Solar Energy: An Overview of its Pros and Cons
By Jordan Kobernick, Staff Contributor
Alternative energy sources are gaining in popularity as fossil fuel sources dwindle, and people become more aware of the detrimental effects of high carbon dioxide emissions. Alternative energy sources include solar energy, wind power, ethanol biofuels, geothermal energy, and hydrogen fuel.
Solar energy is one of the most commonly recognized alternative energy sources. Most people think of solar energy as solar panels – “photovoltaic systems” – on buildings and houses. These solar panels are a type of active solar technique, which is the method of utilizing electrical or mechanical devices to convert the sun’s light and heat into electricity. Passive solar techniques, on the other hand, do not use such devices and are able to exploit the sun’s energy directly.
Although people have a cursory familiarity with solar energy, there are many advantages and disadvantages that people interested in utilizing solar energy should consider.
The renewability of solar energy differentiates it from other rapidly depleting energy sources (e.g., coal, oil, natural gas). As long as the sun shines, we can harness its light and convert it into electricity. While fossil fuels are diminishing, capitalizing on solar energy’s abundance can help ensure that future generations have energy.
This plentiful energy source can supply electricity to places all over the world and is virtually pollution and noise free. People are becoming more aware of how fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions have contributed to global warming. Although there are emissions from manufacturing solar power systems, these emissions are miniscule in comparison to those that come from fossil fuels.
Using solar energy systems can also decrease electricity costs for individuals. In addition to directly reducing electricity costs to running a home or building, people can “sell” the excess energy.
In an attempt to reduce their dependence on coal, China recently installed 12GW of solar power, which is more than any country has established in a given year. Although this installation is a marked advancement, China still has issues connecting the solar energy to the grid; there are estimates that 30% of the recently installed solar power is awaiting connection to the grid. The country also continues to take the lead in expanding its capacity to burn fossil fuels.
The most common argument against solar energy is the cost. For example, installing solar panels on a home can cost between $18,000 and $40,000. Depending on how long you stay in that home, you can potentially recoup these costs in the form of lower electricity bills and tax benefits. In addition to expensive installation, energy storage can also carry a high cost.
Another hiccup in using solar energy is that it is only available at certain times of the day (when it is sunny). Solar panels also require a lot of space to harness an adequate amount of energy; consequently, a big house or building is necessary to get the amount of power you use.
While people can still depend on obtaining credits for their solar energy, reducing their monthly electricity costs, there are debates in several states about the amount that people should receive. In Colorado, the state’s largest utility company is arguing that the 10.5-cent per kilowatt-hour credit is too high; they believe that a proper credit would be closer to 5 cents per kilowatt-hour. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission is currently reviewing the amount of credit that people receive. A similar debate is ongoing in California.
While solar energy has considerable disadvantages, its use continues to grow each year. China and the United States are major solar energy users and are expanding their solar energy markets. Though many resist the increasing prevalence of solar energy, it seems that there is no stopping its growth.