What Are the Disadvantages of Solar Energy?

Sep 23, 2022 | Alternative & Green Energy, Energy Efficiency for Business

With the cost of electricity continually rising many businesses and homeowners are looking at solar to offset it and/or help improve the environment. While there are many clear benefits to solar, technological shortcomings create many undesirable drawbacks.

Before making a decision if solar is right for your home or business you should take the following into consideration:

1. Cost

As of September 2022, on average the cost of solar is about $3.00 per watt. This translates into about $11,000 for a 5-kilowatt system, which is the average size of a standard residential solar system in the United States. The cost for businesses varies wildly based on building size and electricity needed, however the cost per watt is about $2.00.

The next cost is sometimes overlooked and it is the cost to buy and install battery packs. While batteries aren’t required, many people get them and they are often recommended. The average home in America is about 2,200 sq ft and would require 3 Tesla Powerwall batteries to have a full day of electricity stored which would cost $9,500 per ($28,500) before state and federal exemptions. A Tesla Powerwall battery has a 10 year warranty so you will have to replace them 2-3 times over your solar panel’s lifetime (about 25 years).

As a note, the federal tax credit is 30% and state incentives can be substantial as well.

2. Location and availability of sunlight

Where you are located heavily affects the efficacy of solar as the amount of annual sunlight varies drastically depending where you are located, and as you get farther from the equator solar power gets less and less efficient.

This means people in Hawaii ,where they average 277 days of sunlight per year, would get more out of their solar panels than in Alaska where it can be night for 60+ days.

Solar efficacy is also affected by season. Summer months generate more electricity because Earth is tilted so that the sun is closer, and in the winter Earth is tilted away from the sun, making solar generate less.

3. Uses a lot of space

Solar panels require astronomical amounts of space compared to other types of power generation. A typical nuclear power plant for instance needs 200-250 acres of land and will produce 1 gigawatt of power which is enough for roughly 750,000 homes. The largest solar farm in the world produces 2.25 gigawatts but it requires over 14,000 acres of land.

For most homes, installation area will not be a problem, but for businesses it can be tricky and there might not be enough available space to produce the amount of electricity you need or want.

4. Inefficient power generation

Electrical efficiency is defined as useful power output divided by the total electrical power consumed. In other words, it’s how much energy it takes to produce electricity.

The most advanced solar panels today are about 22% efficient, whereas your coal power plants are between 33% and 42% efficient and natural gas plants are between 45% and 60% efficient.

5. Moving becomes more complicated and can be more expensive

If you do end up moving your home or business, there are some added hurdles you will need to take care of.

  • Net metering agreements are fixed to the property. This means if you want to take your solar panels with you, you will have to apply for a new one.
  • Removing, transporting and re-installing them is quite expensive (between $1,500 and $6,000).
  • If you do not own them outright and have a lease or power purchase agreement (PPA), the new homeowner will have to take over the agreement.

Solar panels can increase the value of your home, however per Zillow it’s only by about 4.1% (about $9,274). If you compare that towards the cost of purchasing and installing them, it’s not really a pro.

6. Manufacturing solar panels and batteries causes pollution

Although once a solar panel is installed it creates no additional emissions, the manufacturing process does.

  • Lithium mining uses an excessive amount of water which can permanently damage habitats causing famine. 
  • Studies have shown that 65% of water in Salar de Atacama, Chile is used by lithium miners. The high water requirement has stopped farming in many parts of the world.
  • Lithium mining pollutes water sources, exposing them to poisonous materials and chemicals.
  • Most studies associate lithium mining in South America from salt brines with the salinization of freshwater that the locals need to survive. Since the mineral contains dangerous substances, the mining process contaminates local water basins.
  • The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research estimates that a mid-range EV car with a 40 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery bought in Germany in 2019 would need to drive 52,000km before its lifetime emissions fell below that of a comparative diesel or petrol vehicle. For luxury EVs with large batteries (120kWh) that increases to 230,000km.
  • Mining lithium requires vast amounts of land and is directly responsible for the desertification of several parts of the world.
  • Less than 5% of lithium-ion batteries are recycled. Most end up in landfills which pollute and can catch fire. The EPA found that 124 landfills caught fire between 2017 and 2020.
  • Lithium mining produces massive mining wastes, the most common are sulfuric acid discharge and the radioactive uranium byproduct. The mining also causes large lime and magnesium wastes.
    lithium mining pollution

Batteries also require aluminum, nickel, manganese and cobalt which also have to be mined and processed. This doesn’t include the production and transportation of the battery and does not include anything needed for the production of solar panels.

7. Solar panels could damage your roof

The installation of the panels can cause damage to your roof if not done properly or if your roof isn’t sturdy enough it could cause your roof to crack or “flatten” over time.

This is easily remedied, just get a professional to inspect your roof and fix any issues beforehand. Remember that the panels are mounted to your roof so if you need any work done,  you may need to remove the solar panels to complete it.

8. Solar fires do happen

Amazon took all U.S. solar rooftops offline due to “critical fire or arc flash events” in at least 6 of its 47 North American facilities. Similarly, Walmart is suing Tesla over fires and wants to remove solar panels in over 240 locations.

A German study stated that out of 1.7 million panels installed, there were 430 fires involving solar panels and that 210 of the fires were caused by solar panels.

In conclusion, solar power can be a viable option for businesses and homeowners just be sure to weigh the pros and cons for your situation.

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