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Advantages & Disadvantages of Solar Cells

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Solar Cells are the basic building blocks of Soar Panels and it is unlikely that most people will have to buy them or even know about them.But it is good to understand about Solar Cells as they are the most vital piece of solar power generation.Solar Cells are mostly made of Silicon the same material that goes into the making of your everyday electronic systems such as laptops,cell phones etc.However there are solar cells which are made of thin film material such as Cadmium Tellurium compound and even organic materials.One of the biggest advantages of Solar Cells is that their costs have  been coming down at an astounding rate . From $1.3/watt in 2011 start,it has come down to around 60c/watt which is more than 50% in  less than one year as gigawatts of solar cell capacity is added in China.The scale and technology improvements have made solar cells almost reach the cost of electricity in a number of places in the world like Italy.This is the reason that Solar Energy is seeing a more than 50% growth rate in the last 1o years and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs each year.The best thing about solar cells is that they help in fighting global warming and reducing pollution and deaths caused by fossil fuels such  as coal.

Advantages of Solar Cells

  1. Carbon Neutral– Note Biomass Energy results in no new net GHG emissions as it is part of the carbon cycle.Unlike coal and others forms of fossil fuel which have been buried millions of years ago and burning them adds to carbon in the atmosphere,responsible biomass energy generation results in no new carbon emissions or pollution
  2. Distributed Nature – Solar Cells plants can be built in remote areas and used as a distributed form of power generation.Solar Cells are of small size and can be used in 1 to 100 solar cells which means that you can have solar cells powering 4 to 400 watts.
  3. Zero Fuel Cost – Solar Cells require no fuel ,only sunlight which is totally free just like air.So this means once you have  bought a solar cell you no longer have to put any fuel into it like other fossil fuel sources such as coal,oil and gas.This is a huge advantage as there is a huge increase in prices of fossil fuels.
  4. No Greenhouse Gas Emissions/Air Pollution – Solar Cells Energy Production does not produce any GHG emissions or cause air pollution from the combustion of fossil fuels unlike coal,oil or gas.This makes them very attractive as a source of cheap,non carbon dioxide producing electricity.
  5. Declining Costs – Solar Costs are declining at a rapid pace and are rapidly approaching grid parity in most parts of the world.The use of semiconductor techniques ensures that the costs should continue to decline in the future as well
  6. Quick Installation – Solar Energy can be installed very quickly.Small residential installations can be installed in as low as 3 days.This is much faster compared to other  energy sources

Disadvantages of Solar Cells

  1. Higher Costs that Fossil Energy Forms – This is the biggest disadvantage cited by anti-Solar Power activists despite the massive decline in costs that Solar Power has seen over the last  decades.It has been estimated that solar power costs fall by 20% for every 100% increase in supply.The Solar Cost Curve has declined massively in the last 2 years as cheap Chinese solar production has made solar panel costs come down by  50% .Note in the next 4-5 years expect an average decline of around 10% per year which would make solar energy competitive with fossil fuel energy in most parts of the world.Current solar power costs between 15-30c/Kwh depending on the solar radiation of the particular location,type of technology used etc.
  2. High Initial Capital Investment  for Solar Cell Power Plants – Solar Cell Power Plants require massive investment to construct a a reasonable size plant.Note building a 1 MW solar cell plant may cost $3-6 million compared to around $1 million for thermal and hydro power plants which give more energy as well because of their higher load factors.
  3. Intermittent Nature – Solar Cells is intermittent in nature as it generates energy only when the sun shines.This problem can be solved with energy storage however this leads to additional costs.

Solar Cells Cost

Solar Cells Cost has been decreasing rapidly over the last 3-4 years as the scale has increased,Technology improved,Raw Material Polysilicon price has declined.Solar Cells which used to sell for  $2.5/watt can be bought on a commercial scale for around $1.2/watt.Note Solar Cell Costs depend on the Brand of the Company,Mono-Multi and the Shape/Size as well.Solar Cell Cost is mainly depended on 2 factors

a) Raw Material Solar Wafer Cost

b) Processing Cost

Solar Wafer Manufacturers sell Solar Wafers in 5-6 inches size wafers for around $3.5-4.5 per piece to Solar Cell Producers which then Process the Solar Wafers to Produce the Small Solar Cells.Note Solar Cell Processing Cost can vary between 20-30c/watt.

Buying Solar Cells

Solar Cells cannot be bought in small enough quantities from major cell producers.However some websites sell used/new solar cells though their costs would be much higher than what you could get if you bought solar cells in bulk.There are very few companies that sell solar cells ( most sell solar panels).Those pure solar cell suppliers generally sell to big solar panel manufacturers who use these solar cells in big factories to produce solar panels for sale.As I said making solar panels  to save money is a stupid idea as you can buy solar panels cheaply if you do your research.

Also read about major Solar Cells Suppliers and Efficiency of Solar Cells


Abhishek Shah

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