Since the implementation of solar energy as an alternative to fossil fuels to generate electrical power, solar engineering has been a difficult and bumpy road for specialists in the field. Even when nowadays seeing solar panel installations on different buildings, from businesses to personal residencies, there are still several challenges that keep solar energy from taking over and becoming the main source of renewable, efficient, eco-friendly power generation.
Despite the several benefits, there are still some challenges and opportunities that solar engineers can take advantage of in the search of a fully-functioning system of solar-based energy, but some of the main ones relate to the efficiency of solar energy, the costs that manufacturing and installing solar panels generate, and how the environmental impact generated by manufacturing panels can be balanced against the impact of switching from fossil fuels to solar energy.
One of the main concerns regarding solar power has to do with its efficiency, and how it can be improved, since current solar panel systems are able to convert from 15% to 20% of the total amount of solar energy they receive. Recent development along with continuous research has resulted in an increase of efficiency, with new panels being able to convert up to 40% of solar energy into electricity. There can be several aspects that may interfere in the amount of electricity that is generated by sun power, like the actual amount of sunlight received by our panels, the angles at which our panels are set, as well as dust, weather, and the quality of the materials used to manufacture the panels. Ideally, having the best quality materials available would have a positive impact on our solar system efficiency, yet it would translate to a higher initial cost.
Another disadvantage of switching to solar energy is the initial price tag that comes with purchasing or leasing solar panels, as well as installation prices and home renewal expenses that may arise. There are several incentives and government programs available such as the Solar Investment Tax Credit, which enables homeowners who purchase panels instead of leasing them with a tax credit reimbursement of 30% of the total cost of purchase and installation. This means that, with an average cost of $16 to $20 thousand dollars, we could be receiving a refund of around $4,800 and $6,000. Besides, it is estimated that, homeowners who switch to solar energy can end up saving up to $20,000 after 20 years of sun-generated electricity. However, with the initial cost of five digits, switching to solar energy represents a significant investment that not all of us are willing or able to make upfront.
Besides the economical drive behind urgent developing of solar energy, the overall impact on the environment is one main reason why engineers, specialist, governments, and end consumers have shown a growing interest in switching to solar energy. However, despite several and continuous attempts to reduce the environmental impact caused by the manufacture, and later disposal, of solar panels, the materials used, and the processes involved still have a negative impact on the environment. Solar manufacture generates several toxic chemicals like arsenic, chromium, and cadmium telluride. Besides, different greenhouse gases like sulfur hexafluoride or nitrogen trifluoride are generated as a result of solar panels manufacture.
Nevertheless, solar engineers and specialists do not give up in the search of different ways and alternatives that can make solar energy as efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly as possible, as its renewable capacities are definitely worth the struggle.