13 Fundamental Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy

By

Solar energy is becoming increasingly popular as the world takes notice of the burgeoning carbon emission problems that come with burning fossil fuels. But why all the fuss?

Nay-sayers have become less and less vocal as solar’s popularity has grown increasingly unhindered. Below I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of solar energy today.

>> Read about the world’s top solar energy companies

Advantages of Solar Energy

No green house gases

advantages and disadvantages of solar - no GHGs

Advantages and disadvantages of solar energy: The major benefit of solar is avoiding green house gases that fossil fuels produce.

The first and foremost advantage of solar energy is that, beyond panel production, it does not emit any green house gases.

Solar energy is produced by conducting the sun’s radiation – a process void of any smoke, gas, or other chemical by-product.

This is the main driving force behind all green energy technology, as nations attempt to meet climate change obligations in curbing emissions.

Italy’s Montalto di Castro solar park is a good example of solar’s contribution to curbing emissions. It avoids 20,000 tonnes per year of carbon emissions compared to fossil fuel energy production.

Ongoing Free Energy

Another advantage of using solar energy is that beyond initial installation and maintenance, solar energy is free.

Solar doesn’t require expensive and ongoing raw materials like oil or coal, and requires significantly lower operational labor than conventional power production. Raw materials don’t have to be constantly extracted, refined, and transported to the power plant.

Life expectancy ranges between manufacturers, but many panels produced today carry a 25-30 year warranty – with a life expectancy of up to 40 years.

Decentralization of power

Solar energy offers decentralization in most (sunny) locations, meaning self-reliant societies.

Oil, coal, and gas used to produce conventional electricity is often transported cross-country or internationally. This transportation has a myriad of additional costs, including monetary costs, pollution costs of transport, and roading wear and tear costs, all of which is avoided with solar.

Of course, decentralization has its limits as some locations get more sunlight than others.

Going off the grid with solar

advantages of solar off grid

Solar Barn: Going off grid is a huge advantage of solar power for people in isolated locations.

Solar energy can be produced on or off the grid.

On grid means a house remains connected to the state electricity grid. Off grid has no connection to the electricity grid, so the house, business or whatever being powered is relying solely on solar or solar-hybrid.

The ability to produce electricity off the grid is a major advantage of solar energy for people who live in isolated and rural areas. Power prices and the cost of installing power lines are often exorbitantly high in these places and many have frequent power-cuts.

Many city-dwellers are also choosing to go off the grid with their alternate energy as part of a self-reliant lifestyle.

Solar jobs

A particularly relevant and advantageous feature of solar energy production is that it creates jobs.

The EIAA states that Europe’s solar industry has created 100,000 jobs so far.

Solar jobs come in many forms, from manufacturing, installing, monitoring and maintaining solar panels, to research and design, development, cultural integration, and policy jobs.

The book Natural Capitalism offers a good perspective on the employment potential of green design and a prudent approach to using resources.

The book proposes that while green technology and associated employment can be expensive, much greater money can be saved when combined with proven “whole-system” efficiency strategies (e.g passive lighting and airflow).

With solar energy currently contributing only an estimated 4% of the world’s electricity, and an economic-model where raw materials don’t have to be indefinitely purchased and transported, it’s reasonable so assume solar jobs are sustainable if the solar industry can survive the recession.

Solar’s avoidance of politics and price volatility

One of the biggest advantages of solar energy is the ability to avoid the politics and price volatility that is increasingly characterizing fossil fuel markets.

The sun is an unlimited commodity that can be sourced from many locations, meaning solar is less vulnerable to the price manipulations and politics that have more than doubled the price of many fossil fuels in the past decade.

While the price of fossil fuels have increased, the per watt price of solar energy production has more than halved in the past decade – and is set to become even cheaper in the near future as better technology and economies of scale take effect.

Furthermore, the ever-abundant nature of the sun’s energy would hint at a democratic and competitive energy market – where wars aren’t fought over oil fields and high-demand raw materials aren’t controlled by monopolies.

Of course, a new form of politics has emerged with regard to government incentives and the adoption of solar, however these politics are arguably minor compared to the fossil fuel status quo.

Saving eco-systems and livelihoods

Because solar doesn’t rely on constantly mining raw materials, it doesn’t result in the destruction of forests and eco-systems that occurs with many fossil fuel operations.

Destruction can come in many forms, from destruction through accepted extraction methods, to more irresponsible practices in vulnerable areas, to accidents.

Major examples include Canada’s tar sands mining which involves the systematic destruction of the Boreal Forest (which accounts for 25% of the world’s intact forest land), and creates large toxic by-product ponds [1].

The Niger Delta is an example where excessive and irresponsible oil extraction practices have poisoned fishing deltas previously used by villagers as the main source of food and employment, creating extremely desperate poverty and essentially decimating villages [2].

A more widely known, but arguably lower human-cost incident is the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It killed 11 people and spilled 780 thousand cubic meters of crude oil into the sea.


An interesting glance at the situation caused by destructive fossil fuel company practices in the Niger Delta. Sweet Crude is a good documentary if you want to learn more.

The best is yet to come

Solar technology is currently improving in leaps and bounds. Across the world, and particularly in Europe, savvy clean technology researchers are making enormous developments in solar technology.

What was expensive, bulky, and inefficient yesterday, is becoming cheaper, more accessible, and vastly more efficient each week.

Disadvantages of Solar Energy

Solar doesn’t work at night

The biggest disadvantage of solar energy is that it’s not constant. To produce solar electricity there must be sunlight. So energy must be stored or sourced elsewhere at night.

Beyond daily fluctuations, solar production decreases over winter months when there are less sunlight hours and sun radiation is less intense.

Solar Inefficiency


A very common criticism is that solar energy production is relatively inefficient.

Currently, widespread solar panel efficiency – how much of the sun’s energy a solar panel can convert into electrical energy – is at around 22%. This means that a fairly vast amount of surface area is required to produce adequate electricity.

However, efficiency has developed dramatically over the last five years, and solar panel efficiency should continue to rise steadily over the next five years.

For the moment though, low efficiency is a relevant disadvantage of solar.

Solar inefficiency is an interesting argument, as efficiency is relative. One could ask “inefficient compared to what?” And “What determines efficiency?” Solar panels currently only have a radiation efficiency of up to 22%, however they don’t create the carbon by-product that coal produces and doesn’t require constant extraction, refinement, and transportation – all of which surely carry weight on efficiency scales.

Storing Solar

Solar electricity storage technology has not reached its potential yet.

While there are many solar drip feed batteries available, these are currently costly and bulky, and more appropriate to small scale home solar panels than large solar farms.

Solar panels are bulky

Solar panels are bulky. This is particularly true of the higher-efficiency, traditional silicon crystalline wafer solar modules. These are the large solar panels that are covered in glass.

New technology thin-film solar modules are much less bulky, and have recently been developed as applications such as solar roof tiles and “amorphous” flexible solar modules. The downfall is that thin-film is currently less efficient than crystalline wafer solar.

One of the biggest disadvantages of solar energy – COST

The main hindrance to solar energy going widespread is the cost of installing solar panels. Capital costs for installing a home solar system or building a solar farm are high.

Particularly obstructive is the fact that installing solar panels has large upfront costs – after which the energy trickles in for free.

Imagine having to pay upfront today for your next 30 years worth of power.

That’s an incredibly disadvantageous feature of solar energy production, particularly during a time of recession.

Currently a mega watt hour of solar energy costs well over double a mega watt hour of conventional electricity (exact costs vary dramatically depending on location).

All is not lost though – nuclear is a good example (economically) of energy production that was initially incredibly expensive, but became more feasible when appropriate energy subsidies were put in place.

Solar Energy Gets People Talking

One feature of solar energy is that it spurs discussion and re-assessment of the importance and interaction between economics, environment, and investment.

There is debate and polarization of perspectives and interests.

While not everybody is in favor of solar, the fact that there is discussion about the validity of the status quo is a fascinating development. The monopolistic nature of many industries, the pitfalls of solely focusing on economics, and environmental disregard, are increasingly central topics.

At a practical level, many governments and state authorities are encouraging solar use through incentives such as subsidies, rebates and tariffs. California is an interesting example of such measures in action.

Spain highlights the importance of long-term consideration with such incentives, and how they can fail if not handled correctly or if circumstances change – such as the global financial crisis.

Factors such as cheaper materials and installation as demand grows will make solar more affordable in the future, but for the moment, the fact is that producing solar electricity is financially expensive compared to conventional methods.

122 Comments

  1. SEAN LAKEY
    July 20, 2014, 10:38 am

    I am so glad that I read this article. I have developed a model for an investor and used my financial knowledge to achieve this. I am presenting next week and the content of your article fits in with my sentiments. My approach was not to be influenced by different role players in SA on how they do it, but working on the New way to make Solar successful. Currently confidential but just 1 snippet ” Return on Investment comes last and Empowering people to pay the bill at full price comes first”

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    June 8, 2014, 4:05 am

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  3. Suzanne
    June 7, 2014, 3:23 pm

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  12. Ken Glass
    April 22, 2014, 12:56 am

    There is never any reference to the fact that without effective storage capability, the community power plant has to produce power as before in case a cloud blocks the sun. Individual production of greenhouse gases is down, but no community reduction as a result of solar

  13. u-ser
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  14. Bob
    April 18, 2014, 4:03 am

    In the 70′spossibly earlier solar panel plant was constructed. Why it never took off and is still in operation is unknown to me. It was dismantled and completely removed why?hum maybe it was due to maintenance and or never produced electricity that was cost effective. Well any way here we go again and they are now in the process all over agian since 2013 here we go agian. All I think is it is just anonther PR propaganda move to make the El Paso Electric company look as they are catering to the governments idea that Green energy is the way to go. Come on man wake up America and electric companies this is just another way for the government to push green energy as the future source of energy. Yea right! Get withit the amount of land space and number of solar panels would be so expensive that it would take 20 + years to recover cost and by that time the maintenance cost were included it would be just plain a waste of money and land… We need to as Americans sy let’s use some other proven source of fuel that would be more cost effective and most of all have a way to produce electrical power that works day and day regaurdless of weather conditions.

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  31. LuLa
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    It’s obvious that solar energy has more advantages than disadvantages. If solar energy had the tax breaks that the oil industry has enjoyed for centuries, it could be as competitive and give people a viable choice. As it is, the only time it is looked at seriously by the public is when oil prices spike to unbelievable heights for unspecific reasons or speculation. The reason you don’t see our politicians speaking up is because they are in the pockets of the oil companies that receive higher and higher profits every quarter. I’m sure they all receive their fair share in super packs.

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  44. akram
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  45. Syed Jamal Abid
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  46. Syed Jamal Abid
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  48. Kirito
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    Does anyone know the cost of solar panels per suair inch to intall? Need for a project.

  49. Sunny
    April 11, 2013, 5:25 am

    Conservation of power is an important factor. A Prius hybrid car gets 40-45 miles-per-gallon compared with an army tank which consumes 5 gallons of gas for every mile it travels, for example. I wonder if anyone has computed how much energy was consumed by the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars and at what monetary cost. Also, automatic WiFi-connected electric meters can enable real-time data collection to monitor and manage electricity use more efficiently to reduce the need for more power plants and perhaps lower the cost of conventional sources before a new plant is needed. The German government encourages homeowners to install rooftop solar systems by guaranteeing they will make a small profit if they do so; the Clifornia fails at this because its Public Utilities Commission allows Pacific Gas and Electric to pay homeowners 5 cents per kilowatt while it charges them 25 cents per kilowatt they use from the power grid.

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  54. PAARAS
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    February 27, 2013, 6:46 pm

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  57. nyannyanmeowmeow
    December 17, 2012, 3:28 pm

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    • Domo
      March 7, 2013, 1:56 am

      no, my friend. You are the stupid one. The sun is expected not to “die” for the next atleast 1 million years…

    • drag0nslayer587
      March 7, 2013, 8:27 pm

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    • JoeMama
      March 8, 2013, 5:58 pm

      We all survived the Terrible Friday, so your stupid

    • Christian
      March 18, 2013, 5:58 pm

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  58. Bhupin
    December 17, 2012, 2:29 am

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    ;

    • Author
      December 18, 2012, 2:22 am

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  59. Kyle
    December 16, 2012, 2:05 am

    When was this published?

    • expgreen
      December 20, 2012, 8:56 am

      Hi Kyle, it was published on Jan 10 2012. Cheers.

  60. XD
    December 4, 2012, 10:19 pm

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      December 17, 2012, 12:45 pm

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  63. tejas
    November 20, 2012, 6:43 am

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    • expgreen
      November 21, 2012, 3:43 am

      Great to hear. Thanks for the comment.

  64. K.girish chandra
    November 20, 2012, 12:30 am

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  65. K.girish chandra
    November 20, 2012, 12:26 am

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  66. charlie
    November 19, 2012, 6:41 pm

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  67. shibu
    November 18, 2012, 8:02 am

    what about solar jobs..?

  68. shuaibu haruna
    November 15, 2012, 8:12 pm

    does soler panel causes fire outbreak or speark?

  69. Alexa Guy
    November 14, 2012, 4:56 pm

    NEVER knew so much about Solar Energy!!!!!!!! When will I ever learn so much!!!!!???? I <3 the internet!!!!!!

  70. qm dj
    November 13, 2012, 5:56 pm

    this is a big help on the project at school THANKS :)

    • asdfghjkl123456789
      November 13, 2012, 11:01 pm

      ikr! had 2 do a project on solar energy, advantages n disadvantages! this helped me a bunch! plus got an A+ . LOL.

  71. Todd Hayden
    November 8, 2012, 7:09 pm

    Thank you for putting together this info. It was very informative! I wish I has come across this prior to buying my first system as I ended up with amorphous panels which are not the most efficient as you know, however now I know, thanks to your informative site. I’ll do better next time thanks to you. All the best, Todd

  72. jess
    November 6, 2012, 6:04 pm

    thanks, really helped me with my homework! :)

    • expgreen
      November 7, 2012, 3:05 am

      Thanks for your comment Jess. I’m glad it helped.

    • Yolande
      November 11, 2012, 8:28 pm

      Thankyou sooo much this helped me a tonn with a huge assignment

    • lizz
      November 12, 2012, 11:33 pm

      It helped with my homework in the advantages part but there wasn’t really lots of disadvantages ,….. but it still helped me THANKS allot it made my day soo much easier THANKS!!!!!!!!!!!!! (^_^)

  73. jim
    November 5, 2012, 4:52 pm

    I like solar panels:}

  74. stl
    November 3, 2012, 12:03 pm

    wonderful! av found it very true

    • expgreen
      November 7, 2012, 3:08 am

      Thanks.

  75. viplove sharma
    November 3, 2012, 7:25 am

    solar energy z d bst source of energy……no pollution,wt else v need!!!!!!!!

    • soas
      November 26, 2012, 11:45 am

      The panels have to be made and shipped around the world. They are extremely inefficient. On Saturday I was making on 34w at midday from a 4kw system. What I export just puts the voltage up on the grid. W need fusion power soon. That will solve the worlds energy problems at a stroke.

  76. soas
    October 30, 2012, 10:44 am

    solar does not save carbon footprint. It is pseudo- green
    It is so unreliable in the UK. The power changes second by second, often wildly, and thus, is underwritten by carbon producing power stations, to keep the lights on and the voltage of the grid within tolerances.
    I have a 4KW s facing system. 1 year old this week and the 3.6MW it has produced has not saves any power station production. The tonne of panels have been transported across the planet though.

    Nuclear fusion wil be the real panacea. Reliable, safe, and available to all countries.

  77. rachel
    October 29, 2012, 11:43 pm

    green energy is a waste of money
    sick of all of this liberal crap
    time for Romney to take over and save our planet from destruction…BOOM

    • Jacie
      November 9, 2012, 12:23 am

      well ROMNEY didn’t win!

      Obama Obama Obama!

  78. Erik Bylund
    October 29, 2012, 6:24 pm

    This article was very helpful, best article ive found on solar energy, thank you

    • expgreen
      November 7, 2012, 3:15 am

      Thanks Erik.

  79. Sarah
    October 22, 2012, 4:49 pm

    very helpful thank you :)

    • expgreen
      October 25, 2012, 9:11 am

      Thanks Sarah. Glad you found it useful.

  80. Rajeshwari
    October 11, 2012, 12:10 pm

    solar energy is wonderful form of energy. it does not cause any pollution.It is very useful for conservation of non renewable energy.so everyone in this world must know the importance of energy conservation. SAVE ENERGY SERVE WORLD . JOIN HANDS WE CAN

    • KARNIKA
      October 11, 2012, 12:14 pm

      ITS AN EXCELLENT IDEA

  81. weyrah
    October 9, 2012, 6:13 am

    This gave me good point to write in my research. Thanks to those who worked on it.

  82. janardhan
    September 26, 2012, 4:32 pm

    solar is available for free and it is infinite as well only thing we need to think about is how to reduce the cost factor in this once that is get solved this will become the best form of energy we need to educate everyone in this no energy in this earth came so easily man has worked hundreds of years to make the different types of energy to be useful to mankind similarly we need to work over the solar energy to bring this everlasting thing for the use of mankind

  83. akshaya
    September 23, 2012, 4:56 pm

    solar energy is the best

  84. akshaya
    September 23, 2012, 4:55 pm

    with all the above info , why the solar energy has not come into full swing is my point…..itz high time v people do sumtng rather than blaming the government………

  85. DonRoger
    September 21, 2012, 2:20 pm

    I Like Soloar Barns

  86. santhanam
    September 19, 2012, 4:46 am

    Every day we are upgrading our house hold electrical equipments .We must reduce it first

  87. Asifa hussain
    September 6, 2012, 7:20 am

    haiii sun is a good source of energy and by using that energy a s a sorce is also good

  88. pallavi
    August 31, 2012, 10:05 am

    really usefull………….

    • pallavi
      August 31, 2012, 11:08 am

      i am really satisfied..with the data given…its quiet useful n days environmental….condition is getting down..coz of lots of pollution…..solarenergy…is really a damn good way to protect ourselves frm the forthcoming threat…

  89. sowmiya
    July 21, 2012, 9:23 am

    can we use other light energy instead of sun light

    • ram
      March 12, 2014, 5:49 am

      yes,
      we can also use the ordinary light bulbs instead of sunlight for incase of experiments or other requirements.
      solar panel just need a photons from the light it may be a sunlight or light.

  90. D. P. Merleau
    July 17, 2012, 4:32 pm

    Either way we look at it there is a global energy crisis afoot. Mary has a point that we need to wonder if nuclear is an option at all. Too bad Nuclear Power is really our only option if we are to save our planet from environmental destruction.

    It is important to note the the Fukashima incident could have been avoided. The operators and the gov’t regulators were aware of the potential threats of a large quake before March 11, 2011. However, they chose not to respond to these concerns. The problem is not the technology. It is the lack of personal responsibility among decision makers.

  91. hammad
    June 21, 2012, 7:26 am

    cool

    • ghuoe;rhouhrpfdfrhksgdhs
      October 15, 2012, 1:29 pm

      yeah

  92. TAZ Anthony Ganderton
    April 29, 2012, 9:01 pm

    I only see the advantages of enhancing the harnessing of the Sun’s power. Plants had worked this out before we arrived on this Earth so why have we taken to long to achieve the obvious ? > It has become clear that the disadvantages of NOT using both Thermal Hot water and Storm/Grey water re-cycling systems augmented by PhotoVoltaic systems will mean that future generations of our “offspring” will eventually become a “Race” of “Gollums” as predicted by “Tolkien” ! > TAZman > Hawke’s Bay > New Zealand

    • Mary Ginn
      May 21, 2012, 12:27 pm

      Agreed Anthony the cost is too great…I love my family too much to leave it to chance.

      Incentives for people to act initially, will drive the prices down further on solar making it more affordable as if it had been permanently subsidised… For Governments it is a choice to assist in upgrading larger power options and after Fukashima, can we in all honesty call that an option at all?

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