How Does Solar Energy Work?

Solar energy works by converting sunlight into electricity. Rooftop and ground-mounted solar panels are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells, which absorb sunlight and generate electricity.

Solar energy can be converted to electricity or stored in batteries or thermal storage systems for later use when the sun isn’t shining.

The main uses of solar energy

Solar energy is used in a variety of ways. Solar ponds are used to make chemicals, food, textiles, warm greenhouses, swimming pools, and livestock structures by capturing the heat from the sun.

Solar power may also be utilized for cooking and providing electricity for electronic devices.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy

The Advantages of Solar Energy (Pros)

Solar energy has many advantages over fossil fuels. Namely because is a renewable energy source, meaning it won’t run out like oil, coal, or gas.

Here are the advantages:

  • Renewable Energy Source.
  • Reduced electric bill.
  • Saving Water.
  • Low Maintenance.
  • Improving Grid Security.
  • Creating Jobs.
  • Insurance against rising energy costs
  • Return on investment

Renewable energy source

Solar energy is a sustainable, inexhaustible source of power that differs from fossil fuels in that they are finite. Solar energy is utilized for water heating at home, space heating in buildings, and electricity generation.

Solar cells, also known as photovoltaic cells, convert light energy into electrical power using the photovoltaic effect.

The majority of these are made of silicon, with conversion efficiencies and expenditures ranging from amorphous silicon cells (non-crystalline) to polycrystalline and monocrystalline (single crystal) types.

Reduced electric bill

The most significant advantage of installing solar panels is that they will save you money on your energy bills.

You might be able to generate enough electricity for your whole house if your solar panels are large enough.

The Solar Energy Trust’s solar energy calculator can tell you how much money you could save by switching to solar energy.

You will be eligible for reduced rates on your electricity bill and a chance to earn money by exporting surplus energy back to the grid through Smart Export Guarantee (SEG).

Saving Water

Solar panels are a long-term water savings solution because they don’t require water to produce energy.

Panels do not need any water for cooling, unlike power plants that use 600-800 gallons.

Because solar panels generate energy using sunlight, no extra equipment is required to keep them operating.

Low maintenance

Solar panels are low-maintenance once they are installed. Because there are no moving parts in the solar system, this is the case.

The inverter, which is generally replaced after 15 years of use is the main replaceable item on a solar array system.

It also means there is very little ongoing servicing or maintenance required.

This is the main reason why commercial solar farms like to install thousands of panels in one go – it’s much cheaper and easier to maintain one big installation than lots of smaller ones.

Improving grid security

Thousands of energy generation points are spread out on a grid with a high level of solar penetration. In the case of an overload, natural or man-made disasters, this improves grid security.

You now have smart grids that can automatically reroute energy around problem areas, meaning blackouts are a thing of the past in a lot of areas.

Creating jobs

Solar PV installation is one of the fastest-growing job markets in the world.

The solar sector added one out of every 50 new employment created in the United States in 2014, a 25 percent increase from 2015. In 2016, the solar industry generated $84 billion for the US economy.

As fossil fuel jobs start to decrease in major economies, the solar industry will pick up the slack.

The UK solar industry currently employs around 6,000 people – a number that is only going to grow as the technology develops.

Insurance against rising energy costs

Solar panels will protect you against rising power expenses by lowering your energy bills.

Since you can also create your own energy, you won’t have to purchase as much energy from your utility supplier.

One of the reasons why we are seeing prices increasing is down to concerns about future Russian supply (during this Ukraine war).

But oil, natural gas, and other crucial fossil fuels commodities’ pricing and volatility are mostly determined by energy traders today, who are fuelling rising costs and volatility.

Return on investment

In year one, a typical photovoltaic system or PV system will provide a 20% return on investment depending on how much sun your area gets.

The payback period for each solar system is different. Some homeowners will spend more on their systems. Others use more electricity or live in an area with higher electricity costs.

The Disadvantages of Solar Energy (Cons)

Even though solar energy has a lot of advantages, there are also some disadvantages. These mostly relate to the high cost of installing solar panels and the low efficiency of the technology.

Here are some negatives of solar energy:

  • High initial cost
  • Intermittent energy source
  • A small amount of pollution during manufacture.
  • Not ideal if you plan on moving house.
  • The size of the system is dependent on your available space.
  • Cannot be used at night.
  • Solar panels are fixed at their installed location.

High initial cost

It’s not that cheap to install solar panels. Even though the prices are dropping, it is still an expensive investment.

The average price of a domestic solar PV system in the UK is around £6,000-£8,000.

However, you will save money on your energy bills and may even make money if you generate more electricity than you need and sell it back to the grid.

Intermittent energy source

Solar energy is an intermittent energy source. This means it only produces energy when the sun is shining.

With that in mind, it would be hard to depend 100% on solar energy because there would be times when it wouldn’t produce enough power for your immediate needs.

A small amount of pollution during the manufacturing process

Solar panels produce roughly 50 grams of CO2 each kilowatt-hour during their first years of operation, accounting for the amount of CO2 produced during solar panel manufacturing.

This is roughly 20 times less than the carbon output from coal-powered electricity sources.

Even though the amount of CO2 is smaller, there is still a carbon footprint associated with solar energy.

Not ideal if you plan on moving house

If you install solar panels, you will most likely have to leave them behind if you move house.

Solar panels are usually installed on the roof and are often integrated into the structure of the building. This means they can be difficult and expensive to remove.

The size of the system is dependent on your available space

Unfortunately, solar panels can’t be installed just anywhere. They need to be placed in an area that gets direct sunlight.

This means if you have a small roof or live in a shady area, solar panels might not be the right option for you.

Cannot be used at night

Solar panels rely on sunlight to generate power, so they won’t work when it’s dark outside.

Unless you combine them with battery storage which can store the energy generated during the day, solar panels can be used at night.

Solar panels are fixed at their installed location

Since most solar arrays are bespoke and fixed to a building, they can’t be moved around to maximize their power output.

This means that if you have a small roof or live in a shady area, solar panels might not be the right option for you.

Also, if you choose to move house, you will most likely have to leave your solar panels behind.

Should You Install Solar?

With reduced utility bills, lowering your carbon footprint, and even making money, there are a lot of reasons to go solar.

But it’s not the right choice for everyone. If you’re thinking about installing solar panels, make sure to weigh the pros and cons first.

It’s important to remember that even though solar energy has some disadvantages, it is still a renewable energy source that doesn’t produce greenhouse gases.

So, if you’re looking for a way to reduce your carbon footprint and save money on your energy bills, solar might be the right choice for you.

About the Author

Passionate about helping households transition to sustainable energy with helpful information and resources.

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