The real problem of solar isn't even efficiency, it's power storage. Other sources of power like coal, hydro and nuclear provide constant levels of power regardless of daytime. Solar is not capable of that, the power output varies throughout the day with dropping entirely at night.
What is needed to get solar competitive is a revolution in power storage.
The technology just isn't there yet. Solar panels are still far too expensive to make and too inefficient to be a truly viable source of energy yet. There's a lot of optimization and innovation needed first. Why it hasn't happened yet? No idea. Might be that it's just a really difficult area to innovate in - I haven't done much with solar cells yet but the little I've touched on at college makes it clear that it's a tough field. But I mean I'm just a college student who isn't even majoring specifically in the field of renewable energy so the fuck do I know? The other possibility is that there hasn't been enough funding, but I don't know much about that.
The plan is to turn some of it into fuel and bury the rest, whatever the geniuses at MIT come up with. But it's on such a small scale now and will takes years to develop fully. What's heartening about the whole thing is that there are innovators working on methods to clean up the atmosphere!
Basically in used up oil and gas fields. Or you make CO2 react with minerals (oxides + CO2 > carbonates). Among others.
And why does turning it into fuel not use more energy than what you get back?
It does, but the thought behind it is that you use renewable sources (solar, wind, geothermal, hydro etc.) to make those fuels. Using fossil fuels to generate electricity to again make the same fuels out of CO2 would be very inefficient, to say the least.
First, it's a question about efficiency. We can never convert hundert percent of any type of energy into usable energy. The second law of thermodynamics (I think, maybe the first one though, thermodynamics never was my strong point) forbids this.
Secondly it's a question about reliability. If our energy source is dependent on weather (which it is for now) we cannot solely rely on it. Of course, if we, say, would have solar panels or something just about everywhere on the planet, we could harvest solar light all the time, somewhere is always day and somewhere it will most likely always be sunny. The next questions in this hypothetical scenario would be about energy storage and transport. And here we will enter the question of efficiency again. We could build huge solar parks in African deserts, if we wouldn't have the sand problem, and try to get all that excess energy to Europe where it's needed. But the how to get it there is a huge problem. And ways to efficiently and effectively store energy are more or less limited too.
Thirdly it's about resources. Now I have no idea whatsoever what materials we need in solar panels and with what processes and kind of waste they're produced and how much energy that takes, but this definitely needs to be considered. It's like with e-mobility. The environment does not really win if the production of an e-car produces more waste and stuff than a petrol car produces in its ten years of usage. Hypothetically, I have no idea how this relation stands in reality.
Fourthly we have to consider also where the energy usually goes. If we would convert all the solar energy into electric energy and from that into artificical light and heat, what happens with the processes that are usually fuelled by the solar light? Here again, have I no idea about what's what, so I can't answer the question, but it does need to be considered. Just like with wind energy we need to consider what's happening with the weather if we take considerable energy out of the wind. Same goes with tidal and geothermal energy. I understand that a lot of sun light simply gets reflected on the atmosphere anyway, and if we could us that part somehow, then this would be no problem at all, but here we again get the transport problem if we ignore the cost and effort problems of how to get solar panels up there.
We are already trying but solar technology still isn't very efficient. Over time it will become cheaper and more efficient but right now would still require large areas of land to be viable. It's much better for micro generation by putting it on people's houses and reducing their energy bills as well as taking power away from the big energy companies.
Eh, you're comparing waste products that don't make that much sense to compare and you're acting like the volume is all that matters. Most of the components in e-waste aren't actually toxic. A lot of the volume they're made up of is glass and aluminum or steel, but the whole panel is considered hazardous waste anyway. Moreover, even the toxic components in solar panels could often be recycled, it's just being done poorly right now. Raising awareness of this is good, it gives people a chance to address the problem. And the problem needs to be addressed eventually, anyway, because we're all using tons of electronics and those all are producing electronic waste.
Nuclear waste is smaller volume, but much much more toxic. Nice thing about that, I suppose, is people are scared enough about it to not want to blithely toss it into the environment.
A lot of it is. There could be better systems in place for this, though. A lot of the toxic materials in solar panels (as in computers and other forms of similar waste) are reclaimable, it's just expensive to reclaim it and we're still taking shortcuts as far as recycling goes. In the long run, this will definitely have to be remedied and it's worth talking about that.
All that said, treating 1 pound of spent nuclear waste as better than 300 pounds of busted solar panel is stupid in the first place. And I'm not against nuclear energy. Just, really folks?
So if I am to understand this correctly, it is the discarded solar panels that would cause all of the pollution. And that brings up a further question, why would someone want to discard their solar panels? The nuclear industry creates all sorts of radioactive waste that has to be disposed of in areas that will be contaminated for several hundred thousand years to come. Not even normal garbage has that problem.
I am just going by memory without looking it up by approximately 1 square meter of direct sunlight will produce 1 kilowatt /hr of electricity per hour. However, the best solar panels are only about 20% to 25% efficient in converting that energy to usable electricity. My semi off grid home is fully solar powered with 16 square meters of panels and it produces about 2kw/hr at peak sunlight.