The initial cost of buying a solar system is quite high. Although solar energy can still be harvested during cloudy and rainy days, the efficiency of the solar system decreases. One of the challenges of solar energy is also reliability. Even in the hottest regions of the country, panels can only produce electricity for up to 12 hours a day, with brief peaks in efficiency at noon.
Solar technology professionals are coming up with ways to improve reliability. For example, tracking panels follow the sun to prolong peaks in energy production. Storage batteries are another possible solution: they would store some energy during the day for use at night. Climate change denial remains an important issue even in mainstream politics, making it difficult to ensure full government support for solar energy.
Those at the forefront of solar efficiency improvements will have the greatest competitive advantage as the industry expands. Similarly, solar panels can have a significant environmental impact when they reach the end of their useful life, since they remove toxic materials as they decay. One of the main concerns is efficiency. Solar panels only convert a small percentage of available solar energy into usable energy.
As explained in the Dezeen guide to solar energy, scientists are exploring alternatives to silicon solar cells, but they are expected to continue to dominate the industry, at least in the short term. However, after considering the pros and cons, along with the expectation that prices will continue to fall, the future of solar energy looks quite promising. Reduced costs, government incentives and widespread environmental concern have led to a boom in solar demand. In addition, while concentrated solar thermal power plants (CSP) are comparatively inefficient in terms of water use depending on the type of technology used, the right technology significantly increases efficiency, while photovoltaic (PV) solar cells do not require water to generate electricity.
While solar photovoltaic systems can be attached to existing structures, large scale utility photovoltaic systems may require between 3.5 and 10 acres per megawatt and CSP installations require between 4 and 16.5 acres per megawatt. Recycling photovoltaic energy to recover your silicon and silver can be complicated, meaning that many solar panels end up in landfills. Paul Komor, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, explains these challenges, explores policy options to address them, and describes the implications of future scenarios that involve significantly higher levels of electricity generation from wind and solar energy. In addition, the continental United States receives much more solar energy in July, the hottest month in the Northern Hemisphere, than in December or January.
Improving the efficiency of solar cells is one of the most important opportunities for those working in the solar industry. Another concern is that solar energy can occupy a significant amount of land and cause land degradation or loss of habitat for wildlife.