Disadvantages and problems of solar panels

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  • The disadvantages of solar panels are not talked about so much as the positives, which are usually in the foreground. This is understandable considering that we should encourage the use of green energy, the free energy you can create and the durability that the panels provide for your home. But it’s not all good news – there are still downsides to solar panels.

    Sure, the price has dropped dramatically, from an average of £15,000 in 2010 to just under £6,000 in 2022. But that upfront cost isn’t all you’ll pay. There are also ongoing costs and labor to keep in mind.

    This guide aims to clarify everything you need to know about the dark side of solar panels. This way you can really weigh the actual costs and benefits for you. So when you make the decision to go solar or not, you’ll know it’s the right choice.

    Photo credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

    Disadvantages of solar panels

    1. They need a sunny spot

    The clue is in the name – solar panels need the sun’s rays to function. No sun means no power. So being based in the UK, where sunshine isn’t the most common expectation, you start at a disadvantage. If it was rain or wind power, you’d be in pretty good shape. Aside from the weather, solar panels can still receive plenty of light. The key is to be able to get that.

    That doesn’t mean you need a south-facing garden or anything like that. But the pitch and angle of your roof can play a big role here. You may find that only one part of your roof gets the sun, or that one half gets some while the other half gets some as well. In these cases, it may be necessary to distribute the panels on both sides of your roof, which may incur costs.

    Where you live is another issue. If you’re on top of a hill and the clouds are flying in leaving you with lots of clear skies, you’re in a good position for solar power. But if you live on the coast where cloud cover, fog, and haze are common, you may find it difficult to harness solar power.

    Another factor is smog and dirt. If you live in a city, you will also need to consider regularly cleaning your panels. Otherwise, they won’t work as efficiently as they should and could develop problems.

    2. They involve a large initial investment

    The cost of solar panels may have dropped dramatically over the past decade, but they are still expensive and require you to pay. The government used to offer purchase assistance, but this has now ended, so all costs of buying and installing the panels are now your responsibility.

    3. If you spend too little, you can lose

    The amount you spend gets you more panels, which can generate more energy to sell back to the grid. So if you can afford to spend more up front, it can save you money in the long run. If you can’t, you might find them more difficult to repay, which will take you longer to do so.

    4. Power battery is an extra expense

    A power bank, which allows you to store excess power to sell back to the grid or use later, is a great investment. In fact, it’s necessary if you want to get the most out of your solar panels. But it will cost you more, so take that into account when getting a quote.

    Bathroom with blue walls, white tiles and oval bathtub

    Image credit: Future PLC

    5. Solar panels don’t heat your water

    Solar panels are generally used to generate electricity. You can get an extra kit to heat the water, but don’t expect that to cut costs if you have a gas boiler.

    To go totally electric, using solar power for all your home needs, you’ll have to ditch gas. That can mean a new furnace and a new air-pump boiler that costs thousands more.

    6. Cleaning fees can be high

    You will need to factor in the costs of cleaning the solar panels. Although you can do it yourself, it is advisable to pay a professional for proper cleaning and inspection every year. As the Eco Experts say, “When you see the aesthetic and financial benefits of cleaning and maintaining your panels, you’ll understand why it’s worth it.”

    Brick cottage with solar panels on the roof

    Photo credit: Getty Images/Claire Plumridge

    Solar Panel Problems

    1. They produce little or no electricity

    This can be a common problem. Generally, these are probably dirty panels. Eco Experts say, “Even if you clean your panels of major dirt and debris, dust and particles can still reduce your solar panel’s output levels by up to 25%.”

    So getting your optical cleaning pole with a sponge to clean them is a good first step to improving efficiency. If that doesn’t work, you may have to pay for a professional cleaning and inspection.

    It’s possible that faulty wiring or a bird clutter has damaged a panel, so it’s important to find this to begin the repair or replacement process.

    2. Solar panels can crack

    A crack in a solar panel can be a major problem. This can mean that the waterproof seal that would otherwise protect the electronics from rain can be compromised. In this case, the panel could break due to water damage, if it has not already done so. Replacing a panel cover is much less expensive than an entire unit due to electrical damage. It is therefore important to work quickly.

    Contact your solar panel supplier to see if you can still claim your warranty, which will allow you to have it repaired at no or minimal cost to you. Most solar panels come with a 25 year warranty, so you should be covered over time.

    The problem comes from the type of damage. If something has fallen on the panel, the warranty may not cover it. If it’s cracked due to weather damage – going from hot to cold quickly perhaps – then you’re more likely to be covered.

    Pigeons on the roof of the house next to the solar panel

    Photo credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

    3. Birds and animals can nest in solar panels

    Birds nesting under your panels are a big problem. They use their droppings to bind nests which can be corrosive and since there is wiring under the panels it is a very vulnerable place. The best course of action is to have a professional get up there, eliminate nesting birds, and set up cages to prevent them from accessing it in the future.

    Using spikes can help keep them away. Modern bird tips are much more rounded than those of the past, making them non-damaging to birds. But they are still uncomfortable enough to push them away. Install them around panels to ensure they are free of animals.

    Our guide on how to protect solar panels from pigeons offers more advice.

    Once a nest appears, other animals may start making their way into it, so it’s important to get rid of them as soon as you discover their presence. Make sure to remove all traces and ideally block access as well.

    Food is what can attract animals, so if you have any trees nearby that are falling, cut them down or try tying them down so seeds and fruit don’t land on your roof. It’s also beneficial to keep food at ground level, such as garbage cans, inaccessible so that animals of all kinds cannot fall on your solar panels as a potential new home.