You may have seen dozens of solar energy system installations in your area or on the news. Did this prompt you to go hit that order button for your house? Well, don’t just yet, not unless you did further digging on the pros and cons of PV cell systems. Luckily, in this article, we’re going to do that for you.
Going solar has been a sustainable and cheaper solution for dozens of counties. According to EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, an average home going solar for a year is like:
- Preventing addition of 6.25 tons of CO2 to the earth’s atmosphere.
- Adding about 122 tree seedlings for 10 years.
- Not using 4 tons of coal.
- Driving your car for 18,000 miles less.
While solar cells have a lot of benefits for the community, they have some drawbacks, too. And the bad sides of going solar are mostly experienced by the old structures which are not fit for solar power installations.
So the main question is, does its advantages outweigh its disadvantages in your specific case?
In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits and drawbacks of photovoltaic cell systems to help you decide if going solar is right for you.
What are Photovoltaic Cells?
To give you a backdrop of your solar cell options, let’s briefly discuss what photovoltaic cells are.
Photovoltaic cells or solar cells are the tiniest components of a solar panel. These are the forefront of every solar energy system as each solar panel is made of multiple solar cells.
You can find 3 types of materials for solar cells making up 3 different types of solar PV panels. There’s the monocrystalline photovoltaic cell, polycrystalline solar cell and thin-film cells. Each have different pros and cons.
Pros and Cons of Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline and Thin-Film Solar PV Cells
In a nutshell, monocrystalline cells are made of a single crystal silicon, are the most efficient and have the best aesthetics among the three.
Multiple melted silicon fragments make up polycrystalline cells. They are generally less efficient than monocrystalline cells, but each panel costs cheaper.
Thin-film (amorphous) cells are the most budget-wise choice, about 30% less than the other types, but are relatively inefficient. However, thin film solar cells are the best option for areas experiencing minimal sunlight throughout the year.
Advantages of Photovoltaic Cells
Photovoltaic cells used to make solar panels for home installations and solar street light installations support renewable energy harness. They are sustainable solutions as the sun is an inexhaustible supply of energy. Plus, it doesn’t need fossil fuels such as petroleum, coal, and natural gas for input.
Compared with other renewable energy sources, solar PV systems are the most favorable as they provide clean energy. They also create very minimal obstructions in the environment, compared with hydroelectric plants, nuclear and wind power plants.
3. Eliminate Monthly Electric Bills
Whether it’s a rooftop solar for your building or house or solar-powered street lighting applications, you can entirely cut electricity bills! That is, if you opt for off-grid solar systems. If maintained, your PV panel can live for up to 20-25 years, so expect free electricity for a long time.
4. Economical and Easy to Maintain
The solar panel is designed with a sleek surface to help slide off snow during winter seasons. But once in a while, you have to relieve the panel’s surface from snow or dust if there are. You may also contact cleaning companies offering cleaning services for solar panels and its equipment.
Since solar energy systems are stationary and there are no motors or generators or any other moving parts, it’s less likely to experience damage.
Also, solar panels have a long-term warranty of 20-30 years. Their lifespans may stretch to 35 years depending on quality. That means, you would only need to know the lifespan of associated solar parts like the inverter and battery.
For the inverter having a life of 5-10 years, it has to be replaced at least twice over the life of your panels. Batteries live longer depending on which type you use, but it usually stays for 10-15 years. So this means it would also have to be replaced 2 to 3 times over the panels life.
5. Enjoy Tax incentives
The government gives tax incentives for those who want to install solar panel systems in their houses. This is to back up the initial costs, which can be intimidating for an individual solar energy user.
6. Earn Extra Cash on the Side
To encourage citizens to resort to solar PV systems, the government has paved a way to earn while contributing energy to the grid. With the Net Metering Credits and SREC Credits, the utility company will put money in your pockets for your energy contribution.
Thus, with solar energy systems, you can contribute to saving the environment, while earning cash on the side. This is also a good way to hasten your ROI in a few years.
7. Makes Your Property More Valuable
You’d be surprised how people would be more willing to buy your house at a premium price when it has a couple of solar-powered systems. In America alone, houses complete with solar installations and metering devices have sold 4.1% more than those with no solar power systems.
8. Viable Power Solution for Remote Homes and Areas
Whether you go camping or are currently living in an off-grid, remote place, PV panels are the best way to charge your cell phones, and power up your equipment.
Aside from this, solar panel street lights are currently mainstreaming for remote villages and rural places in India, the Philippines, Nigeria and many others.
This is because solar street lights are easy to install and maintain with just a click of a remote control. With MPPT tracking, it’s also easier to detect when something goes wrong with your solar PV system. Modern apps can now do most of the common remote maintenance for you.
9. Creates More Jobs
A lot of homes have suddenly opt for solar energy solutions for the past years. This has created more jobs to cater to the high demand of PV cell manufacturing, distribution and installment. In fact, according to Solar Jobs Census, the solar industry has rendered employment for more workers than in coal industries.
So the next time you find solar panels on the rack and you begin battling yourself if you’d invest or not, think about how many people you’d help if you do buy solar systems.
10. A Brighter Future: Cheaper Cost and Higher Efficiency
There are far more competitive solar panel manufacturers today than ever before. Because of the growing market demand and abundance of supply, PV panel prices have stooped low. Over the past 6 years, solar panel costs have dropped to 50%.
To add to that, companies have been competing to set the best efficiency record of solar panels in the market. So we can expect more improvements in the future.
Disadvantages of Photovoltaic Cells
Do you think there could be any renewable energy source that’s free of faults? We sure hope solar cells aren’t one of them. But they do have some very minor pitfalls, so they won’t be exempted from coming out clean. Here are the cons of solar cells we’ve researched and gathered:
1. Interrupted Energy Production
This is one of the most common reasons why up until today, people don’t want to risk buying solar panel systems. Because you’d think solar cells are dependent on sunlight, you would need it to be present everyday. After all, who doesn’t need a stable source of power on their everyday lives?
But there are days when the sun cozy up behind the clouds and energy production from your solar panel goes down. We’re telling you now that you wouldn’t need to worry much about less sunlight days.
Solution: As long as there is light, solar panels absorb as much input as they can.
And because PV cells technology is improving each year, solar conversion efficiencies have increased. This means that when buying solar panels, make sure they have at least efficiencies of 15% to 23% so that each solar conversions are optimized and you’ll get your money’s worth.
Also, some solar-powered street light systems have high quality lithium ion solar batteries that can store enough energy for 2-7 sunlight-less days.
If, however, you face the problem with no energy harness due to bad weather, there are a couple of solutions to address this. For one, you can buy solar systems with tiltable panels so you can re-position them away from the shadows, especially during the winter. For more tips, tune into our “do solar lights work in winter” article.
2. High Investment Cost
The cost of running solar is high, which makes it another major drawback. You would need $15,000 to $25,000 just to run the average load of 5-kW solar energy for residential use. A large 30% chunk of this cost accounts for the solar panels themselves. This can range from $4000 to $8000.
Solution: Opting for solar translates to paying 25 years of electricity, with less maintenance on equipment. Not to mention, the sun is an unlimited source of power and it’s free.
Plus, the cost of solar equipment such as the panel, battery, inverter (if applicable), and LED (if applicable) have been substantially decreasing. A photovoltaic solar panel now costs $0.7 per W when sold for industrial quantities. For consumers, it would be about $1.5 per W.
There are also tax credits, rebates and energy loan benefits available to further encourage people to invest in green solutions.
Even if you don’t like to incur an outstanding loan for going solar, you should consider this energy alternative in the near future as electricity costs are getting high. It’s also worth seeing that you can cancel out electricity bills from your monthly bills.
3. Flat Roofs Can Be a Problem
This shows that not everyone can install solar panels on their roofs. A survey in USA shows that majority of houses still can’t put up solar panels on their roofs.
While some older houses can be re-structured to accommodate PV panels, others might be harder. For example, houses with flat roofs are not suitable for solar panel installations because it might not be easy to slide off the snow or dirt. Other houses might have shadowy roofs that wouldn’t be able to get enough sunlight for energy generation.
So if you have a flat roof, an overwhelming tree or a chimney, it might get in the way. Going solar might not be good for you.
Solution: Use Microinverters, Install More Panels
But don’t get discouraged yet. Since designers foresaw these issues, they presented a variety of solutions for homeowners. This can be by using microinverters, installing more solar panels to increase DC-AC ratio, or installing high efficiency solar panels.
4. Highly Sensitive to Shadows and Shades
Solar cells are also highly sensitive to shadows and shades. This makes it difficult to fully harness and optimize its conversion efficiency when the panels are blocked.
Solution: Add Grid-Tied Backup System
A solution can opt for a Photovoltaic solar system with grid-tied backup system. So that when your solar energy system runs out of electricity, you can easily get sustenance from the grid.
5. Converting DC to AC
For some, this can just be a minor problem.
Since solar equipment such as the panel and battery run on DC, an inverter is needed to convert it to AC used for home appliances. Thus, if your solar system is far from your house, it might be inefficient and long range transmission can be difficult.
Solution: Use an inverter, if needed
For some solar energy systems, such as solar street lights, inverters are not needed so there won’t be any conversion happening. Solar-powered street lights use LED for lighting, lithium battery for storage and solar panels to produce energy.
All these components produce and charge by DC. Not unless you have grid-tied solar street lights, you would need an inverter to supply AC to the grid.
6. Photovoltaic Cell Production is Not So Green
And this requires effort on the manufacturers’ side to have strict waste disposal of by-products.
How PV cells are made are not as environmentally-friendly as you think its end-products are used for.
For starters, it involves highly hazardous materials during and after production. Making PV cells require transformation of metallurgical silicon into polysilicon. This in turn creates silicon tetrachloride, a highly toxic compound that fumes badly in air and corrodes lands.
Then, refining also involves more silicon tetrachloride. In this step, hydrochloric acid is combined with pure-grade silicon to form trichlorosilane. This compound reacts with hydrogen to produce liquid silicon tetrachloride.
To sum up, there are about 3 to 4 tons silicon tetrachloride used for the entire process! Not to mention, greenhouse gases are also produced in the process such as nitrogen trifluoride and sulfur hexafluoride.
In the past, solar panel manufacturers used to throw these chemicals into the environment. In effect, rivers and a lot of fields had been polluted and rendered unusable.
Solution: Strict compliance with environmental laws
Because of this, strict laws were implemented in China and USA solar panel manufacturers to recycle by-products and dispose waste properly. We hope more efforts are made in part of the manufacturers so there won’t be more pollution added to the environment.
We hope this list has helped you to sort the advantages and disadvantages of photovoltaic cell systems. We further hope this has guided you on which rooftop solar and outdoor solar lights are fit for your needs.
Nowadays, since solar power is a highly favorable renewable energy resource compared with other systems, we should start planning on how we can implement this effectively in our own properties.
At HeiSolar, we offer All-in-One Solar Street Lights, solar garden lights and adjustable solar lights to fit any property type. Since we are a manufacturer, our designs can be customized for your own special needs and your options can be limitless.