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Disadvantages of Solar Power – Overpowered by the Pros of Solar Energy

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Solar Power

Solar Power has been the fastest growing energy source in the last decade showing a compounded annual growth of over 50%. In 2010 alone, solar energy demand grew by almost 150% beating the most optimistic forecasts as costs kept on declining for this renewable energy source. While Solar Power continues to be one of the most expensive forms of energy, it is also the energy source where the costs are declining rapidly. However detractors of this alternative energy source keep pointing to its drawbacks. Note the Disadvantages of Solar Power are far overpowered by the Pros of Solar Energy. However the drawbacks of Solar Power do exist.

Disadvantages of Solar Power

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) Intermittent Nature – One of the biggest problems of Solar Power ( Solar PV that is ) is that it 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. This argument also does not make sense for a US DOE study indicated that solar and wind intermittent power won’t be a problem till 30-40% of the electricity in the US is from these 2 forms of renewable  energy. Smart Grids and Cheaper Energy Storage in the future should allow even higher penetrations of Wind and Solar Power possible.

3) High Capital Investment – A Solar Plant can cost around $3.5-6 million to be spent in building 1 Megawatt. This is said to be too high, however this again is one of the silliest arguments. The costs of energy can only be compared by Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) which calculates the cost of energy over the lifetime calculating the capex, fuel costs, maintenance, security and insurance costs. While it is true that the initial capital investment for solar power is quite high, the life cycle cost of solar energy is not that high.

4) Cannot be Built Anywhere – This disadvantage of Solar Energy is present with other forms of Energy as well. Some forms of Energy are just better suited to some places. For example you can’t build a nuclear plant on top of an earthquake prone region, you can’t build a wind farm near the Dead Sea etc.

Advantages of Solar Power

Compared to the Cons of Solar Power listed above, here is a list of the Pros of Solar Energy.

1) Environment Friendly – Solar Energy does not lead to any major mining activity,does not lead to significant GHG emissions, does not lead to health hazards like thermal power.

2) 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.

3)No Fuel and Low Maintenance – Solar Energy does not require any fuel like Wind Energy and the Operation and Maintenance Costs are extremely low. This is a huge advantage in these days when gas and oil disruptions are causing energy insecurity. Libya, Russia are all examples.

4) No Pollution and Deaths- Solar Energy does not lead to pollution disasters like the BP Oil Spill and Coal Deaths which are directly related to Dirty Energy Production.

5) Almost Unlimited Potential – Solar Energy Potential is almost infinite compared to the limited and peak features of other forms of  energy like Wind, Geothermal, Oil, Gas and others. Only Nuclear Energy has potential similar to Solar Energy

6) Size Advantages – Solar Installations can be installed in various sizes with as little as 200 Watts and as big as a 1000 MW. This is not possible for other energy forms which require a minimum large size such as Coal, Nuclear etc.

7) 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.

8 ) Grid Independent – Solar Energy finds the most use in non-grid areas where it can be installed with batteries for energy storage. It is a much cheaper form of energy for non-grid applications than other forms. It is giving competition to Diesel Gensets being used.

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Abhishek Shah

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