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Residential and Business Use: What are the Limits of Solar Power?

Solar power continues to grow in popularity because it benefits the environment as well as provides energy cost savings to homeowners (after the initial investment cost has been recouped). Of course, as with any form of energy, it's not perfect. What are the limits of solar power?

  • Efficiency. Solar panels are currently not highly efficient. The efficiency is determined by many factors including the amount of shade (from trees, structures...), wind, dust, angel of the panels, amount of daylight, access to direct sunlight, etc..

  • Storage is suggested, adding extra costs. You can use the solar energy generated from your panels directly (and even sell it to the grid, if your municipality has such a program in place) - but since the sun doesn't shine 24 hours a day, every day, then the solar energy needs to be "stored" in batteries for later use. Otherwise you would need to be connected to the grid as backup, or own a generator.

  • A relatively small amount of energy is generated. Providing 100% of the energy required by the average home, for example, would require a vast array of solar panels. Not only is this impractical, it's very costly. Even if you were to build your own solar panel the costs would still be a challenge for many homeowners.

  • Access to direct sunlight is best. Often, commercial installations of solar panels will readjust during the day to maintain an angle that provides them with direct sunlight - best for converting into energy. However, most homeowners simply mount solar panels in a rigid, fixed position, which means that the panels only have access to direct sunlight for a limited amount of time each day.

  • Maintenance, repair, and disposal. Solar panels must be kept clean to operate at their most efficient. Keeping the panels clean and free of dust, dirt, and debris can be a big job! And while panels often last 25 years or so, repairs can be required from time-to-time. Finally, what does one do with solar panels and batteries that are at the end of their useful life?

Currently, the limits of solar power appear to be many, and most eventually lead to the primary sticking point for homeowners: cost. While most of us would like to be able to do something beneficial for the environment, the investment costs can be daunting. However a good compromise would be to use solar power for small applications where it's cheap to install and maintain. In the future, the efficiency of solar cells will continue to improve and hopefully provide homeowners and businesses a viable alternative to drawing power from the grid.