I know that this is a basic question and that everybody is basically talking about that, but since there is a discussion about that every now and then, maybe we should make an end to it here. Solar panels, although expensive and usually constructed in a not-economically-friendly way, will last you for decades. In that time they will gather energy efficiently and reliably. Moreover, since they need no other fuel to operate, they will operate very environmentally friendly. They are easy to maintain and unlike wind turbines they do not harm any animals. They do require some space and plants and trees could grow there, but usually it does not take substantial amounts of space. So it is quite compact as well.
What about efficiency?
Many people and critics in general complain a lot about it’s efficiency. They are correct, it is not the best. They could, in theory produce 10 times more electricity than they do. However, things get a bit tricky here. See, it is always like that with electricity. We can also save a lot of power if we kno how to use electricity better. When we have a light on, only 5% of the electricity is transformed into light. The rest is usually transformed into the heat. So even here the efficiency is not good. I don’t even want to start to discuss bad energy efficiency of other fuels.
This means that it may really transform more sun into electricity, but the technology is not there yet. But that’s ok! Because current levels of efficiency are already enough for operation.
Some rare materials are used in construction of solar panels. That creates a problem because this makes us mine more and this is not only environmentally unfriendly, but also uses up our finite amount of rare resources. That is correct, but so do other sources. Even wind turbines need special rare materials, so once again alternatives are not better at all!