In the developed countries as well as impoverished countries around the world, solar power is increasingly being viewed as a viable alternative to traditional sources of energy. As a result, what was a novelty only a decade or so ago is now on the way to becoming mainstream. Judging by the way people are becoming aware of the advantages of solar energy and embracing it, the day is not far when there will be highly efficient solar panels in virtually every home. It may take a decade or two, or perhaps even less.
However, despite the growing popularity of solar power it is not without detractors. One of the charges leveled against solar power by its detractors is that is it not as clean and safe as it is claimed to be. And there is some truth in that. Manufacturing of solar cells involves several stages: silica sand mining, which is upgraded to metallurgical grade silicon, which is upgraded to poly-silicon wafers, which are sawed into solar cells, which are joined together in modules, which are assembled to make solar panels. During these processes, harmful substance like silica dust, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, chlorosilanes, hydrogen chloride and silicon tetrachloride are produced as byproducts. Hazardous chemicals like nitric acid, sodium hydroxide and hydrofluoric acid are also used in the processes. However, all of these processes are done in highly controlled and confined environments, and cause very negligible damages to the earth’s ecosystem.
Another charge leveled again solar power is that it is too expensive for the average household, even in affluent countries. This is also true to some extent, though prices have been dropping steadily in recent years. Still, solar panels and batteries do cost a lot; and add to that the cost of installation and most people will be left shaking their head. But if you look at the long term, the money you can save on electric bills will amount to far more than the initial cost of installation by the time the useful life the solar panels ends, which is more than 25 years. If your area has a feed-in tariff program, you may even be able to earn money by selling the excess electricity generated to the power company. And, of course, to help even more, federal and state governments often provide grants and subsidies, and if you are one of the lucky ones your installation cost may be more than halved.
If you are handy, you may also consider looking into DIY solar, which can save thousands of dollars – but keep in mind that DIY solar panels are generally not as efficient as professionally produced panels. Still, if you don’t have the money to install solar panels up front otherwise, a DIY job will still save you money on your power bills, and reduce your carbon footprint.
The third charge leveled against solar power is that solar panels do not work on cloudy days. This is untrue. Solar panels work very well on most days. In fact, they work best when there is sunlight but it is not too hot. One thing about most machines is that is that when they are too hot, they become less efficient. Solar power systems are no different. They lose their efficiency and produce less electricity under the glare of direct sunlight on a hot summer’s day. However, shade is bad for solar panels. If they are under direct shade most panels will not produce electricity. They will also have very low efficiency on a particularly dark and gloomy day. But in most places, solar panels can in fact generate free electricity throughout the year.