Thanks to a process called nuclear fusion, the Sun radiates an enormous amount of energy, each second. In fact, it radiates more energy in one day than the world uses in one year. However only a small portion of the Sun’s energy hits the Earth’s surface. Still, this amount of energy is enormous, implying the Sun offers great potential for electricity generation on Earth. Around 30 percent of the Sun’s energy that reaches Earth is reflected back into space, while another 50 percent or so is absorbed by land and oceans. The remainder of the Sun’s energy is absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere and clouds in the so-called greenhouse effect.

As with most matters in life, there are a number of advantages and disadvantages when employing solar power.

For example, solar power is a relatively clean energy source because it has a very low carbon footprint and does not produce any greenhouse gas emissions. However, construction of solar facilities on large areas of land does require the destruction of land, vegetation and animal habitat. This can prompt soil compaction and erosion (hence disrupt local ecosystems). Meanwhile, floating PV systems can have adverse effects on marine life as the construction of the systems can lead to water pollution, while the systems can also affect water temperatures (shading and less evaporation makes the water cooler).

Interestingly enough, there seems to be a link between solar panels and bird deaths. US news platform Wired published an article on this topic in late-2020:

“In 2016, a first-of-its-kind study estimated that the hundreds of utility-scale solar farms around the United States may kill nearly 140,000 birds annually. That is less than one-tenth of one percent of the estimated number of birds killed by fossil-fuel power plants (through collisions, electrocution, and poisoning), but the researchers expected that number to nearly triple as planned solar farms come online. The link between solar facilities and bird deaths is still unclear. One leading theory suggests birds mistake the glare from solar panels for the surface of a lake and swoop in for a landing, with deadly results. “But that hypothesis is from a human perspective,” says Misti Sporer, lead environmental scientist at Duke Energy, an electric utility in North Carolina. “Do birds even see the same way people do? We need to collect more data to form a complete picture.”

Moreover, manufacturing the solar panels involves the use of highly toxic materials like cadmium, lead, and arsenic. These toxic materials can leak into the environment during manufacturing, or, end up in landfills when the panels are thrown away after having reached the end of their lifespan. Problematically, the recycling process for solar panels is not yet widely available, nor is it cost-effective.

Secondly, another advantage of solar power is that it reduces the electricity bills for industries and households that installed these PV panels. Moreover, solar power has quite low maintenance costs. In other words, you can enjoy cheaper electricity for a long period of time (with the standard PV panel today typically lasting between 20 and 30 years, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, SEIA).

On the other hand, the initial cost of solar panels is quite high as it requires paying for solar panels, inverter, batteries, wiring, and the installation (although prices can ease in the future due to constantly developing technology).

Thirdly, solar energy can be used for a variety of purposes (to generate electricity or heat) in remote areas (so, there is no need to be connected to the wider power grid). All you need is sunshine and the panel. Hence, you can generate power on mountain tops, in the middle of the ocean, and even in space (for satellites and space ships). There is a sense of independence from any third parties.

However, solar power is highly weather dependent. At night, solar energy cannot be collected. So, if the solar energy collected during the day is not stored in expensive batteries, it means the energy needs to be consumed instantly (or excess power can be sent to the power grid). If not, it simply goes to waste. Nevertheless, considering most people (and especially commercial businesses) typically consume most energy during the day, it should still manage to save a lot of money. And even though cloudy and rainy days do undermine the efficiency of the PV system, solar panels can still generate electricity in those conditions. So, a household or company may consume solar power during the day, but consume electricity from the power grid at night.

Fourth, sunshine, a non-depletable source, is basically everywhere during day time. This can encourage countries becoming independent from imports of oil, gas or coal. Many countries do not enjoy huge quantities of oil, gas and coal below the surface of their land/water (or lack capital, technology, skills and investment environment to tap that potential), and are therefore dependent on the incoming shipments of fossil fuels to meet national energy demand. This has a couple of negative side-effects. For example, in the case of Indonesia, costly imports of crude oil and fuels put pressure on the country’s trade balance, current account balance, foreign exchange reserves, and rupiah exchange rate. Moreover, as several popular fuels are partly subsidized through the State Budget, it means there are some missed opportunities in terms of social and economic development in Indonesia as less public money is available for government investment in more productive areas within the economy.

Generally, if at some point in the future energy becomes cheaper for society because of the availability of renewable energy sources, then logistics costs should ease quite significantly, and thus encourage a more efficient economy altogether, with cheaper products and services, thereby boosting people’s purchasing power.


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