The Disadvantages of Photovoltaic Cells

Written by rob callahan
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The Disadvantages of Photovoltaic Cells
Photovoltaic cells generate clean energy during daylight hours, but not at night. (Solar Panels image by alessbonaventura from

There are many reasons to consider utilising photovoltaic solar cells to generate electricity. For example, they produce electricity without generating pollution or using nonrenewable fuel. Unfortunately, there are certain considerations to take into account about solar power as well. For instance, the production costs and daylight-dependent nature of photovoltaic cells can be prohibitive.

Potential Pollution from Solar Panel Production

While photovoltaic cells produce clean energy, some potential pollution problems are inherent in their assembly. One immediate concern, which may be overcome as solar and other green energy sources become more prominent features of our electrical infrastructures, is that conventional forms of energy are required to power the production and assembly of solar panels. So, even if you purchase a photovoltaic panel array to reduce your personal contribution to environmental pollution, that array was probably produced using electricity from fossil fuels or nuclear fission.

Some toxic substances, such as cadmium and arsenic, are used to create photovoltaic panels. These chemicals have the potential to cause pollution and environmental destruction if they're discarded improperly. Fortunately, they are also somewhat recyclable and their impact can be minimised through reuse and proper handling.

Financial Cost of Solar Power

Photovoltaic cells convert sunlight into electricity less efficiently than fossil fuel-powered generators convert their fuel sources, and the short-term costs of constructing new solar-powered buildings or converting older buildings to utilise solar cells is higher than that of using existing energy sources. Over time, as the incentive to develop more efficient photovoltaic cells and conversion systems increases, this disadvantage may become less notable, and if the production costs can be reduced, solar power may become a more financially viable power source than coal, oil or nuclear power.

Dependence on Sunlight

Because photovoltaic cells convert sunlight to electricity, they cannot operate at night when the sun is down. They may also produce less power on an overcast day than on a day when the sun shines brightly upon them. The greater their distance from the Earth's equator, the more seasonal variation there will be in the amount of sunlight they receive each day. For example, solar panels in Canada or the northern United States will receive significantly less sunlight during the winter, when there are fewer hours of daylight. While electricity storage batteries can provide some compensation for this problem, it is possible, especially during periods of low sunlight, that a photovoltaic solar panel array would not supply as much electricity as is needed.

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