PV solar panels are a huge investment for your home or business and like any big investment, there might be a few disadvantages. And in this article, we will go through all the disadvantages of PV panels that you need to know before making such an investment. So without further ado, let’s jump right into the disadvantages of PV solar panels.
1. High Upfront Costs
Although the average solar installation prices have dramatically declined over the past 10 years, PV solar panels are still relatively expensive. In fact according to the EIA, solar is the most expensive form of electricity. For example, in 2020 the average solar system installation cost is $2.64/watt. In other words, a 6KW solar system will cost you around $15,840.
So even after claiming the 26% tax credit provided by the government the system will still cost you roughly $11,880, which is quite a lot of cash. There are 2 main reasons behind these relatively high prices:
A. Lack of Materials and Technologies
Most PV solar panels are made of silicon (sand), which is a semiconductor mainly used in electronic devices such as phones, computers, etc. The problem is that in order to manufacture solar cells you need pure silicon. And although silicon is the eighth most common element on earth, it’s too reactive to be found in a pure form in nature. Therefore, you need to purify silicon, which is a very draining process that takes a great deal of energy and resources, thus high production cost. PV systems are not like mincroinverters or panel optimiser systems. They are more dangerous and actually generate less energy. Systems like SolarEdge can help with shading issues and and provide a higher return on investment.
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B. Soft Costs
While the hardware such as panels, collectors, and batteries is the largest expense for installing a new solar system, the hardware is only responsible for about 25% of the total installation costs. On the other hand, soft costs, or the installation expenses not related to the production process like marketing, taxes, permits, and sales contribute to the most percentage of the PV solar panels cost. In fact, according to the EERE, almost 64% of solar system prices come from soft costs.
Source: U.S. Department of energy
Luckily, the U.S. government in addition to many organizations has taken active steps to cut down the soft costs of PV solar panels including but not limited to the DOE Sunshot Initiative and Solar App.
2. Depends on your Geographical Location
One of the main disadvantages of PV solar panels is it highly depends on your geographical location.
To understand how your geographical location can affect your solar investment, first, you need to know how solar installation saves you money.
PV Solar Panels can save you money in 4 ways:
- You get up to 26% of your capital as tax credits
- It lowers your electricity bills
- You sell the generated electricity back to your local utilities (net metering)
- After about 8 years, you reach the break-even point and you start generating electricity for free
So far so good, all you need to do is to buy a solar system and let the cash flow right? Well, sadly, it’s not that simple. The amount of money you save depends on many factors such as:
- How big your system is
- How much direct sunlight you get
- How intense the sunlight beam is
- What are the available renewable incentives you qualify for
- What is your KWh rate
All these variables will control how much your solar installation will save every month and in some cases, generating electricity from a solar installation can actually cost you more money.
For a better understanding of how solar can be a bad investment here are 2 examples:
Let’s assume you live in Kentucky where the average KWh costs about $0.0813, which is really low.
Now you bought a 6KW solar system for $11,840 — After tax credit, which generates around 8,000KW a year.
How long would it take your system to pay for itself? After doing the math, this system will save you $650 of utility bills a year (about $54 a month) and the system will pay back for itself after 18 years.
Now let’s assume you live in Hawaii where the average KWh costs around $0.37, How long would it take your system to pay for itself?
This will save you $2960 a year (almost $250 a month) and the system will pay back for itself within 5 years, then you will enjoy free electricity for the rest of the system life, which is around 30 years. In conclusion, investing in a solar system can be really rewarding if you live in an area with high electricity rates. However, if your electricity rate is already low, then solar won’t be the best investment.
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3. Weather Dependent
As mentioned before, your PV solar panels production highly depends on how much sunlight you get and how intense the sunlight beam is, which a disadvantage is obviously. Also, other environmental factors such as clouds and snow can affect how much electricity your system generates.
For example, if you live in Barrow, Alaska where you can go for two months without seeing sunlight, then investing in a solar system isn’t the smartest use of your money. On the other hand, if you live in Yuma, Arizona where you can experience about 4,015 hours of sunlight a year, then chances are that PV solar panels would be such a great investment, as you would be able to generate a lot of electricity and save tons of money.
4. Takes a lot of Space
The typical American home needs around 14-36 PV solar panels to cover their electricity bill depending on:
- How much power your house use: Obviously, the bigger your consumption is, the more panels you need
- The direction and tilt of your roof: For example, in the northern hemisphere, roofs that face south will receive more sunlight during the day
- The efficiency of the solar panels: The higher your panels’ efficiency, the less solar panels you need and the more electricity your produce for the same amount of sunlight
Although solar panels are much smaller nowadays, the average residential solar panel dimensions are about 5.4ft by 3.25ft, which is approximately 17.5 ft^2.
So for 20 solar panels, you will need about 351 ft^2 of roof space, which is quite a lot.
Don’t worry, if you don’t have enough roof space there are plenty of options that can help you go solar such as ground-mounted solar systems and community solar gardens.
5. Generates a Huge Amount of Waste
One of the huge disadvantages of PV solar panels is that they generate a lot of solid waste, which is really hard to dispose of or recycle. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), solar panels produce around 250,000 metric tons of waste every year and the number is growing. However, although the production of PV solar panels has some sort of environmental impact, it’s still way better than fossil fuel.
While PV solar panels have some sort of disadvantages such as the high initial price or the weather dependency, it’s nothing compared to the advantages you get from installing a solar system. Therefore, if you wish to learn more about the advantages of solar energy, check this article from Solar Energy Hackers.