Being in the business of solar energy, we tend to tell you a lot about the positives. You may be wondering, what are the disadvantages? There are a few, but most of these are manageable or completely avoidable with some careful planning.
Solar energy is intermittent
A question that often arises is: what happens when it's a cloudy day or night time? The natural variation of solar radiation during the day, and over the seasons, inevitably causes your power generation to fluctuate. In order to ensure that you will have access to power when you need it, regardless of the weather conditions, there are a few options at your disposal. Most solar panel installations today are tied to the electrical grid. You can think of this as a two-way exchange: when you generate solar power, you pump it into the grid, and when you need to use power, you withdraw it from the grid. This way, you can balance the fluctuations in your solar electricity generation. If you are not tied to the grid, another option to consider is batteries to store your solar electricity. Although this increases the overall cost of your solar power system, it also helps with balancing the consumption with your generation. Monitoring the changes in your solar radiation levels gives you a much better idea about this natural variation. Check out Sunmetrix GO to learn more.
Solar panels and related equipment are expensive
As we discussed in a recent post (Is Solar Energy Getting Cheaper?), although the price of solar panels has been falling, the cost of the other equipment needed for your system and the cost of installation have remained relatively expensive.
An important consideration in your decision to go solar or not is the cost of electricity where you live. Of course, the more expensive the electricity, the more it makes sense to consider switching to solar. There are a number of incentives out there, in your community, state or country, that can make the installation of solar panels more affordable. Furthermore, if you're lucky, you may live in an area where you can sell the electricity back to the grid at a favorable rate. These factors are discussed in more detail in another post (Government Financial Incentives for Solar Panel Installations).
Lastly, while moving to solar panels may be expensive at the moment, there are a number of ways to minimize your upfront costs. In addition to grants and tax credits for outright purchase of your panels, you can consider leasing your panels or signing a solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). These different strategies are outlined in yet another post (What is the best way to install solar panels at my home?).
Dazzle or glare from improper placement
If the placement of solar panels is not properly considered or regulated, it can result in annoying, sometimes blinding, reflection of light onto neighboring properties. In the U.K. there have been a number of stories recently of rooftop solar panels which are placed in such a way (for example, downslope of a hillside neighbor, or on a one-story rooftop below a two-story neighboring house) that they are causing affected neighbors to complain that it's like living next to a tanning salon. This is an especially important consideration in neighborhoods that surround airports, where blinding dazzle could be dangerous for pilots on approach.
However, with careful planning by installers and verification by regulators, the glare of improperly placed solar panels can be minimized. In the future, this will be made easier with the use of software that can analyze the environment in 3-D and make placement of solar panels safe and comfortable for everyone. It's often just a case of changing the orientation or the tilt of the panels so that everyone can be thankful when the sun is out!
So... Just like any other way of generating power, solar energy has its own advantages and disadvantages. Luckily, for a power generation technology with a very low environmental imprint and a free fuel source, the disadvantages are limited. In fact, proper research and planning can eliminate most issues. Let the sun shine!