Which is More Efficient, Solar Energy or Fossil Fuels?

Solar Energy or Fossil Fuels

Solar energy and fossil fuels are two competing energy sources for your home. Solar energy is gathered via solar panels while fossil fuels come in the form of natural gas or coal. Both types of energy are efficient and reliable, but it depends on how you measure them.

In general, solar energy costs less in the long run and will never run out. Fossil fuels have a lower upfront cost along with higher energy density that isn’t impacted by weather. This will compare the two and show you which is most efficient depending on your perspective.

Renewable Energy Source


Solar energy is a form of renewable energy because it relies on the sun. According to the most recent reports, the sun will use up its hydrogen and grow unstable in 5 billion years.

This means that solar panels will be able to reliably capture energy for your lifetime, the lifetime of your children, and their children, and so on for a very long time.

The energy is renewable because it’s always available and doesn’t require an extended amount of time to reform or recharge. On the side of fossil fuels, it takes millions of years for new fuel to be created.

In truth, many estimates show that fossil fuels will run out within our lifetime. While there is still time left where we can enjoy the advantages of natural gas and coal, it likely won’t be long before solar panels are required to power your home.

Availability and Reliability

solar panel installation

While solar energy will be around for billions of years, one problem is that it’s not available 24 hours a day. You can hold the energy in batteries and other similar vessels.

However, if the energy runs out and it’s dark, then you have to wait until the sun shines to start getting power again.

Compare this to fossil fuels. It can be pitch black and you can still power your home, car, or generator with fossil fuels. Not only that, but fossil fuels are typically portable.

Consider a gas canister. You can easily fill a canister at the gas station and then bring it home to use on your generator. There are portable solar panels, but they are currently best for charging smartphones and tablets.

While solar energy is catching up in this regard and there are many ways to store the energy for later use, fossil fuels are technically more reliable and available since they can be used 24 hours a day without the need for preparation.

However, if you look at reliability as a measurement of how many systems the energy can run, then they are tied. Both are able to run your heating, cooling, water, and lights. If your solar panel system is properly installed and you measured everything correctly, then you should have enough energy for all your appliances.

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Energy Efficiency

electricity pylon

Energy efficiency, also known as energy density, is a measurement of how much energy is produced per square meter.

Solar energy continues to improve as photovoltaic panels are able to capture more energy from the sun. That being said, the current efficiency rate for solar energy is around 15-20%.

Fossil fuels have a better efficiency rating thus far. Some reports say that they are around 22-40% while others go up to 60%. It also depends on whether you’re talking about coal or natural gas.

In either case, it’s clear that you can get more energy from fossil fuels than sunlight at the moment. This is why most cars still use fossil fuels instead of solar energy.

The energy is easier to harness and there is more of it per square meter, but there are downsides to using this strong energy source as you will see in the next section.

Carbon Dioxide Pollution

environment pollution

What happens when fossil fuels are burned? Even in their cleanest form, fossil fuels release a significant amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

This is a leading cause of pollution. Not only do fossil fuels contaminate the air from wherever they are burned, this also damages the extraction site as the land and water are polluted and stripped.

Solar energy doesn’t produce any carbon dioxide. There is nothing being extracted or burned. The panels simply capture the energy from the sun and transport it into batteries, appliances, and other systems around your house. If going green and reducing your carbon footprint is important to you, then solar energy is far friendlier to the planet.


energy cost

This one is tough because it depends on perspective. Fossil fuels are definitely the cheaper out of the two right now.

The majority of homes are built to accommodate fossil fuels, so there’s no reason to buy extra equipment. Natural gas is also quite inexpensive.

On the other hand, solar panels usually require a low five-figure investment of about $10,000 to $15,000. Larger homes might require an even bigger investment.

At the same time, you won’t have to pay for energy as long as the solar panels generate enough for your home. Many homes use a combination of fossil fuels and solar energy to ensure that power is always available.

Due to having no-cost energy, the panels will pay for themselves and you might even generate enough energy to sell back to the power company. Solar panels can break and may need repairs, but even with this consideration, you are usually spending less in the long term. However, it can be 7-20 years in general before these panels begin paying for themselves.

Once again, it’s all about your perspective. Do you prefer something that is more affordable today, or are you willing to invest in energy that will eventually be more affordable?

Final Thoughts

light bulb

Efficiency is a tricky word and it depends on how you look at these energy sources. Fossil fuels are more affordable in the short term, are more portable, and can be used at any hour of the day.

They also produce more energy per square meter. At the same time, solar energy can power your whole home, costs less in the long term, is slowly becoming more portable, and is infinitely renewable for billions of years while fossil fuels are running short.

While solar energy produces less power than fossil fuels, you have to consider the availability of the sun and the fact that solar panels are consistently improving to turn more of the sun’s rays into energy. Fossil fuels have their advantages, but with that come some steep disadvantages with pollution and unsustainability.

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