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All the advantages of solar energy

An inexhaustible resource combined with versatile, silent, efficient technologies. One of the strengths of solar energy is that it is self-generating and can be used anywhere. And its advantages will only increase in the future.

Some of the advantages of solar energyare shared by many other renewable sources. The most important of these is the ability to protect our planet from climate change: capturing and then exploiting the sun’s rays allows us to reduce our fossil fuel use without producing greenhouse gases and moves us towards energy self-sufficiency.

But what are the unique characteristics of solar energy that set it apart from other renewables, such as windgeothermal and hydroelectric energy? We list them in eight points below to reveal our nearest star’s enormous potential for providing daily energy to both people and businesses.

1. An energy source that is both renewable and inexhaustible by definition

It is true that the yellow dwarf that gives our solar system its name won’t live forever. In fact, in four or five billion years’ time, it will come to the end of its main sequence and become unstable. In the meantime, however, and on a time scale that is more relevant to us, the sun remains an unchangeable and inexhaustible source of energy: day after day, year after year, it is and will always be there, always exactly the same.

In addition to being a fixed presence, the solar energy that reaches Earth is also abundant. If Earth were a flat disc angled towards the sun, it would receive 1,377 watts of solar power per square meter. The presence of our atmosphere, bad weather conditions and the Earth’s round shape lower this figure by almost ten times in the middle latitudes. That said, we would still only need to capture 6% of our solar energy to cover all of humanity’s energy needs.

2. Everywhere gets sunlight

It might seem trivial, but the fact that every single area of the Earth gets sunlight to a greater or lesser extent offers a twofold advantage. First and foremost, sunlight is an energy source that can be used anywhere on the planet and even gets to places with no infrastructure or connections: hence in isolated, rural areas, places that are remote or difficult to get to, the sun is always a good option.

Following on from the above, solar energy can also be used on a hyperlocal scale, including by individuals for their own consumption. Just take a look at solar panels installed on roofs. If you reflect on that point, it is clear that this isn’t the case with many other renewables or they simply are not as simple to implement.

Once converted into electricity, solar energy is very simple to transport. That means that huge amounts of electricity can be generated in large solar farms, perhaps in areas of the Earth with the highest levels of sunlight, such as the equatorial belt.

3. It’s very well suited to batteries and the electricity grid

Photovoltaics produces energy mainly in the middle part of the day, but thanks to larger, more efficient and reliable storage systems, we’re better able to manage the discrepancy between energy demand and what the sun provides naturally. Although there may be differences from country to country, generally speaking, solar energy, particularly where photovoltaic technology is used to generate it, can be transferred directly to the electricity grid. This makes things like energy communities possible and allows private individuals and businesses to send the excess energy they produce to the market, guaranteeing them not only savings but also a source of income. There is an important social advantage as well, because that energy becomes immediately available to populations in areas of the world that previously didn’t have access to traditional electrical networks, such as in Africa.

4. The sun creates local wealth and jobs

Of all green jobs, solar energy creates the most employment opportunities for developers, builders, installers and maintenance technicians at the power plants. Taking full advantage of solar brings new impetus to the economy and offers families, businesses and even nations an investment opportunity. According to a recent study published in Science Direct, “Job creation during the global energy transition to 100% renewable power systems by 2050”, the number of jobs in the photovoltaic sector alone will reach 22 million worldwide by 2050 (in 2019 there were 3.8 million, according to estimates by IRENA, the international agency for renewable energy.)

5. Technological versatility

Solar energy’s versatility also extends to its technology. The first thing that springs to mind is photovoltaic panels, but solar energy can also be used to create thermal energy by heating fluids, or by combining both types in the most modern thermodynamic solar power plants.

It is equally true that, compared to a fossil fuel system or even many other renewables, solar energy creates very little noise. Aside from a few components required for cooling, both the sun’s rays themselves and the devices used to collect their energy are extraordinarily quiet and therefore suitable for use in any setting.

6. Minimal maintenance required

Despite the fact that photovoltaic panels do gradually become less efficient, with a useful lifespan of 20-25 years, the kind of post-installation maintenance required is similar to that of a normal electrical system, with the addition of some periodic cleaning and little else, so maintenance is minimal.

7. Green until the end of life

Solar panels are extremely practical, not only in the installation stage, but also when it is time to remove or replace them. They are usually easy to dismantle and the materials used in them can be reclaimed, recycled and reused, further reducing the environmental impact of this kind of energy.  

Having panels available that can be combined in multiple ways means modular plants can be created that range from very small in size for domestic use to large-scale farms. This extreme versatility allows us to build plants according to the needs and particular characteristics of the local area.

8. A solid, reliable technology

Embedded in the reality of the 21st century, photovoltaics is a mature technology. These systems are no longer pioneering and experimental solutions, as was the case in the last part of the 20th century; now the reliability, durability and performance of these plants are all more than satisfactory.   
So the future of solar energy looks rosy. While the solutions we have today already offer technical and economic guarantees, many interesting new innovations await us in the coming years. This is particularly true of efficiency: history has taught us that solar cell performance is improving over time and figures that might have seemed unattainable a couple of decades ago are increasingly within our reach (most notably, efficiency is now over 20%). At the same time, the price of solar cells is going the other way and they’re becoming cheaper. If we combine these two effects, we can say that solar energy is becoming increasingly accessible and available, as well as remaining highly competitive compared to other renewables.

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