Solar Energy vs. Fossil Fuels: Advantages & Disadvantages

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Solar Energy vs Fossil Fuels - Pros and Cons

Solar energy and fossil fuels are both energy sources that are in use by the world’s population. Slowly but surely, solar energy is replacing fossil fuels in the energy network. 

Solar energy offers many advantages over fossil fuels. Solar energy is safer, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly. 

Solar energy is still a developing technology, and in some ways it is not as efficient as fossil fuels. Solar energy is predicted to overtake fossil fuels by 2035. 

So how exactly does solar energy measure up against traditional fossil fuels? 

Keep reading to learn more about the main differences in solar energy and fossil fuels, and the advantages of switching to a solar-based energy system. 

The Transition from Fossil Fuels to Solar Energy

In general, there is a great degree of argument between fossil fuel lobbyists and energy scientists about whether solar energy is superior to coal, gas, and oil. 

While solar energy is widely acknowledged as the better energy source in many ways, there are many reasons why the market continues to depend heavily on fossil fuels. 

Fossil fuels are a finite energy resource that must eventually be replaced with alternative energy sources like solar, wind, and water power. 

The Advantages of Solar Energy vs. Fossil Fuels

The main reason that energy scientists advocate for solar energy over the use of fossil fuels is that solar energy offers many advantages over traditional energy sources like coal and gas. 

These are some of the main benefits of solar power (Source: International Association of Certified Home Inspectors): 

  • Solar energy creates jobs. Currently, the solar energy industry employs over 255,000 workers, and this number is only rising as solar energy becomes more popular. 
  • Solar energy is suitable for remote areas. Because solar energy can be harnessed on an off-grid photovoltaic array, it doesn’t require proximity to a network to operate.
  • Solar energy is renewable energy. Solar power is a sustainable form of natural energy generation that can be created from common materials, such as silicon and aluminum.
  • Solar energy is low in pollution. Unlike other power sources, solar energy doesn’t make noise and doesn’t create large amounts of carbon emissions.
  • Solar energy is economical. After a few years, a solar panel array can generate enough free energy to pay for the costs of installing it.
  • Solar energy contributes to geopolitical stability. The use of green energy sources like solar reduces dependence on foreign oil and involvement in resource competition.
  • Solar energy is reliable. Solar energy components rarely fail and are not dependent on the utility grid. This makes solar users less vulnerable to blackouts and power failures. 

As you can see, there are many advantages of transitioning to solar power over traditional fossil fuels. However, there are some drawbacks to solar energy too.

Also, Read Largest Solar Farms in World

Disadvantages of Solar Energy vs. Fossil Fuels

Even though solar energy offers many advantages as an energy source over fossil fuels, there are a few disadvantages associated with solar energy too. 

These are some of the drawbacks of using solar versus fossil fuels: 

  • Weather dependent: Solar panels need clear, cloudless skies to operate at their optimal capacity. Solar panels placed in cloudy or rainy areas will not be as efficient. 
  • Initial cost is high: Unlike accessing electricity in an established grid, the initial cost of installing an effective solar panel array for residential or business use is expensive.
  • Takes up space: Solar panels need lots of space to operate compared to traditional energy sources, and some people consider freestanding solar panels an eyesore.
  • Storing solar energy is expensive: The batteries used to store solar power are costly compared to more traditional battery types, but are essential for a reliable power source.
  • Solar energy can’t be collected at night: Solar panels depend on the sun for energy generation, so they can’t collect any energy after sunset.
  • No mass production: Since solar energy is still a niche energy source, lack of production leads to higher production costs.
  • Solar-powered vehicles are less powerful: While this is starting to change, most solar-powered vehicles are not as powerful or fast to accelerate as gas-powered cars.
  • DC solar power must be converted to AC power: The power collected by solar panels is DC power that has to be adapted and inverted for home use. 

Even though there are a few disadvantages to using solar energy, these drawbacks are far outweighed by the number of advantages offered by a swap to solar power. 

Differences Between Solar Energy and Fossil Fuels

Solar energy and fossil fuels both have their advantages and disadvantages, but there are a few key differences to keep in mind between the two: 

  • Solar energy is renewable, fossil fuels are not. The main reason governments are pushing the switch to renewable energy is because fossil fuels are a finite resource.
  • Solar energy causes less pollution. Traditional fossil fuels create large amounts of carbon emissions that can worsen climate change and cause environmental damage.
  • Fossil fuels are easier to store. One of the major weaknesses of solar energy is that it is difficult to store compared to fossil fuels, which are easy to stockpile in comparison. 

One of the biggest criticisms of solar energy compared to fossil fuels is about how effective it is.

Solar power is objectively cleaner and greener than fossil fuels, but can it compete with fossil fuels in efficiency?

How Efficient Is Solar Energy Compared to Fossil Fuels?

Solar energy is not as efficient as fossil fuels, and this is one of the major arguments against transitioning to it. 

Compared to 40% efficiency in coal and 60% efficiency in natural gas, solar energy has an efficiency between 15-20%. 

Even though solar energy isn’t as energy-efficient as other energy sources, it is efficient in other ways. 

Solar energy is cheaper than fossil fuels to maintain and causes less long-term damage to the environment that is both expensive and difficult to mitigate. 

Percentage of Solar Energy vs. Fossil Fuels

Compared to fossil fuels, solar energy only forms a small percentage of the total energy usage in the United States and elsewhere in the world. 

In the United States, fossil fuels power 79% of the total energy consumption. (Source: University of Michigan)

This majority is followed by 12.5% of the power being supplied by renewable power sources like solar, wind, and water, and 8.4% of the power supplied by nuclear plants. 

Is Solar Energy Growing Faster Than Fossil Fuels?

Even though fossil fuels supply the majority of the power in the United States and elsewhere in the world, this is a percentage that is rapidly changing. 

Solar energy is growing much faster than fossil fuels as an industry sector, gaining market shares where fossil fuel production is being transitioned over to green energy sources instead. 

Is Solar Energy Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels? 

Solar energy is generally regarded as a more expensive form of energy compared to fossil fuels. However, the truth is a little more complicated. 

Installation of Solar Energy Is Expensive

Solar energy is more expensive to install than fossil fuels for a few reasons: 

  • Energy infrastructures aren’t built around solar energy. Most energy networks are built around coal-based power, making solar inclusion more expensive to implement. (Source: Consumer Affairs)
  • Traditional energy lobbyists actively combat efforts to transition to green energy. This interference makes it harder to cheaply transition energy networks to solar. 
  • Solar energy requires space. Because solar energy requires a lot of open land to operate, the costs of that land are rolled into the cost of setting up a solar system. 

Even though solar power is cheaper in the long-term than fossil fuels, the high cost of installing a solar system deters many people from making the transition to solar. 

Solar Energy Is Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels Over Time

It costs more to install a solar energy system, but solar energy costs less to produce over time than fossil fuels like oil and gas. Here are a few of the reasons why solar energy is cheaper: 

  • Fossil fuels continue to get more expensive. Fossil fuel costs are escalating with supply and demand. Solar is getting cheaper.
  • Solar energy pays for itself. While the costs of fossil fuel get higher and are a constant resource drain, solar energy arrays eventually pay for themselves in the long-term.
  • Solar energy helps fight the cost of climate change. The natural disasters and aberrant weather caused by carbon-based pollution can be combated with green energy.

Solar energy is not a cheap investment. However, over time, it is one of the cheapest forms of natural energy that humanity has tapped into. 

Production Costs Of Solar Panels vs. Fossil Fuels

Another aspect of solar energy’s cost is the cost of its production. The cost of producing solar panels is more expensive than the cost of generating energy from fossil fuels. 

The cost of building and installing solar panel facilities is cheaper than the cost of operating and maintaining coal or gas-powered plants. (Source: Bloomberg)

Can Solar Energy Replace Fossil Fuels?

It’s predicted by both energy scientists and futurologists that solar energy can and will replace fossil fuels before the first half of the 21st century is over. 

The biggest challenge to the transition from fossil fuels to solar energy is the status quo. 

There is a large amount of political and commercial resistance to the switch away from fossil fuels because people of influence in these sectors have financially invested in the industry. 

Due to the rising threat of climate change driven by carbon-based pollution, there is renewed interest in the push towards green energy. This has helped the solar power sector grow. 

Is Solar Energy Safer Than Fossil Fuels? 

Solar energy is a much safer source of energy than using fossil fuels for the following reasons: 

  • Lower fire hazard: Solar panels pose an extremely low fire hazard in residential homes compared to fossil fuel based energy sources. (Source: Dual Sun)
  • Less pollution: Along with being safer to use in residential homes to avoid fire, electrocution, and carbon monoxide poisoning, solar creates less pollution.
  • Less vulnerable to civil unrest. Even though traditional power sources are susceptible to interruptions in emergencies, standalone solar arrays can prevent power loss.
  • Less threat to industrial workers: Electricians and oil rig workers are exposed to dangerous work environments. Solar is much safer to produce and install. 

On multiple levels, solar energy can be considered much safer than fossil fuels. 

From resolving oil-based resource wars to preventing carbon monoxide deaths, solar energy is the safest form of energy generation around. 

Is Solar Energy Better Than Fossil Fuels?

There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages to solar energy and fossil fuels. 

At the end of the day, solar energy is objectively better for both individuals and the environment than fossil fuels for the following reasons: 

  • Reliability: Solar energy provides reliable power even in areas where traditional fossil fuel based power sources are unstable or too remote to access.  
  • Safety: On a personal and societal level, solar power is much safer to individuals and less damaging to the environment.
  • Economy: Though it has a high installation cost, solar energy is cheaper per kilowatt unit than fossil fuels over time.
  • Renewability and Sustainability: As a renewable, sustainable energy source, solar energy is a much more progressive form of power generation than fossil fuels.  

It has taken longer than expected for solar energy and other alternative energy sources to hit the mainstream. 

However, investing in these energy sources now is making them less expensive for future generations to implement. 

Why Do Fossil Fuels Dominate the Energy Market?

If solar energy is superior to fossil fuels, you may be wondering why so few households relatively use this energy source. 

There are several reasons why consumers are slow to adopt solar energy: 

  • High cost of investment: It costs a lot of money to install a solar array, and it takes a long time before the system pays itself off. 
  • Lack of familiarity: Understanding home-based solar power and how to use it is complicated for many people who did not grow up with this type of technology.

Solar energy can be intimidating for first-time users compared to the energy sources they have traditionally used. 

Without corporate and governmental encouragement in the form of financial incentives and promotion, this can make homeowners and businesses reluctant to adopt new energy systems. 

Solar Energy Beats Fossil Fuels in the Future

Despite the fact that solar energy is still the minority power source in the United States and elsewhere in the world, that is a percentage that is rapidly changing. 

Thanks to industrial investments in green energy sources like solar, wind, and water, the costs and difficulties of producing these energy sources only continue to improve.

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