As technological advancements are made in our society, the climate seems to suffer. Fossil fuels from cars, factories, and other pollutants create irreversible damage to the very world we exist in. Additionally, as large businesses and corporations continually raise pollutant levels without repercussions, concerned citizens call for a change. That change? Renewable energy sources, like solar power.
Many scholars and scientists claim that solar power will never work in society for four reasons: It’s too expensive, unreliable, not a suitable replacement for fossil fuels, and can’t single-handedly change the climate.
This article will go in-depth into the four different reasons against solar power, along with the forms solar power takes and the various corporations attempting to implement renewable energy. Read on to learn the argument against solar power and why it might not be the answer to our climate’s problems.
How Does Solar Power Work?
Solar power is a renewable energy source provided by something we as Earthlings have an abundance of: sunlight. Often captured through solar panels, these technologies use something called a photovoltaic effect to generate electricity using sunlight.
In fact, there are two main ways to capture solar energy. One being photovoltaic, as mentioned above, and the other being solar thermal.
- With a photovoltaic system, photons from the sun are captured using solar panels. The energy generated is then used directly in a home or business or saved in a solar battery for later usage. Photovoltaic solar energy is common in personal usages, such as for your home.
- Solar thermal is a different type of solar capture used for three main things: heating and cooling a home, heating water, and electrical power. According to Energy Sage, while solar thermal has more possible usages, it isn’t very practical for smaller settings, such as a home or office. Instead, those wishing to utilize solar power in their own lives should consider photovoltaic solar energy instead.
How Do We Use Solar Energy?
In an ideal world, solar power can replace virtually every type of generated energy used in your home. It supposedly provides a renewable source for all kinds of energy expenditures while simultaneously using less energy overall. Below are some typical ways that solar power might be used in daily life:
- Lighting a yard: Solar electricity can be used to light a home, preferably outdoors. Solar lighting comes equipped with panels that soak in photons during the day and shine brightly once the sun has descended.
- General power: Believe it or not, your home could be entirely powered by solar. General electricity usage, such as lights and heating, can all be done from solar electricity panels.
- Charge your devices: Solar charging is popular for places where outlets may not be accessible, such as hiking and camping. Equipped with solar panels, these blocks use solar energy to charge phones and other electronic devices.
While solar power has proven to be ideal in some home scenarios, daily usage is not the main problem in the argument for renewable energy. Instead, scientists are more concerned with more extensive operations such as companies and corporations.
As we’ll get into in the next section, there are several arguments against a widescale switch to solar power for such operations, such as the high cost and unreliability of renewable energy sources.
The Four Main Reasons Against Solar Power
Now that we’ve covered exactly what solar power is and how some companies are attempting to implement solar energy, we can look at the four main reasons why solar power can’t possibly sustain a greener future. As a reminder, those four reasons are:
- Solar power isn’t reliable.
- Solar power is too expensive to implement.
- Solar power can’t single-handedly save the climate.
- Solar power can’t possibly replace fossil fuels.
The next few sections will dive deeper into the argument against solar power and why—though pushed by concerned citizens—it may never be enough for our society.
Solar Power Isn’t Reliable
The first argument against solar power might be the simplest: it isn’t a reliable enough energy source to power our world at large. First of all, solar power can only be collected when the sun is out and shining. Therefore, no energy is harvested at night or on cloudy days. How can a society as busy and increasing as ours rely on an energy source that disappears like that on a rainy day?
Additionally, how do communities in areas without much sunlight get energy? For example, cities and towns farther north tend to have very little sunlight throughout the year. Other regions may only get sunlight during part of the year, but not enough to save energy to be used later. Svalbard, an island close to the North Pole, is known for its long summers and short winters. In February, Svalbard only gets an average of one hour of daylight.
For a community like Svalbard to regularly use solar energy, the technology that allows this electricity to be stored over long periods must be introduced and reliable. As of now, that technology isn’t reliable enough to depend on. Also, solar technology can be costly to implement, which we’ll discuss in the next section.
Solar Power is Too Expensive
The most popular argument against solar power is the costs associated with implementing it on a broader scale. According to Strata, solar energy is currently the most expensive form of electricity produced, which is certainly not sustainable for many homes and companies. Instead, people typically look towards fossil fuels and other nonrenewable energy sources for their affordability.
Solar Power for Commercial Use
For companies and corporations, solar costs are a mix of operation, maintenance, capital costs (also known as explicit costs), and implicit costs, including policies and reliability. Though large companies such as Target and Tesla are pulling in billions of dollars in revenue, the cost versus the benefits of solar energy is not always equal.
With the increasing pressure being applied to corporations to use renewable energy sources such as solar power, some modern-day companies are attempting to implement solar strategies in their products or practices. However, these companies tend to be few and far between. Below are some of the companies working towards a renewable energy source:
Quite possibly the most well-known company working towards a greener future is Tesla Motors, known for its production of solar panels and electric cars. Tesla manufactures and sells solar options for homes and businesses, such as panels and solar roofs. On the other hand, Tesla’s work with electric cars, while not using solar power, still reduces fossil fuels.
However, while Tesla is creating products for consumers, this does not target the main issue that corporations are the ones who would need to implement solar power for change to be seen. Therefore, Tesla’s products fall on the same level as solar charging blocks: great for consumer consumption, but not enough to actually affect the climate.
According to Earth 911, Target has successfully equipped 300 of its buildings with solar panels and hope to increase this number to 500 by the end of the year 2020. However, as of 2019, Target currently has around 1,800 retail stores alone, not including other buildings owned by the company. Therefore, Target has only equipped about 16% of its facilities with solar panels.
While this may seem like an impressive effort, these small numbers are not enough to make an impact on reducing the use of nonrenewable energy sources. Instead, Target is likely spending more money than necessary to install these panels without reaping any real benefits towards a greener future.
Like Tesla Motors, Hyundai and other car companies are attempting to create solar-powered cars by installing panels on top of the car roofs. But as mentioned above, these cars are not a suitable solution for the increase in greenhouse gases. Instead, they will help consumers reduce their carbon footprint without tackling the main issue: corporations at large.
Additionally, solar-powered cars are likely to be more expensive due to new technology and haven’t been around long enough to be established amongst prospective buyers. Instead, companies like Hyundai are wasting money building “solutions” that don’t actually tackle the main problem.
Solar Power for Residential Use
Solar panels for home usage are costly as well. Not only does one have to pay the steep price of the panels themselves, but the installation and maintenance are also quite pricey. Therefore, the average person may not be able to afford such a luxury.
According to NerdWallet, a residential solar panel system is likely to cost the homeowner between $15,000 and $20,000, far more than the average homeowner is likely to want to pay. As for corporations? Research shows that a solar system for the average small business costs around $75,000. For large-scale operations, that number must be multiplied by however many buildings are owned and operated.
Therefore, solar energy is not a feasible option when the cost is combined with its lack in reliability. It’s a huge investment for very little gain.
Solar Power is No Replacement for Fossil Fuels
The main competitor of renewable energy is fossil fuels, which are currently being used in virtually every aspect of modern society. There are quite a few reasons why solar power can’t replace fossil fuels, some of which were mentioned earlier.
- Solar power’s unreliability doesn’t compare to the reliability and accessibility of fossil fuels.
- Fossil fuels are undoubtedly cheaper than using renewable energy such as solar power, making business expenditures less overall. Therefore, it’s increasingly harder to convince companies to switch to solar power when it provides a significantly higher dent in the cost of operation.
While solar power is expected to increase in ability over time, it’s not projected to ever meet the same levels of accessibility, reliability, and low-cost as hydrocarbons or fossil fuels do. It’s hard to imagine a future where solar power and other renewable energy sources, often based on the foundations of technology, are our society’s leading powers.
As written by Mark P. Mills, “The energy needed to move a ton of people…is determined by properties of nature…not clever software.”
Solar Power Alone Can’t Save the Climate
The fourth and final argument against solar power is the claim that renewable energy sources, such as solar, are not enough to make a real difference in reversing climate change. This claim is typically a culmination of the above three points: renewable energy is far too expensive and unreliable to power an entire global economy.
Additionally, installing solar power across the world is more challenging than many activists may think. One reason is the blocking of possible installations by both communities and wildlife conservationists, depending on where these installations are proposed. With all the laws and regulations required to make the switch, corporations find it difficult to convert to renewable energy entirely.
An article written by Michael Shellenberger for Forbes outlines several other consequences of the switch to solar power. As much as communities may attempt to install possible wind or solar energy farms, it hasn’t been enough to make a difference. According to Shellenberger, a switch from fossil fuels to wind energy in Germany cost 25,000 jobs and wasn’t even close to making the target needed for actual climate change.
There also simply isn’t that much space available for widespread solar farms to be implemented. According to Shellenberger, solar farms require up to 750 times the amount of land that nuclear or fossil fuel plants need. Because of the battles with conservationists, a lot of this possible land is already being protected against development.
Other Reasons Solar Power May Not Work
While the four reasons outlined in the last section are the main arguments against solar power, several other smaller components should be considered when thinking about making the switch to 100% renewable energy. As much as we’d like to think, solar power isn’t actually as clean of an alternative as suggested.
Solar Energy Doesn’t Reduce Pollution
The primary way solar energy affects the climate is by reducing the number of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by replacing them with something renewable. Currently, fossil fuels used to power the globe are detrimental to the environment and can very well create irreversible damage.
When fossil fuels are burned, three main air pollutants are released into the atmosphere:
- Sulfur dioxide: Most commonly the product of smelting minerals, such as coal. Sulfur dioxide is the primary culprit of acid rain, which can cause deforestation and affect waterways and aquatic life.
- Particulates: Causes haze in the air and can result in breathing problems such as bronchitis and other respiratory diseases in humans and animals.
- Nitrogen oxide: Can cause harm to growing vegetation and damage crops, as well as harm the lungs of humans and animals.
So how does solar energy combat these pollutants being produced by the burning of hydrocarbons? To put it simply, renewable energy sources don’t magically remove all contaminants from the air. Instead, switching from nonrenewable energies to solar and wind power results in fewer pollutants being created overall.
The main reason solar is looked at as the save-all option for the climate is the lack of greenhouse gases and air pollutants produced from utilizing them. However, switching to solar energy does not address the number of pollutants already in the atmosphere. It’s more of a cover-up than a real solution to the problem.
Fossil Fuels Are Used to Manufacture Solar Panels
Solar power is unarguably a cleaner source of energy than fossil fuels, as many activists will point out, but is it truly as clean as we think? While solar is considered the perfect alternative for burning deadly, climate-harming hydrocarbons, producing this type of renewable energy is actually dirtying the environment just as easily.
Here’s why: While installed solar panels and farms are great at reducing the number of fossil fuels burned for powering homes or businesses, these solar panels and products have to be manufactured somewhere and are often made with raw materials that must be mined for usage. These minerals also must be treated before the manufacturing process begins.
With modern technology, mining, processing, and manufacturing use incessant amounts of fossil fuels to create every type of product, including solar panels. The call for solar is real indeed, but many people fail to see the machinery behind this large-scale switch from nonrenewable to renewable energy sources.
In fact, the number of solar panels that must be produced for widespread solar usage could very well result in the same amount of fossil fuels being burned as there would be from simply sticking to hydrocarbons.
Will Solar Power Ever Be a Good Solution?
Aside from the effect burning fossil fuels has on the planet, many activists point to the people who have been suffering from this nonrenewable energy. According to CNN, just over 3.5 million people each year are dying due to the effects outdoor pollution has on the body, such as respiratory ailments. This is unarguably a horrible side effect of burning fossil fuels, regardless of the cheaper price tag.
Though solar power can never replace fossil fuels and overall isn’t a feasible option globally, many lives could be saved from switching away from burning hydrocarbons. A study written by scientists at Stanford University claims that 7 million of these lives could be saved each year just by eliminating some of this pollution.
This argument is a double-sided blade: while eliminating the burning of hydrocarbons and fossil fuels can help reduce respiratory diseases and, in turn, save lives, doing so may also eliminate thousands of jobs, as mentioned earlier in the Germany wind farm scenario. No matter which direction the world chooses to go in, the people will suffer in one way or another.
That’s not to say that the health of the people isn’t important when considering the outcome of nonrenewable energy sources. However, many things are stacked against converting to solar power, from pricing to job loss, to renewable energy’s unreliability. Therefore, solar energy can’t possibly happen, despite the long-term effects fossil fuels may have on humanity.
Is It Possible for the World to Make the Switch to Solar?
We’ve discussed the impracticality of switching from the burning of hydrocarbons to renewable energy sources, but is it even possible for the world to do so? Many researchers tend to shut down the idea due to how much would have to change for solar and wind power to run the globe. Still, few consider what would need to be implemented for our society to operate on 100% renewable energy.
According to an article published by the University of Pennsylvania, the world could theoretically switch to renewable energy. However, these changes wouldn’t be significant for at least four decades, which may be too long to stop irreversible damage from occurring. As of now, the globe is on track to see an increase between 2 and 4.5 degrees Centigrade, which will effectively make reversing climate change impossible.
To put it simply, it’s certainly possible for the world to reach nearly 100% renewable energy within those four decades, but it would require an expansion of solar and wind power never before seen. According to Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi, an environmental engineer and research scientist, respectfully, “The numbers are large, but the scale is not an insurmountable hurdle.”
If the world is seriously concerned about the effects burning hydrocarbons has on the environment, a total switch can be made. It would simply require a lot of money and a lot of space, and there’s no telling how much pollution may be created from manufacturing the equipment needed. But it is possible.
The Cost of Switching to Solar Power
We touched briefly on the personal costs for homes and businesses to switch to solar power, but the price for the entire country or world to make the switch is far greater. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why researchers claim that solar power can never be sustainable enough for us in this day and age. The expenditures are enormous, and the benefits are not yet concrete.
According to an analysis conducted by Wood Mackenzie, a nationwide shift in the United States from nuclear energy to renewable solar and wind would cost around $4.5 trillion. To put that number in perspective, the United States would have to spend at least six times what they currently spend per year on military forces in order to implement widespread renewable energy.
This level of expenditure is simply not feasible for the United States, a nation that infamously diverts large portions of its budget to military forces. Considering that these military forces are not funded on remotely the same level as renewable energy would need to be to make the switch, it’s impossible to imagine a time when the country would consider making these changes.
As for a global switch to renewable energy? A study published by Yale’s School of the Environment shows that 100% worldwide renewable energy will cost nearly $73 trillion, around fifteen timesthe price tag for the United States alone. Globally, we don’t have this kind of money to spend on implementing solar energy, despite the push from concerned citizens. Fossil fuels are far cheaper, costing $8 billion per day globally.
Should the World Be Preparing for a Switch?
Currently, global society does not have the technology nor capabilities needed to make a total switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as solar or wind, but there are ways to get closer. As we’ve discussed in other sections, it’s unlikely the world will be able to make a complete change before climate change becomes irreversible, but we can make smaller progress towards a greater goal.
Aside from the possible expense, there are no real downsides towards implementing renewable energy sources in your home or personal life.
Switching to solar-powered outdoor lights or solar charging devices is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, even slightly. While it isn’t enough to make a real difference globally, small switches are still working towards reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Whether or not the world makes the switch from nonrenewable to renewable energy will ultimately be up to those most responsible for emissions: corporations and governments across the globe. Until then, all we can do is compare the facts.
Though the call for a transition to renewable energy sources is loud and clear, researchers claim that solar power can never properly sustain our society on a nationwide or global scale. The four main reasons against solar power—cost, unreliability, inability to save the climate, and a weak replacement for fossil fuels—prove that despite the negative connotations that hydrocarbons and nuclear energy hold, solar power could never be a feasible alternative.
We hope that this article has offered helpful information into the arguments against renewable energy sources and why climate activists must look at all sides of the beast before campaigning for an unlikely alternative.