Earlier I addressed some of the issues I have with wind power, particularly the “elephant in the room” that too many proponents choose to ignore. It is now time to turn attention to solar, a vastly overrated renewable energy source that is seen as means of ‘saving’ the Earth that has downsides that are being devoutly ignored. In my opinion those downsides outweigh the positives.
There are four issues I have with solar that too often are ignored in the rush to go green, those being cost, availability, efficiency, and the toxic elements in solar panels that require them to be disposed of as toxic waste.
Regarding cost, my big problem is that no one really knows how much solar costs. I am talking about the real cost with subsidies stripped away and without net metering supporting grid-tied systems. A lot of solar PV systems would be unaffordable without the tax subsidies, be they systems installed on homes or solar farms. Others would be find themselves being less than affordable without net metering laws forcing utilities to buy electricity from grid-tied systems, with some having to pay above market rates and driving the cost of electricity upwards. Those receiving the payments think they’re great. But those of us paying for their solar systems don’t think so.
Availability is a big issue with me. By availability I’m talking about when power from solar is available. While places with a climate that allows for high availability for solar (California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Florida, just to name a few) might make it more viable, a lot of places like my native New England are not conducive to solar, between short days during the winter and bad weather that can keep solar from providing needed power for days on end when it’s needed most.
Efficiency is a problem in general. Today average solar panel efficiency is around 20% which means that it takes 5 watts of solar energy to produce 1 watt of electricity. Considering a 1000-watt solar panel is 18 square feet in size and taking into account a number of factors like availability of sunlight throughout the year (this includes hours of daylight and weather conditions throughout the year), using solar to replace a 1000 MW nuclear power plant would require between 4.5 and 6 square miles of solar panels at minimum. How is that efficient?
Finally, there’s the issue of disposing of old solar panels once they’ve reached the end of their service life (usually between 10 and 20 years depending upon operational conditions). The materials like cadmium, selenium, gallium, antimony, lead, and other materials used to make solar panels and contained in solar panels are quite toxic. When panels are taken out of service they must be handled and disposed of as toxic waste. The one thing no one seems to want to talk about is the costs associated with that disposal. I haven’t been able to come up with any consistent details or projected costs of doing so, and that’s something that should bother everyone, proponent or critic.
Like wind, solar is a diffuse energy source. Sunlight is free, but the means to convert it into a useful form – electricity – is not, costing many times what conventional power generation sources cost to generate an equivalent amount of power. Both take up a lot of space. Both are variable sources that are not dispatchable. Both require other traditional sources of power as back up when they aren’t available.
While solar power sounds great, the reality is far from being great.