
energy required to make the PV panels.
Aesthetics of Solar Panels & Energy
Aesthetics is a very subjective disadvantage of solar energy. Solar panels are best installed on the roofs of houses, and to maintain enough energy for a household, quite a few solar panels are needed to create an adequate solar array. This may not be to everyone’s taste and the panels may spoil the overall look of a house. If birds perch on the solar panels (which they frequently do in certain latitude when the panels are placed at a more upright angle), they will make a mess down the face of the panel, looking ugly and reducing the efficiency of the panel. To keep the panel clean and to make sure it gets enough sunlight, the glass front will need to be cleaned off (clean it like you would a window). However, any aesthetic “disadvantages” of solar energy are minimal and can be overcome. Solar panels are no more or less ugly to look at than other roof-mounted conveniences such as TV aerials or satellite dishes. At certain angles, PV panels look almost identical to skylights.
Site Suitability for Solar Energy Exploitation
Site suitability is one of the more serious disadvantages of solar energy. Not every house is situated where it can get enough sunlight to generate its own energy. This is not so much an issue of latitude – solar electricity and solar water heating systems are used (albeit to a minor extent) in Alaska. However, a home may have the best site for installing solar panels shaded by buildings. However, these homes are few and far between – most homes in Australia have some part of their roof facing the right way to put a solar panel or a solar water heater.
With solar water heaters, the actual heater part needs to be reasonably close to the hot water tank so the water heated by the panel doesn’t cool down on the way. This may make some homes unsuitable.
Some areas, of course, have a very cloudy climate, so homes in these areas may not get enough sunshine to make solar energy a big contributor. However, in most of Australia (and even New Zealand), most places will get enough sunshine.
Solar power obviously does not work at night. This is easily overcome with a deep cycle battery that stores the charge for night-time use.
Energy Used To Make Solar Panels
But the biggest of all disadvantages of solar energy is the energy taken to make them. This is one factor that has deterred many from investing in solar power, particularly mainstream energy providers. However, as people look at dwindling oil supplies and carbon emissions, the technology has improved so that a solar panel will replace the energy taken to make it in about 1.5 years, while the panel itself will last at least 30 years, so the high “energy investment capital” put into making solar panels will pay off.