The energy world is changing whether we like it or not but is solar power all that it’s cracked up to be? People want to save money, live a more sustainable life while enjoying a dependable source of electricity. While solar energy certainly ticks all of those boxes, nothing is ever that simple.
Before investing in a solar energy system for your home or business, there are a few things you should consider. First of all, ask yourself how cost-effective solar energy really is. What advancements are currently being made in solar power and what laws have been put into place?
We take a closer look at energy consumption, oil dependency and some of the advantages and disadvantages of solar power.
Global Solar Energy Consumption Figures
Currently, the overall consumption of solar power for electricity is only 2.8%. However, international organisations and the Conference of the Paris 24 (COP 24) are continually making efforts to drastically increase that number. The latest target estimate is to increase the consumption of solar energy to 32% worldwide by 2030.
There’s no point in arguing that the sun is undoubtedly one of the most abundant sources of energy. On average, the earth receives about 173,000 Terawatts of solar irradiation. That’s around 20,000 times more power than what the planet actually needs.
Will We Run Out Of Fossil Fuels?
There is no definitive answer as many pundits batting for both sides have their own philosophies and theories. Whichever side of the pitch you’re on, we cannot ignore the massive increase in fossil fuel consumption over the last 200 years.
Fossil fuels are not infinite and if we consume them for long enough, global resources will eventually be depleted. Although this has been argued for decades, the most well-known must be the Hubbert’s Peak Theory (Hubbert curve).
M. King Hubbert published his hypothesis in 1956 that a fossil fuel production curve would follow a bell-shaped curve in any region. Although he correctly predicted that America would peak in oil production by 1970, he was off by 17%. Since then, other attempts to implement his bell curve hypothesis haven’t yielded much success either.
Where Does That Leave Fossil Fuels?
The challenge trying to create these curves is that our discovery and extraction methods evolve over time and we can extract these reserves more economically. Based on existing fossil fuel trends, oil reserves have not decreased but increased by more than 50%. At the same time, natural gas has also increased by more than 55% since 1995. Combining this with changes in consumption rates makes predicting ‘peak fossil fuel’ as highly uncertain.
While that may be true, new fossil fuel reserves are becoming increasingly difficult to find and they are smaller than those in the past. A good example is that 16 of the 20 largest oil fields in the world have reached peak level production. This means they are struggling to keep up with rising global demand. Instead of trying to predict something almost unpredictable, why not just embrace the power of the sun?
Advantages Of Solar Power
If we manage to use solar energy effectively, the concern around whether fossil fuels will run out or not becomes moot. There are many ways we can capture solar energy to use as a renewable source for cleaner power and a low-carbon economy. Here are some of the biggest advantages.
Clean Energy Source
Using solar power provides us with a clean source that does not contaminate our environment. It is renewable and quintessentially unlimited as it is harnessed directly from the sun every day. The sun isn’t going anywhere and chances of it dying are extremely low. Scientists have predicted that it could happen after 5 billion years but that is a timeframe incomprehensible to us mere mortals.
Counter The Effects Of Climate Change
Solar energy directly reduces our carbon footprint as solar panels harness energy without causing air pollution. Solar panels also don’t contribute to global warming making it super-environmentally friendly. The only “spill” will be too much sun blazing down. Estimates indicate that if we adopted solar power, we could lower future climate change damages saving $259 billion globally (Source: SunShot Initiative, US Department of Energy).
Save On Your Monthly Electricity Bills
Many governments around the world are providing incentives to people installing solar panels. Some even offer subsidies by simply using solar power to get most of your daily energy requirements. Your electricity bills will also reduce considerably especially if you supplement your regular electricity with solar power.
Looking to the future with technological advancements of solar panels, you could share the extra power with your neighbours or an entire neighbourhood. You essentially get paid for “going green” or you can receive a rebate on your next bill. As a result, the return on investment is very high when you install solar panels.
Low Maintenance Costs
Maintaining solar power costs much less so once it’s installed, you are all set for the next 10-20 years depending on the quality. Solar panel suppliers give long warranties so you can always get in touch with them should you encounter any issues. Lastly, solar panels only need to be cleaned a few times a year and it’s easy enough to do yourself.
Solar Power Is Adaptable
In most residential cases, solar panels are installed on the roofs so it doesn’t take up extra space. If the roof isn’t suitable for whatever reason or you need more, the panels can easily be reconfigured to fit any available space that gets optimal sunlight.
Disadvantages Of Solar Power
It’s evident from the above that solar energy is a great, renewable resource but it also has a few downsides.
High Initial Investment
While the energy may be ‘free’, you do face a hefty installation bill. While the price of solar panels continues to drop with new technology, it’s still an expensive initial investment. Fortunately, there are several financing options, tax incentives and rebates as mentioned above that will help bring costs down.
Solar Panel Production Associated With Greenhouse Gases
Solar energy is renewable and sustainable but unfortunately the process to manufacture them is not. Existing manufacturing methods emit some harmful greenhouse gases although on a smaller scale compared to fossil fuels. At the moment, you also can’t recycle old solar panels as the demand simply isn’t enough for an economically attractive solution.
Solar Power Can Be Inconsistent
Using solar power depends largely on the sun as it’s not always bright and shining. In cloudy or at night, you might not get any electricity that day. You will need an alternate source of energy during these times which is why many homeowners still rely on fossil fuels. Well, at least until we’ve come up with a sustainable and affordable solar energy storage system.
Expensive Solar Power Storage
The biggest challenge at the moment is affordable energy storage as batteries are great but not practical enough. If you want to store a large amount of solar power produced during the day for night time or in preparation of inclement weather, you will need several which is expensive and takes up loads of space. The world needs more affordable and effective batteries as their current capacity simply isn’t enough.
Solar power does seem like the answer on many fronts and the International Energy Agency agrees. In fact, they predicted that “By 2020, renewable energy – particularly solar and wind – will make up 45% of new energy installations around the world.”
With an increase in investments for developing more innovative solutions to capture and store solar energy, the future does look pretty bright. A big concern though is waste and it’s important that we also develop new ways to manage it while making solar panels recyclable.
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