Solar power is looking more appealing each day as the threats and complications of climate change rise. From melting arctic climates to increased wildfires, many issues are plaguing our world. Most experts agree that renewable energy is a big step in the right direction, so why is solar energy not widespread?
Solar power is not yet widely used because there is a large upfront cost, issues with reliability and energy storage, and major space requirements. In some countries, like America, there are also underlying power grid issues.
The idea is simple, harvest energy from the sun and use it instead of burning fossil fuels or using nuclear energy. Unfortunately, some issues stand in the way of people making the switch to renewable energy, some of which this article will explain.
Why Is Solar Power Not Widely Used?
Many people have chosen to convert their homes and businesses to use solar energy. There are many benefits to switching, including environmental impacts and saving money in the long term. Therefore, some may wonder why everyone does not switch to using solar energy.
While there are many benefits, there are also some drawbacks that stop people from wanting to switch to solar, such as:
- The cost
- It being unreliable in certain situations
- Issues with storing energy for later use, such as during bad weather or at night
- Not having enough space
High Upfront Cost
Solar energy is known for its high upfront cost and future savings. To switch to solar energy, the consumer will need to purchase the solar panels and equipment and pay for installation.
The cost can range anywhere from ten thousand to twenty-eight thousand dollars, with nineteen thousand being the average. Additionally, these figures do not include the cost of energy storage batteries.
Solar systems can often be quite complex due to the different varieties and styles of panels, batteries, and other components. However, even with excluding the specifics of the equipment, there are still many factors that affect how much a system will cost, such as:
- The size of the system
- Average energy consumption
- Local cost of solar panels
- How much sunlight the roof gets
For most people, this is a remarkably high upfront cost and is often not in their budget. Though some areas provide incentives and rebates for switching to renewable energy, it is not covered by insurance, which makes it hard for many to make the switch, especially those in poorer areas.
Solar Is Sometimes Unreliable
The sun is inconsistent and unreliable in terms of energy production, which is one of solar energy’s biggest downfalls. The amount of sunlight that hits the solar panels directly influences how much energy is produced. Therefore, the actual energy output of solar panels is lower than their potential output.
On a bright, sunny day, there will be no issues with producing enough energy for an average home, assuming the system is large enough and properly installed. However, during bad weather, the sun is blocked by thick clouds, and not enough sunlight can reach the panels to produce a sufficient amount of energy.
Certain areas of the country are more suitable than others. For example, a solar energy system in California will likely have no issues producing energy. However, in a rainy place such as Washington state, solar energy might be unreliable and unsustainable.
Additionally, solar availability can change throughout the year. During the longer days of summer, a solar system will produce more power than during the shorter days of winter. The overall effect is also largely dependent on the physical location of the solar array as well.
Unrealistic Energy Storage Methods
The best option for storing solar energy is with batteries. With solar energy, if the sun is shining, the system is producing energy. Often, there is only a portion of this energy being used, and the excess is lost. Solar batteries are wired to the panels and allow this excess energy to be stored, but there are issues, such as:
- The number of batteries needed
- The price of the batteries
- The lifespan of the batteries
- Proper storage for the batteries
The number of batteries needed to sustain energy throughout the night varies, but two batteries are typically enough. However, for extended periods, like for cloudy climates and large rainstorms, the number of batteries needed climbs dramatically, ranging anywhere from three to six batteries.
The issue with this is that solar batteries are expensive, potentially costing tens of thousands, each with installation costs and other needed equipment. By the time all the batteries are bought and installed, it could cost more than the solar panels themselves.
Not only this, but the average lifespan of a solar battery is five to fifteen years, meaning the batteries will need to be replaced at least once, if not several times, in the twenty-five-year lifespan of the panels. These factors make battery storage unrealistic for the average consumer, especially in less sunny climates.
Consumes Large Amounts of Space
Another issue that prevents people from switching to solar is the amount of space that the equipment uses. The solar panels typically used for residential homes are around five feet by three feet, and the average number of solar panels needed is roughly thirty. That is one hundred and ninety-five square feet of solar panels.
Of course, the panels are on the roof, but for many people, seeing that many solar panels is an eyesore.
Another issue with space is storing the batteries. In an area where six batteries are needed, it will take up a lot of space. This could also be seen as an eyesore, especially considering that the only space taken up by traditional energy is a breaker box.
Unsuitable for Temporary Living
Because of the cost factor, switching to solar power is only realistic for people with a permanent living situation. Nearly thirty-five percent of Americans do not own their own home and are instead renting or in another form of non-permanent housing, making solar energy not worth the investment.
Additionally, many homeowners plan to sell their home at some point in the future, either when their children move out or so that they can retire in another area. This also makes solar, not worth their time and money.
Why Has There Not Been a Wide Switch to Solar
Many countries have made the switch to renewable energy completely or partially, including Sweden, Germany, and Costa Rica, among several others. On the other hand, some countries, namely the US, are reluctant to switch but are still promoting fossil fuels, like coal and nuclear power.
A few of the main issues stopping America from switching to solar energy are:
- The state of the current power grid
- Opposition to solar energy
- Funding nationwide solar power
The Current Power Grid
A huge problem holding the US back is how the current power grid is funded. Maintaining the national power grid costs the government billions a year, and the funds come from the electric bill every household gets in the mail. So, promoting solar power may mean the government no longer being able to support the nationwide grid.
Since there are few incentives to switch to solar or other renewable energy sources, only eleven percent of America’s energy consumption comes from a renewable source. Ironically, this causes the non-renewable electric bills to be higher, which is also linked to how the power grid is funded.
The grid’s funds come from electric bills, and the fewer people who rely on the grid’s power, the fewer people around to divide the expenses, resulting in higher bills for those connected to the grid. In fact, a study in 2013 found that consumers paid forty-three percent more for electricity than in 2002, numbers bound to be higher now.
If there were to be a nationwide switch to renewable energy, it would eliminate this problem. However, there is an unfortunate underlying opposition to renewable energy.
Opposition to Solar Energy
Since the rising electric bills have been blamed on the renewable energy movement, many Americans now oppose renewable energy. Along with this, some people feel that there is something “American” about using fossil fuel to power the country. Some people think of the hard-working coal miners or the oil-loving Texans.
Whatever it may be, this is an issue that stands in the US’s way of moving forward with renewable energy, and America is not the only country facing such opposition. Many countries that rely on oil or coal face similar issues.
Funding Nationwide Solar Power
Funding is one of the largest hurdles The US must overcome to move into a renewable future. Solar technology has become more affordable thanks to innovation, but can still be quite expensive. To fund a nationwide switch to solar would involve paying for:
- Solar panels
- Power grid improvements and alterations
- Energy storage
The cost would be in the trillions, and considering that the current power grid has not been updated in decades, it does not seem like these changes are in the government’s budget.
Space for Solar Panels and Energy Storage
Another issue holding back a nationwide change is that solar farms take up a lot of space. Many experts claim that there is not enough available land and that even if there was, there are better uses for it, such as for crops or cattle.
Space for energy storage is also an issue. If it takes six batteries to supply an average house with enough energy to last through a few cloudy days, the amount of storage needed for an entire country would be massive.
Some experts disagree with this stance and claim that there is plenty of land to power America with solar energy. The maximum amount of land needed to have enough solar panels is twenty-one thousand two-hundred and fifty square miles. To put that in perspective:
- Over forty thousand square miles are leased to the oil and gas industry
- Thirteen thousand square miles have been damaged in coal mining
- Over thirty thousand square miles are reserved for the growing of corn to be used to manufacture a gasoline substitute
If the US can spare the land for these things, it seems they could spare land to further contribute to the worldwide effort of striving toward renewable energy.
A Widespread Switch to Solar Energy Is Not Far Away
Though solar energy has its problems, some countries are directly taking the initiative to move toward renewable energy. They are doing this by using solar power combined with other forms of renewable energy.
In fact, this is partly due to improvements in technology. More compact batteries and more efficient solar panels make solar energy more affordable and realistic as an alternative energy source, moving people into action.
Countries Making the Switch
More countries are making the switch to renewable energy, including solar power. Iceland is currently the leader in renewable energy, with nearly all of its power coming from renewable sources. Countries following Iceland’s footsteps include:
- Kenya. At least seventy percent of Kenya’s energy is generated by renewable sources, and they are currently the leader in solar energy production.
- Germany. Germany’s renewable energy efforts have now put their coal and nuclear energy generation below their renewable energy.
- Sweden. Just over fifty-four percent of Sweden’s energy consumption is from solar power.
- Norway. Ninety-eight percent of Norway’s energy comes from renewable resources, mainly hydropower.
- China. China currently has 22.79 GW of installed capacity throughout the country. China is also home to the largest solar farm in the world in the Tengger Desert.
- Japan. With 55.5 GW of installed capacity already operational, Japan is planning on having 155 GW of solar production by the year 2030.
These countries and many others have taken major steps to rely on renewable energy sources rather than fossil fuels and nuclear energy. These efforts have greatly impacted the environment for the better, saving millions of pounds of coal and other non-renewable resources and reducing their emissions drastically.
Some Steps Being Taken
Although some countries are falling behind in the race to renewables, many are beginning to take great leaps towards a more sustainable future, even where sunshine is not always abundant.
- In America, solar power is growing tremendously. In 2019, renewable energy consumption surpassed the consumption of coal for the first time in over one-hundred years.
- Japan’s current renewable resource energy generation is at ten percent, but they have a goal to extend that to twenty-four percent in the next ten years. They plan to invest seven-hundred billion dollars to fund this venture.
- Cuba’s current renewable energy percentage is four percent, but they have big plans in stow for the next decade and hope to raise that number by twenty percent.
The need for a worldwide effort towards solar energy and other renewable energy sources increases more day by day. That need is why all of these countries and more are prioritizing and budgeting for such drastic changes.
Looking at worldwide statistics, the solar power industry is booming. From 2016 to 2017, the installation growth of solar energy systems grew thirty-four percent, which is astronomical for a single year.
The expected growth of solar energy between 2019 and 2024 is fifty percent. To put that into perspective, that is enough growth to power the entire US. This massive growth will only be possible through system integration, meaning that countries will need to alter their power grids to be either entirely solar-powered or be able to integrate both.
The number of homes that use rooftop solar energy systems is predicted to double by 2024, and renewables as a whole have been growing consistently every year by at least ten percent. More than that, they have often surpassed the growth of non-renewable energy sources over the past ten years.
As you can see, there has been a lot of growth in solar energy and other forms of renewable energy, which is promising news for the question about the absence of solar power on a wide scale. We are just not there yet, but we soon will be. If this global growth continues, renewable energy will soon surpass fossil fuels and non-renewable.
Several factors contribute to causing individuals and governments to be wary of switching to solar and other renewable energy sources, including location, cost, and underlying governmental issues. However, despite that, many countries are taking giant leaps towards a more sustainable future.