What Is The Biggest Challenge To The Use Of Solar Energy?

What is the biggest challenge to the use of solar energy?


Solar energy is radiant light and heat from the sun that is converted into thermal or electrical energy. Solar energy technologies like solar panels and solar water heaters capture sunlight and use it to generate clean energy.

According to Energy5.com, the use of solar energy has grown rapidly in recent years, especially in places like California with ambitious renewable energy goals. The plummeting costs of solar panels combined with policy incentives have made solar an increasingly attractive energy source for homes and businesses seeking clean, renewable power.

High Upfront Costs

One of the biggest challenges facing solar power adoption is the high upfront costs required to purchase and install solar panel systems. According to Energysage, in 2024 the average cost of installing an 11kW solar system is around $22,022 after federal tax credits. This can be prohibitive for many homeowners and businesses.

Although prices for solar panels have dropped dramatically over the last 10 years, with costs declining from $100 per watt in the 1970s to around $0.20 per watt today, the overall system costs are still quite high.

For a typical residential solar system, hardware costs account for about 40% of the total. In addition to the solar panels themselves, there are inverters, racking, wiring and other balance of system components that add to the overall price tag.

There are also soft costs like permitting, installation labor, financing, supply chain and customer acquisition costs that make up a significant portion of the total solar system cost. These soft costs have remained relatively high even as hardware prices have fallen.

Bringing down these upfront costs through technological innovations, streamlining soft costs and creating financing solutions can help make solar power more accessible and drive further adoption.


One of the biggest challenges with solar energy is that it suffers from intermittency issues. Solar panels only generate electricity when the sun is shining on them. At night or on cloudy days, solar panel output can decrease dramatically or stop completely. This intermittent nature means solar cannot provide steady baseload power like fossil fuels or nuclear can.

According to Scientific American, the intermittent availability of renewable sources like solar presents challenges to grid operators who rely on stable electricity supply to match demand and prevent blackouts. The output fluctuations from solar panels make it difficult to integrate large amounts of solar capacity while maintaining grid reliability. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/plugged-in/renewable-energy-intermittency-explained-challenges-solutions-and-opportunities/

As Sapphire Technologies notes, the intermittency issues with solar are not going away. Even though solar panels work great when the sun is out, the variability and uncertainty around their output remains an ongoing challenge. This intermittency problem must be addressed for solar to scale up and provide a bigger portion of electricity generation. https://www.sapphiretechnologies.com/news/the-intermittency-challenge-with-solar-and-wind-is-not-going-away

Storage Limitations

One of the biggest challenges for solar energy is the lack of adequate storage to deal with intermittency (Energy.gov). Solar energy can only be captured when the sun is shining, but energy demand exists day and night. This creates a mismatch between energy supply and demand. Large-scale cost-effective energy storage is needed to store excess solar energy during peak production and discharge it when needed.

Batteries like lithium-ion and lead-acid have limitations in terms of storage capacity. Technologies like compressed-air energy storage require specific geographic locations to be viable. There is active research into new storage methods like flow batteries and hydrogen, but currently available solutions are insufficient for widespread solar deployment (Energy.gov). Significant advances in grid-scale storage technology are still needed to overcome this challenge.

[1] https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/solar-integration-solar-energy-and-storage-basics

Transmission Infrastructure

One of the biggest challenges facing large-scale solar deployment is transmitting the electricity from the solar farms and facilities to the end users. Solar farms capable of generating hundreds of megawatts are often located far from population centers. Transmitting this renewable energy over long distances to urban load centers requires major investments in transmission infrastructure.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, building new transmission lines over long distances can be extremely expensive, with costs potentially exceeding $1 million per mile (Power Distribution Challenges in a Renewable Energy Grid). Upgrading the existing transmission infrastructure or building dedicated lines from remote solar farms is often cost prohibitive.

The mismatch between solar generation locations and electricity demand centers creates grid congestion and curtailment issues. The American Wind Energy Association found that lack of transmission capacity could prevent the integration of up to 50,000 MW of renewable energy projects by 2025 (On the Path to SunShot: Emerging Issues and Challenges).

Land Usage

Solar panels require a significant amount of land area, especially utility-scale solar farms. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 will require installing solar panels on about 10 million acres of land, an area about the size of Maryland. The actual footprint of the solar panels is small, but there needs to be adequate spacing between rows of panels to avoid shading and allow access for maintenance. Estimates vary, but generally 1 acre of solar panels can provide enough electricity for about 160 homes.

While 10 million acres seems large, it represents only about 0.5% of the total U.S. land area. Studies show solar farms take up less than 1% of land in most counties where they are located. The amount of land needed is small compared to the millions of acres used for crops, pasture, and forests. However, solar development does remove land from other productive uses and can impact local communities. Proper siting, community engagement, and dual-use solar projects that allow grazing or crops under panels can help minimize land use conflicts.


The True Land Footprint of Solar Energy


Environmental Impact

While solar energy itself produces no emissions during operation, there are some environmental concerns related to solar power that need to be considered. These include the use of hazardous materials in manufacturing, disposal of solar panels at end of life, and land usage for solar farms.

The production of solar panels involves the use of some toxic materials like sulfur hexafluoride, cadmium, and lead that can contaminate soil and water if not disposed of properly. The panels themselves are difficult to recycle and often end up in landfills after 20-25 years of use (Source). Proper recycling needs to become mainstream to prevent toxic waste from old panels.

Large solar farms also take up a significant amount of land space. According to one estimate, solar farms take up around 10 acres per megawatt produced. This can potentially disturb wildlife habitats and ecosystems (Source). Care needs to be taken to minimize environmental impact when siting and building utility-scale solar power plants.

Aesthetic Concerns

One challenge for solar energy is opposition from local residents who object to how solar farms look. Large solar panel installations can span hundreds of acres, replacing green fields and forests with endless rows of dark solar panels. Many find this industrial-looking equipment visually unappealing, believing it detracts from the rural landscape and scenic views that attracted them to live in the area.

For example, some residents in rural Michigan have voiced concerns over proposals for large-scale solar farms, worried these projects will spoil the beauty and character of their communities (source). They want to preserve the rolling hills, forests, and farmland that represent the area’s agricultural heritage and natural splendor.

Solar developers try to mitigate visual impacts through screening and landscaping, but some find the sheer scale of utility-size solar installations impossible to camouflage. The clean energy benefits don’t always outweigh residents’ desire to maintain the aesthetics and ambiance of their surroundings.

Policy and Regulatory Issues

Establishing supportive governmental policies remains critically important in driving mass adoption of solar. Policies and regulations set the landscape for how and where solar can be utilized, what incentives exist, financing mechanisms, and how systems can interconnect with the grid (Energy5)

Solar adoption increased rapidly in markets that implemented enabling policies such as feed-in tariffs, tax credits, renewable portfolio standards, and net metering. These supportive frameworks help catalyze growth by improving the economics of solar systems for end users and establishing deployment targets (REN21).

Policymakers play a pivotal role through enacting stable, long-term policies that account for solar energy’s societal benefits like job creation, grid resilience, and reduced emissions. Crafting forward-looking policies helps fully realize solar’s potential while ensuring sustainable growth (Energy5).


The biggest challenges to widespread solar energy adoption are the high upfront costs, intermittent power generation, limitations of energy storage solutions, insufficient transmission infrastructure, significant land requirements, environmental impact concerns, aesthetic issues, and lack of supportive policies. However, continued declines in solar panel costs along with advancements in energy storage technologies and smarter grids can help mitigate some of these challenges. Policy shifts to incentivize renewable energy and streamline permitting and land usage for solar projects are also key. With coordinated efforts across private industry, government, and the public, solar power holds tremendous potential to play a major role in the world’s energy mix and help usher in a clean energy future.

Similar Posts