Solar farms are becoming an increasingly popular way to produce power. They offer a number of benefits, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing clean energy.
However, like any other form of energy production, solar farms have their advantages and disadvantages.
In this post, we will take a look at solar farms’ pros and cons so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not they are right for your business.
What Are the Pros of Solar Farms
1. Use Renewable Energy Source
No one likes relying on finite resources like oil and coal for energy.
We want to stay assured that our power source will be available, not only today but in the future as well.
And one of the most significant drawbacks to relying on geological resources is their slow rate of regeneration.
In fact, scientists believe that it could take millions of years for petroleum to regenerate itself!
2. Nearly Zero Emissions
Fossil fuels power plants emit large quantities of pollutants and greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.
And the rising levels of carbon dioxide on the planet are a major cause of global warming and climate change, which threatens life on earth.
In contrast, solar farms don’t use any fossil fuels to generate electricity, so they are much cleaner and more environmentally friendly.
Still, it’s important to note that solar panels can have an existing carbon footprint.
In other words, carbon dioxide and other pollutants are released during the solar panels’ manufacturing, installation, and maintenance process.
However, these emissions are still significantly lower than those produced by traditional power plants.
3. Decrease Reliance on Fossil Fuels
With more solar farms being built, we rely less on fossil fuels for electricity generation.
This, in turn, makes us import less oil from other countries, which is beneficial for the US economy.
Also, the geopolitical advantage we gain from solar power will make us more independent, secure, and safer in the long run.
For example, India and China have developed major solar power plants, including Huaneng Power International in China and Adani Solar Power Plant in India.
These installations have helped those countries to become more independent and self-reliant, which is something we all should strive for.
4. Evolving Technology
The solar industry is constantly evolving and innovating solar technology. Solar panels are becoming more efficient and cheaper every day, meaning solar farms can generate solar power at a lower cost.
As a result, homeowners have become able to add solar panels to their homes at a much lower price than before.
Plus, this evolving technology enables a faster solar farm installation process.
5. One-Time Investment
Establishing a solar farm is an investment as with any financial commitment. But solar farms only require a one-time investment.
In other words, plant owners don’t have to invest in gas or any other fuel source to keep solar farms running.
Instead, solar farms can easily operate for decades with just the need for periodic maintenance and cleaning to ensure continuous energy output.
And speaking of returns, the payback period of solar farms is approximately eight years. This means that you will receive returns of 10-20% per year.
Once you cover the solar farm’s up-front costs, you’ll start to enjoy solar energy’s financial benefits for 22-27 years.
6. Quiet, Simple, & Safe
When we take a look at fossil fuels power plants, we must consider their loud operations, complicated mechanisms, and the risk of chemical leakage.
In stark contrast, solar farms emit a low hum at their most extreme. This sound happens when the direct current (DC) collected by the PV panels is converted to AC current that can be accepted into the power grid.
In addition, solar farms have no moving parts and lack any hazardous chemicals. Thus, solar farms are much safer than other sources of energy production.
Not only that but they are also aesthetically compared to other power plants. They blend in with the environment, making solar farms much less intrusive than other traditional energy sources.
7. Low Maintenance
Although establishing a solar farm can cost a lot initially, they don’t require a lot of maintenance once they are set up.
They don’t have any moving parts that require regular maintenance or oiling. Once you build it, solar farms can keep running for decades with minimal upkeep and repairs.
All they need is semi-annual cleaning, allowing them to run for up to two decades without a single tune-up.
Compare that to the traditional gas plants that require frequent upkeep and expensive gas purchases to keep running.
8. Virtually Every Country Can Benefit from Solar Farms
There is no place on earth where the sun doesn’t shine.
For example, if you live in Kiruna, Sweden, which is one of the darkest regions in Europe, you can still generate a decent amount electricity from solar farms.
So, you can virtually build solar farms in any country, no matter the solar intensity or climate.
However, there are certain locations that are more suitable for solar plants, such as countries located close to the equator or have long summer days.
And in this internet era, you have all the information needed to start solar farms at the palm of your hand even if you didn’t study solar engineering.
Of course, this is a lot of work and involves a lot of money but still, solar farms are a viable option for those looking to produce electricity from solar energy.
9. It Allows Everyone to Benefit from Solar Power
You don’t necessarily have to set up solar panels on your roof in order to benefit from solar power.
In reality, many people are ineligible for solar panels installation due to numerous factors, such as limited space and insufficient daily sunlight.
Also, many people live in apartments and don’t have the option to install solar panels on their roofs.
However, installing a solar farm within a community enables citizens to share the energy collected by solar panels.
This allows more people to enjoy solar energy’s benefits without having to install solar panels on their own roofs.
All they have to do is to buy a share of a solar farm and they’ll get massive savings on their monthly electricity bill.
10. Boost the Local Economy & Create Jobs
Solar farms can also help to stimulate the economy by creating jobs in the solar industry.
When you establish a solar farm, there is an influx of solar workers who will seek housing and other goods for their livelihood.
In addition, solar farm owners can hire local electricians and solar technicians for maintenance purposes.
Yet, this is only the case during the primary stages of a project. Once it’s been set in motion, its upkeep requires minimal human resources.
What Are the Cons of Solar Farms
1. A Threat to the Local Environment
To establish solar farms, solar developers need to find or create a large piece of flat land.
But the most suitable pieces of land for solar farms are sunny open fields, which often contain wildlife and habitats or could be the home of agricultural activity.
Hence, building solar farms in agricultural areas will cause soil erosion and threaten the food supply.
In addition, solar farms can disrupt local wildlife by altering their habitats and causing disruption in their ecosystem balance.
2. Solar Waste
The solar industry is facing a rapidly growing issue of photovoltaic waste, or what’s commonly known as solar waste.
But what’s exactly solar waste?
Well, solar waste is the solar module that has been discarded or is no longer being used because it has reached its end-of-life.
And the bad news is the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) anticipates that in the early 2030s, we will face a huge amount of solar waste from discarded PV panels.
This number is expected to rise exponentially and reach millions of tons by 2050.
But with the right efforts, solar waste can be recycled.
Companies have already started to extract and reuse photovoltaic material from modules that are no longer usable.
However, more government initiatives and producer participation are necessary for a successful recycling system of degraded power sources.
3. Seasonal Output & Sun Dependence
Solar farms depend mainly on the sun’s solar radiation to generate electricity.
But the sun isn’t always available. For example, solar farms’ energy production decreases dramatically during winter.
Also, the sun peaks only during the afternoon, which limits solar energy production to other times of the day.
Due to this lack of consistency, grid operators are put in a difficult position and forced to seek alternative energy sources to fill the solar energy production gaps.
Thus, we use pumping water for hydroelectricity, solar batteries, and other energy sources to cover solar farms’ output variability.
We can visualize this problem through the solar duck curve, which represents solar output during the day.
This solar curve depicts solar production at its peak in the afternoon, followed by a sharp decline and then an increase as solar farms switch to power alternative sources.
4. Low Capacity Factor
The capacity factor is the ratio of the solar farm’s actual output over time to its potential output if it had operated at full capacity during that period. So it tells us the solar farm performance in practice.
And solar farms have a meager capacity factor of only 24.5%, which means that solar farms are only operational 8 hours per day (when the sun is shining.)
This is not optimal, especially when compared to coal and gas power plants that provide energy 24/7.
The solar technology required to build solar farms is expensive and requires a large upfront investment.
Not only that but also the solar panels need transportation and labor costs to set up, all of which add an additional cost.
As reported by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), solar farms’ investment falls equipment & installation between $0.85 and $1.07 per watt.
And the average solar farm is 5 Megawatts in size, which means it costs up to $5.35 million upfront to build a solar farm!
On the other hand, natural gas only costs $0.676 per watt, which makes solar farms relatively expensive to set up.
However, solar energy is still getting more popular day after day popularity and solar technology keeps evolving.
Thus, it is expected that prices per watt of energy produced by solar farms will continue to decrease, allowing more people to benefit from solar energy.
For example, the United States, Australia, and Germany have advanced photovoltaic technology to a point where it can deliver solar power at a Levelized cost of electricity that is both economical and reliable.
6. Expensive Energy Storage
Solar panels only can harvest solar energy during the day so they need an energy storage system to store solar energy for night use.
However, the problem here is that solar energy storage systems are expensive and are not a feasible option.
In fact, Energy Sage reports that solar battery costs range from $8,500 to $10,000 without installation.
And a great example of this is the Tesla Powerwall 2.0 at an accessible price point of $8,500!
Of course, it’s not an impossible problem to solve.
But with solar technology evolving every day, solar energy storage systems can become a more affordable option.
7. Take a Lot of Space
As I said before solar farms need an enormous amount of land and space to work efficiently.
For instance, Bhadla Solar Park in Rajasthan India is the world’s largest solar farm, occupying 14,000 acres!
And these solar farms need to be built in clear, open spaces with no obstacles or trees blocking solar panels from the sun.
In other words, they need to be built in sunny, dry areas with no shade.
All of this can make solar farm construction difficult and expensive since finding the perfect spot for solar farms is hard.
8. Solar Technology Is Still Inefficient
Despite all the solar advancements, solar technology still needs improvement.
In reality, the majority of modern models come with an approximate 20% efficiency rate.
This means that 80% of incident energy is wasted and only a fifth is converted into usable electricity.
And without a doubt, the performance efficiency of solar farms will be well below 20%.
This is because solar farms will experience solar panel shading, dust accumulation, temperature effect, and other related design issues that can influence their output.
Solar farms are the new solar goldmine, but solar farming is no easy feat.
Despite the solar farm’s pros and cons, solar energy is an abundant resource that needs to be tapped into.
And with the right skills, solar farms can transform our lives positively — making solar energy more accessible and reliable than ever before.
I hope this article has shed some light on solar farms and their pros and cons. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.