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What Are the Disadvantages of Solar Power?

A solar panel can sustain damage from the sun, dirt and hail that makes it less efficient and shortens its life.
Clouds can block the sun and interfere with the production of solar power.
Only spacecraft that operate in the inner part of the solar system, such as the Soyuz, can derive useful amounts of energy from solar panels.
Solar panels, which can be installed on buildings to use the sun\'s energy, can be susceptible to damage and rely on a steady supply of sunlight.
Some people that make use of solar power also maintain a connection to the power grid.
A closeup of a solar panel.
Article Details
  • Originally Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Revised By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 July 2014
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Despite its promise as a clean energy source, there a number of disadvantages of solar power that have prevented it from becoming widely used. Solar power isn't always as reliable as other forms of electricity and tends to be expensive to install and maintain. Most experts believe that further technological advances are needed to make solar power both accessible and practical. Some governments offer subsidies to offset the price, however, and engineers and scientists continue work to improve the technology.

Economic Factors

The expense of buying and installing the equipment is one of the major disadvantages of solar power. Each individual panel is not that efficient, typically converting just 10% to 18% of the sun's energy into electricity. It often takes 15 to 20 panels to generate enough electricity to power an average-sized home; the number required varies depending on how much electricity is required, how much sun the house gets, and many other factors. Bigger panels that can generate more electricity also cost more.

On top of the price of the panels themselves, the cost of installing them varies greatly by location, how many panels are required, where the panels are being installed, and other factors. By most estimates, it takes at least six years for the initial costs to be repaid in savings from power generation under the best circumstances, and double that time under less ideal conditions.

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Reliability

One disadvantage of solar power is its lack of consistency and reliability. Solar-powered devices rely on a steady supply of sunlight to generate electricity; as soon as the sun goes down, light stops hitting the solar panels and the power drops instantly. On cloudy days, there is also less light available to produce electricity. This means that some form of storage technology — usually batteries — or an alternative source of energy is always required to ensure uninterrupted power flow. Some people who use solar power remain hooked up to an electrical grid to receive energy when no solar power is available.

Any obstruction between the sun and the panel can also reduce the amount of energy produced. To work at their best, solar panels need to be in a location where they are not shaded by trees or buildings. Sunlight can penetrate 1 inch (2.54 cm) or so of snow to produce energy, but the panels probably won't work as efficiently; any additional snow buildup during the winter is likely to prevent them from working very much at all.

Damage to Panels

Solar panels are susceptible to damage from the elements, another of the disadvantages of solar power. The constant bombardment of ultraviolet (UV) rays and other solar radiation often causes the panels themselves to deteriorate, much like any other material left exposed to the sun for extended periods of time. There have been improvements in how they are made, however, and their current lifespan is 25 to 30 years as of 2012. Still, blowing dirt and sand may damage the panels, as can large hail. It also may be possible to cause damage while clearing away heavy snow and debris if a homeowner isn't careful.

Batteries and Safety Concerns

Because it is not possible to make solar power 24 hours a day, most systems use a bank of deep cycle batteries to store excess power for use at night and on cloudy days. Unfortunately, these batteries can be expensive and have a shorter lifespan than the solar panels themselves. They also present some safety risks and require special handling, depending on the type of battery used. The least expensive and longest lasting — flooded lead acid batteries — also require the most maintenance and careful handling, as they can spill acid or explode if not stored correctly. The other two most common types, gel and absorbed glass mat (AGM), are less dangerous but typically much more expensive.

As an alternative to battery banks, some solar power systems are tied into the electricity grid. This allows the system to draw power when needed, and in many cases, send power back to the grid when the solar system produces more than the building needs. One of the safety-related disadvantages of solar power systems of this type is "islanding," which occurs when the system continues to generate electricity in power lines that electric company employees may assume are dead. This is an electrocution risk for the employees, though many areas now require solar power systems to include an anti-islanding component to prevent this from happening.

Addressing the Disadvantages of Solar Power

Despite the disadvantages, many governments, scientists, and activists continue to work on ways to make solar power more affordable and efficient. Improvements in battery technology have made storing the electricity generated by solar systems easier, and grid tie-ins allow people to sell power back to their electric companies. Flexible solar panels, although typically less efficient than those made with glass, are less likely to be damaged. Many governments also do their part to encourage the use of solar energy by subsidizing solar panel production and offering tax breaks to individuals who purchase solar panels for their homes.

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anon342764
Post 66

Excellent article. Unless the efficiency of solar cells increase, solar PV power generation is expensive. Also to offset land and its cost, rooftop solar installations are there in many countries.

The disadvantage for solar power in developing countries is the dust problem. Unless the solar panels are kept clean, the efficiency goes down considerably. Getting water to clean the panels in desert regions is difficult and expensive. Solar power will be economical and beneficial when the more efficient systems are available in the market. Tremendous research on alternatives to present flexible film type panels is being done, which will be the answer for more efficient, cost-effective solar power. --Dr. A. Jagadeesh, Nellore(AP), India

anon338579
Post 63

Let me, as an owner of panels for over four years give you the reality. Expensive? Everything is relative. Are $200-$600 dollar a month bills in summer cheap? I live in Nevada, with 350 days of bright light or sunlight and both produce. My connection fee to the power company is $5 a month, plus 50 cents tax. How long does it take to break even at $65.00 annually?

The article claims one panel is not efficient. Naturally it isn't. I needed 22 panels to all but keep me grid free. At night, I buy electric and during the day, I sell. I put 27 panels up for several good reasons and I'm thinking about an all electric car that I can just plug in nightly, for free. The water in Nevada has a high mineral content which demolishes hot water tanks In 13 years. I'm on my fourth tank. If I installed an electric tankless water heater, my hot water would be free.

Now for the answer to your question: Expensive? Yes. I have about 1,630 square feet and everything electric costs nothing, but the initial cost was $45,000. The federal government gives a 30 percent rebate (net $30,000) and what a write off annually, until all $15,000 is used and I've owed no money to the government for several years. Nevada energy gave me $12,500.00 immediately and the net is

$17,500. You do the math. The panels installed plus labor, came with a 25 year guarantee, and they're German made, not Chinese garbage.

If you are thinking about buying, and live in a state with sun e.g., California, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, etc. and you plan on not selling (The photovoltaic stays with house if you sell), you will be looking at a break even within six or eight years.

Your neighbors will envy you for doing something they are too dumb to consider. People talk out of their rear ends. They make comments like, "Oh, is that expensive?” or “Do you like it?” or “How is it working out?" I gave up answering, I just pull out a copy of my last electric bill ($5.50) and then comes the final comment. It's either, "What is that?” or “You're kidding me." If you think you can't afford it, you're mistaken.

Give up something else and chuckle at the Arabs and the electric company. I said the break even would be about six or eight years, but with every increase the electric company gives, your break even is sooner.

No one, not neighbors, or a homeowners association, has any say on your installation. In the summertime, set your thermostat (mine is at 75 degrees) and leave it on 24/7, not worrying about a bill and finally, after four years I have an overage produced credit of 3,560 kilowatt credit, No money back, just posted credit. Don't believe everything you read that's negative.

P.S. I chose not to place batteries in my garage for storage of excess energy. Batteries leak and are expensive and take up space. For $60 a year, I remain on the grid. And if you're married, no more yelling at your spouse "shut the refrigerator," "turn off the TV and lights" because you don't worry about a bill And finally, brownouts and blackouts do not affect you – at least not the short ones You are energy independent. Now you have the true facts.

anon331353
Post 62

Think the main benefit of solar is in remote or disaster struck areas where grid delivered power is not viable.

Denis71
Post 61

I believe solar panels are not meant to replace of hydroelectric power unless it is a massive scale. But we can reduce bills with them if we build them ourselves at home and some instructional products ease the process.

anon322897
Post 59

This helped a lot with my science homework. We had to give two reasons on why solar power isn't the primary source of energy in New South Wales.

anon148344
Post 50

Thank you very much. This article really helped me with my geography homework. We had to "think" of disadvantages of solar power, but thanks to you, I don't really need to think.

I will use this web site whenever I need homework assistance.

anon143476
Post 49

thanks. this is honestly great for my debate coming up. i love this site.

anon128886
Post 46

really helpful. ticked all the boxes for me.

anon113242
Post 42

Very interesting article and comments posted here.

Some disadvantages are that solar panels are expensive, installers want up to 80 percent of the money before they will fit them, to get the government feed in tariff (41 pence cash back per Kwh or known as unit generated) units generated every three months have to be sent to the electrical energy supplier, some may consider the panels unsightly, if one panel is not working efficiently it can drain the output of the other panels by reverse current flow (although if a panel becomes totally defective inbuilt diodes will then stop reverse current flow). Pay back time (time for any power generated to pay off cost of equipment) is over ten years. Inverters (equipment that converts DC power from the panels to AC power suitable to send to the national power grid) have an estimated life of only around five years.

Do photons travel in straight lines? If they do then a tree en-route would cause significant generation energy loss. Which panels are best? No one really knows although some companies offer guarantee of output of say no less than 90 percent for 10 years and 80 percent for less than 20 years. Can you trust the guarantee from some foreign little known solar voltaic panel manufacturers? Loads more disadvantages but my fingers are aching - Trev M.

anon109893
Post 41

Good job indeed. Solar panels consume fossil fuels and emit GHG.

anon79427
Post 31

Great info!

anon78408
Post 29

So this really helped me because i was finding the exact same thing but i couldn't find it anywhere else. These websites always help me. Thanks a lot.

anon67071
Post 19

thanks. this kind of helped but more disadvantages would have been nicer because they're so hard to find !

anon63632
Post 17

I'm 14 and I have to write a report of solar energy. Disadvantages and advantages are two of the subjects I have to write about in my report. This helped me in some ways but more information about why it is so expensive, and why we don't have as much solar power at night would be nice. But this did give me a brief description of it. Thanks!

anon54798
Post 13

This article helped me a lot with my physics homework. We had to study the disadvantages and advantages of solar electricity systems, their reliability, location and environmental implication.

I am 13, and this is what I have to do! Thank you for creating this, it helped me make a huge list of the disadvantages of solar power.

anon23193
Post 8

photons are not atoms, they're a wave-particle duality

and if photons couldn't get through the clouds then as soon as it got cloudy it would be pitch black as photons are what our eyes perceive to be light. solar panels still work when it's cloudy out. just thought you should know...

anon19801
Post 4

Solar energy is viable, and is rapidly becoming more viable as investors provide necessary funding for developers to refine the technology. Solar technology is gaining momentum despite the efforts of the powerful oil, coal, and natural gas interests, who work with the government to keep the issue quiet.

Soon there will be efficient solar technology that will revolutionize world energy, and revamp the dying economy, from the ground up.

anon18112
Post 3

what are the advantages of a solar power satellite over earth based solar power ??

anon12789
Post 2

Ok this article was helpful to me in some different ways it helped me understand that solar power isn't all it is worked out to be. don't get me wrong it is still a great source of energy but it only produces a little amount of energy so therefore it it not that great after all.

anon6045
Post 1

A truly illuminating, and useful article. the research is thorough and well elucidated. i found it profoundly useful for my college project.

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