Solar energy today is one of the biggest sources of renewable energy and is used globally as a major power source from the United States to China. As one of the most abundant and cleanest energy sources today, solar energy reached over 570 TWH globally in 2018 – an increase of over 30% in just over a year.
By 2030, Singapore has set an ambitious solar energy target of 2 gigawatt-peak which will provide enough power over 350,000 homes.
How Solar Energy Works & Why It Is Here To Stay
Solar energy is mainly harnessed through the use of photovoltaics (PVs) that allow particles of light to knock away electrons from atoms – creating electricity in the process. Another method of how solar energy is harnessed is through solar thermal capture, where concentrated solar energy is used to boil water to produce steam which then turns an electricity turbine.
In the United States, over 42 states are expected to reach grid parity for residential solar power – that means solar power is able to generate power at a cost and performance level that is equal to or even less than the electricity generated by fossil fuels.
While solar energy currently only accounts for around 7% of worldwide energy generation currently, the cost of solar power has fallen an impressive 85% since 2010 and it will continue to get even cheaper.
Many developed countries such as Japan and developing countries including India are reaching new heights with solar power with ambitious goals to ramp up their solar installed capacity. Coupled with the rise of smart cities that seek to be powered on renewable energy and businesses such as Walmart & Intel relying heavily on solar to power their operations, solar energy is here to stay and its growth will only accelerate.
Even Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino is fully powered by its solar power installations!
The Top 5 Advantages Of Solar Energy
As the world transitions more towards renewable energy sources, solar power stands out from the rest due to certain key advantages they have, making countries both modern and industrialising, choose it as a long-term energy solution.
Advantage #1: A Great Choice For Land-Scarce Countries
While there are many forms of alternative renewable energy like geothermal and hydropower, they all have various restrictions that prevent most countries, especially those with geographical challenges, from adopting them.
Hydropower requires water bodies with the necessary elevation, geothermal power requires being strategically located at crust formations and wind power will require huge land (or ocean) space commitment coupled with above-average wind-speed. And that is putting aside huge amounts of capital cost that could very well exceed that of solar power installations. However, solar energy is simply harnessing the power of the sun which almost every country will have constant access to.
Take Singapore for example, as a country of just 721.5 square kilometres with a territorial sea of only 12 nautical miles, solar power is one of the only viable solutions for the island nation to diversify their energy sources away from fossil fuels. As of the end Q2 2019, Singapore has a total of 262.4 MWp worth of solar power capacity spread across 3,173 installations – most of which are fitted onto buildings.
Advantage #2: Technology Is Always Improving
As we highlighted earlier, solar power has reached grid parity in many countries such as China, where the home-generated solar power is cheaper than the electricity generated from their national grid – spurring the national to hit 1,300 GW of solar power capacity by 2050 compared to just 174 GW in 2017.
Based on pure economics, solar energy will only get cheaper and more efficient, allowing companies, governments and individuals to enjoy a greater return on investment on their solar installations. In fact, the cost of multi-solar module prices dropped 90% from 2010 to Q3 of 2019, from $2 per watt to just over $0.20 per watt.
Coupled with advancements in energy storage such as Tesla’s Powerwall that delivers over 7 days of continuous power during an outage, the viability of solar power for both residential and commercial use is a reality today.
Advantage #3: Environmentally Sustainable Energy Supply
The process of harnessing and converting solar power into electricity does not generally cause pollution and is vastly minimal when compared to that of fossil fuels.
Households and companies that diversify their electricity supply with solar power can help shrink their carbon footprint as well as reduce carbon emissions in place of fossil fuel-generated electricity they would have otherwise bought.
In fact, according to the US Energy Information Administration, the average home in Connecticut with solar panels that switch from fossil fuel-powered electricity to solar energy has the same emissions reduction effect of planting around 150 new trees every year!
Advantage #4: Marginal Generation Cost & Enhanced Energy Sufficiency
While the installation costs of solar energy stations and panels will involve substantial upfront investments, you will be able to enjoy marginal generation cost as solar energy (energy from the sun) is essentially free. This means that apart from the minimal maintenance cost for the solar panels, individuals and companies will be able to easily calculate the payback period on their capital investment and if the returns make sense.
Solar panels are also highly durable and crystalline panels are usually guaranteed for a lifespan of 20-25 years by manufacturers. This gives solar power users an assurance of energy sufficiency, allowing them to enjoy consistent savings off their electricity bill.
Advantage #5: Energy Solution For Rural Areas & Developing Nations
While cities have the benefit of being connected to the country’s national grid, many rural areas in developed countries such as the United States and Australia and developing nations such as India lack this. Take India for example, they have a goal of 40GW of energy from decentralized rooftop projects on rural homes. The electricity generated can help families and communities in a plethora of day to day activities including heating, drying and cooking.
Together with energy storage solutions such as solar batteries, solar power is a fantastic sustainable energy solution for communities that are living disconnected from the electricity grid.
The 5 Disadvantages Of Solar Energy
While solar energy has a myriad of benefits, it is not the definitive solution for every single situation where renewable energy is required.
From high capital costs to reliability issues, here are some of the cons of utilizing solar power.
Disadvantage #1: High Initial Investment & Payback Period
While the prospect of marginal generation cost is attractive without any cost to harness sunlight, there is a substantial investment required upfront to purchase and install the solar power system. While solar panel prices are dropping, depending on your requirements, you will have to still fork out a high initial investment before you can enjoy savings off your electric bill and real savings can only be attained after you hit the payback period.
As solar panels are getting cheaper, many countries including the US and the UK are cutting away government subsidies for both residential and commercial solar power stations – this means the bulk of the investment will rest on the shoulders of the business owner or homeowner.
While there are many other options (mainly for the commercial side) such as lease-to-buy options and power purchase agreements (PPA) with manufacturers of the solar panels, you might not have full ownership of the solar power station and the leases could last for 20 or even 30 years!
Disadvantage #2: Highly Weather Dependent (Reliability Issues)
Solar energy harnesses the power of sunlight and that itself, while it is an everlasting and free resource, poses problems.
Solar power is highly weather-dependent no matter where you are in the world. The most obvious fact is that solar panels do not operate during the night – and that means either the power generated during the day when there is sunlight has to be stored in batteries that can be utilised later on or other conventional types of energy has to be produced.
Like other forms of renewable energy such as wind or geothermal energy, the quantity of electricity generated is highly dependent on the quality of it’s source. Wind turbines generate more electricity when the wind speed is high and the same goes for solar power, when the day is sunny without rain or clouds, the energy harnessed from the sun is significantly more.
Depending on the location, certain countries like the USA (Arizona) will enjoy the highest number of sunlight hours annually while cities such as Dublin, Hanoi and Auckland all receive some of the lowest sunshine hours globally – making them not ideally suited for solar power.
But that’s not all, even when it is technically a sunny day, cities like London are often cloudy, lowering the efficiency of solar panels there. In fact, solar panels only produce 10-25% of their typical output on a cloudy day which isn’t optimal, especially to lower the payback period from the upfront capital cost.
Disadvantage #3: It Is Not 100% Pollution-Free
Sure, the generation of power from solar power is green and produces zero carbon emissions during its operation – however, the entire installation of solar panel stations isn’t exactly 100% pollution-free.
Nitrogen trifluoride, a greenhouse gas, is linked to the production of solar panels itself. The gas itself is thousands of times (in fact, 17,200 times) more potent versus carbon dioxide when it comes to contributing to global warming. Solar panels also require certain types of rare and expensive materials such as Cadmium Telluride and Copper Indium Gallium Selenide which are toxic to human health as well as requiring substantial resources to produce.
Disadvantage #4: There Are Space Limitations
While solar energy can seem easy to be utilised, space can get limited and configurations have to be done in certain arrays in order for it to function.
Residential homes will require access to your own roof to install an array or a wide-open backyard where solar panels can be installed. If you are living in an apartment or condominium, having your own solar installation will be rather unfeasible and the responsibility will most likely fall to the management of the whole property.
For companies, solar installations will require a decent amount of real estate space for the installation of the arrays. This would mean only businesses with physical space, such as supermarkets or industrial warehouses or manufacturing plants, will be able to fully capitalise on solar energy where scale is needed.
Disadvantage #5: Solar Stations Are Fixed & Not Highly Moveable
Apart from the capital costs needed to install the solar power stations, it is important to note that they aren’t exactly easily moveable to another location without incurring expensive moving costs. These costs not only include the transportation of the station itself, but also the need for solar experts and engineers to be present to assist with the safe removal of the solar panels to its new location.
While it is true that solar panels do add value to a home or a commercial building when it is sold to a third party, the additional value might not be enough to cover the initial capital cost of the solar station, especially if only a few years of electricity generation has been enjoyed.
Additionally, if your solar panels were installed by a company through a power purchase agreement (PPA) where the panels were installed and financed fully by the company, you will need to have the new owner of your property take over the agreement – which could make the sale more complicated.
Solar Energy Is The Future & Well Worth Embracing
Overall, solar energy still has tremendous benefits compared to its disadvantages and is still the most accessible type of renewable energy that every country can utilise.
From businesses to households, solar energy can be used to lower electricity bills and diversify your electricity supply in case of any potential emergencies that might happen. In fact, as technology continues to improve, solar energy will get more efficient and cheaper, making it easier for homeowners and business owners to adopt it.
We also believe solar energy is the future and are helping customers with existing solar panels in Singapore switch to us as their electricity retailer. This allows eligible households to buy electricity at up to 30% lower than the regulated tariff, while enjoying solar energy generated from their solar panels!
Learn more about our sustainability efforts and how we are making Singapore and the world a greener place to live in!
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