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Solar Power Advantages and Disadvantages

The pros and cons of installing solar panels.

Solar Power Advantages and Disadvantages

There is a lot of useful solar energy information out there and sadly, lots of harmful misinformation too.  

In this post, we are going to cover some the main advantages and disadvantages of installing solar panels and the industry as a whole.

The advantages of solar energy spread far and wide.  The benefits of solar panels have extensive implications including financial, social and of course, environmental factors. Many of these are well known, many of these are not; we will investigate each one thoroughly.

The industry does not often talk about the disadvantages of solar power, but we are going to change that by opening up a few of the ‘imperfections’ relating to the industry and the solar panels themselves.

No technology is perfect, and many perceived disadvantages are just solar myths.  We will take an in-depth look at what real, and more importantly, what is being done to improve the technology.

Disadvantages of Solar Power

Disadvantage #1 - Intermittency

Solar panels only operate when it’s at least somewhat sunny (crazy, right?). 

This means solar modules don’t operate at night, and they produce less energy when it is cloudy or when the panels are covered in snow. All of these factors lead people to believe that solar doesn’t work which could not be further from the truth. 

Nait Reference Solar Array in Edmonton, Alberta
NAIT Reference Solar Array in Edmonton, Alberta

Yes, they are factors which affect the overall system but there are mitigation strategies to this.  Many jurisdictions utilize ‘net billing’ or ‘net metering’.  Alberta, Saskatchewan, NWT, and many other provinces in Canada all use such a system. 

Net Billing means the energy retailer will monitor how much solar energy you import vs export and credit you accordingly. 

If your solar power system produces more energy than you can use in the summer, you will build up a credit and draw from it during times when it is not sunny (i.e. night/winter). This is the key reason why solar energy systems are still viable even though we have long, dark winters.

On a small scale net billing works fine to alleviate distribution stresses, but if renewable energy is expected to generate 100% of the demand of a province, then the intermittency becomes an issue. This is where energy storage comes into play.

Economically utilizing energy storage systems (aka batteries) is going to be a major hurdle in the coming decade.  To combat the intermittency of the sun, we must ensure that we can store excess energy while we have it, and draw from it when we need it most. 

Battery technology is already being implemented on a utility-scale, with entire islands being powered by solar energy and potentially a significant portion of Australia being powered by solar too.

Solar Power Array with Battery Storage
Solar Power Array with Battery Storage

Although intermittency is a factor that affects the energy generation of solar panels, there are policies and technologies that eliminate the primary risks. 

This is not to say it will be simple moving forward.  There are many more challenges and hurdles to overcome, but it is very doable.

Disadvantage #2 - Aesthetic

This one is subjective, but many people feel solar panels are ugly or take away from the look of their roof. 

Beauty is certainly the eye of the beholder.

With that said, solar panels have improved significantly in the aesthetic department in the last couple years.  For a very long time, the only options were bright blue cells, with a white back-sheet, and a silver frame – the ‘classic’ solar module.

Now you can get all black solar panels with black back-sheets and black frames to seamlessly blend in with darker shingles. 

All black solar panels near Edmonton, AB
All Black Solar Panels near Edmonton, Alberta

Additionally, new electrical technologies allow more aesthetic improvements when installing solar panels.  Cabling no longer needs to be visible creating a much cleaner finish.

Similarly, racking technology provides numerous color and stand-off (height from your roof plane) options too.  Low-profile racking is quickly becoming more available, and solar panels will soon blend into the roof itself.

Technology such as Tesla’s solar roof shingles do just that.  No additional solar panels are required since the shingle itself is photovoltaic.  This technology is expected to reach market in 1 to 3 years, although some similar products are out now.

Tesla Solar Roof Shingles
Tesla Solar Roof Shingles

Disadvantage #3 - Cost

The cost of solar panels is a major issue and is certainly a disadvantage for many people.

Alberta solar power systems can typically be installed for approximately $10,000 to $16,000 (pre-rebate), which for some is not feasible.  But when you consider the long-term economics of solar power, it is clear that they are a better option in the end. 

Solar panels are not a cost though, they are an investment.

The financials surrounding the system are secured over a 25+ year lifetime providing you a net positive return.  Installing solar panels on your home is one of the few upgrades that will not only add value to your home, but it is an appreciating asset, meaning it will continually make you money.

If you buy a $15,000 vehicle, in 20 years, it will likely only be worth the metal that went into it.  With a $15,000 solar power system, you will save hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year.  The investment will pay for itself, and eventually earn you money.  Not many other home upgrades will do the same.

If you are building a new home or property, then financing the system with your mortgage is a very easy option to capitalize on the advantages of solar energy without the upfront cost.  The project can be optimized during the design stage through simple recommendations from your solar contractor, and installed during the construction stage for a highly cost-effective solution.

If you are building a new home, but don’t quite want to install solar panels right away, then making your home solar-ready is a simple procedure to lower your costs in the future.  This can entail running an empty conduit from your electrical room to the attic, or a solar installer can rough-in suitable cables and devices for you.

As the industry develops further, the cost of solar materials will continue to drop from new technological innovation, and increased competition. 

Government incentives are already playing a major role in reducing the investment required to install solar in Alberta, Saskatchewan, NWT, BC, Ontario and more.

Ontario’s Feed-in-Tarriff (FIT) program developed a fledgling industry into Canada’s leading solar province, with over 99% of Canada’s installed solar PV capacity. 

NWT offers three separate grants depending on whether you are homeowner, business or community/indigenous organization.

Saskatchewan offers your choice of three separate solar incentive programs.

Alberta offers many different solar power grants.  The most recent of which is the $36 million Residential and Commercial Solar Power Rebate.  Already in effect are the Alberta Municipal Solar Program (AMSP), the Alberta Indigenous Solar Program (AISP), and Growing Forward 2 – On Farm Solar Grant

Additionally, there is a commercial tax incentive to help businesses reduce their cost of solar power by depreciating the asset at a higher rate than normal.

You can read the complete guide to solar power rebates in Canada to learn more on what is available in your area.

In short, the cost of installing solar power is factor for many people but the long-term economics make sense. The industry and governments are also actively working to make solar panels more affordable for everyone.

These are the biggest issues that we commonly see and hear about from clients and the public.  There are many disadvantages of solar but there are equally as many ways to innovate and improve the technology.

Advantages of Solar Energy

This list could be quite long, but we will keep it short for you.

Advantage #1 – Carbon Reduction

Solar panels produce 5x to 10x less carbon emissions per unit of energy relative to coal or natural gas.  This is huge. 

If we as a society are to combat climate change and mitigate the effects, then we need to reduce our C02 emissions.  Installing solar panels is just one way we can be better in this area. 

Emission intensity by Fuel Source
Emission Intensity of Various Fuel Sources, World Nuclear Association

Generating electricity from coal is the most emission-intensive way to produce energy today.  From the mining, through the cleaning and burning, carbon dioxide is released at catastrophic rates. 

The environmental advantages and disadvantages of solar power are more widespread than we will discuss here but certainly play a major role.

Advantage #2 – Economics

The cost of solar panels is a disadvantage, but the economics of solar energy is certainly an advantage.

What is meant by that is although a solar power system may require a large capital investment in the $10,000 to $16,000 range (pre-rebate), the system will pay for itself by reducing the amount of grid electricity you have to buy (which also lowers your transmission and distribution fees). 

For example, if your solar energy system is paid off in 15 years and the modules and inverters are warrantied for 25 years, then you are going to have 10 full years of profits. 

And that’s if the system only reaches the warranty limit.  Solar power systems are expected to last longer than 25 years, although component replacement may be required as such a point.

Advantage #3 – Jobs

What you don’t hear too often from critics of solar power is the number of jobs created by the industry. 

The US Department of energy cited in their 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report that the coal industry currently employs 160,119 people, whereas the solar industry currently employs 373,807 people.

Such exact data is not as readily available for Canada, but given our similar ratio of energy productions, with USA generating 30.4% of its energy from coal and <1% from solar and Canada generating 22.3% of its energy from combustible sources <1% from solar it’s safe to say that the ratio will be similar. 

Canada's Energy Generation by Fuel Type
Canada's Energy Generation by Fuel Type, Natural Resources Canada

Whether solar has fully overtaken coal in Canada is to be determined, but on a global scale, employment and new installed capacity in renewable energy is growing faster than any other fuel.

Global Renewable Energy Capacity Growth, Clean Energy Canada
Global Renewable Energy Jobs, Clean Energy Canada

Advantage #4 – Aesthetic

Wait, how can aesthetic be a disadvantage and an advantage of solar? 

Since beauty is subjective, many people (myself included) feel that solar panels improve the look of their home. 

As mentioned, new technology is continually progressing the aesthetic appeal of solar modules so it’s only fair to include it as an advantage as well.

Edmonton Solar Panels Installed
Installed Solar Panels in Edmonton, AB

Advantage #5 – Energy Sovereignty

This advantage of solar power is a hidden one.  Owning your energy, knowing you aren’t relying on a third-party entity and providing for yourself with a clean sustainable source is an empowering feeling. 

One that you will feel good about every day.

Self-sufficiency is a dying skill, one that solar energy revives within us just a little bit.

Indigenous Solar Power Installation Alberta
Lubicon Cree First Nation Solar Installation. Little Buffalo, Alberta2015

Advantage #6 – Efficient Use of Space

As urbanization continues to grow and spread cities, it is paramount to make efficient and effective use of the space we have. 

Although we are very lucky in Alberta and Canada to generally have lots of land, being efficient with our development is always a good practice. 

Why waste space on your roof when you can generate energy, and profit from it?

Installing solar panels is not the only way to heed this advantage; growing a rooftop garden (if you have a flat roof) is another example of making efficient use of what was once unused, wasted space.

Advantage #7– Property Value

Installing a solar power system in Alberta, Saskatchewan, NWT or many places in Canada is one of the easiest ways to add property value to your home. 

Since the economics of the solar panels are locked in based on your initial capital investment, the intrinsic value of the array is guaranteed. 

If you decide to sell your home, then the value of your solar power system can be calculated and added to your home accordingly. 

Granted, there are many factor to consider when selling and evaluating your home.  But the long-term warranty and secured economics of solar panels will certainly help.

Advantage #8– Decentralization

As society grows, so does the demand on our electricity infrastructure system.  This is evident by our growing cost of transmission and distribution fees.

This is a huge advantage of solar power, even though it is a downstream impact.

Energy Price Escalation as Predicted by AESO

Decentralizing our power, or at least a portion of it will reduce overall demand on the energy distribution infrastructure since energy does not need to be distributed dozens or even hundreds of kilometers.

You can directly see this advantage on your power bill if you install solar panels in Alberta.  Your transmission and distribution fees are directly related to how many kilowatt-hours (kWh’s) of energy you import. 

By generating your own solar energy, you no longer need to import as much, and your transmission and distribution costs will be reduced as well as your energy charge.

Advantage #9– Ethos

The final advantage of ethos is a culmination of all the other advantages as well as the overall impact of solar panels.  There are far more positive impacts to installing solar power than there are arguments against it. 

When the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages, the decision is the right one and should be highly encouraged.

Conclusion

I hope this helped you to understand a few of the lesser known advantages of solar energy.  Many of these do not make the headlines but the downstream positive impacts are extremely helpful to society as a whole.

Solar power is not a perfect technology as is evident by the few disadvantages described here.   The key takeaway is that although there are minor imperfections, the industry has acknowledged them and is steadily working to improve and perfect all aspects of solar power systems.

As the cost of solar panels decreases, and the efficiency continues to increase, the advantages will continue to widen the gap on the ever-shrinking disadvantages of solar.

Questions, comments or concerns? We would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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