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Coal Power vs Solar Power: Which Is More Efficient?

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“Efficiency” refers to numerous things. When we talk about efficiency in energy generation, we consider energy potential conversion, but it is also fuel density and economic efficiency. Coal wins the first two but is unviable since it loses significantly on the third.

However, we have yet to determine what the future holds. We may confront a difficult situation where the only areas left on Earth to harvest coal are inaccessible or too expensive. As a result, coal is less viable than solar energy.

As we contemplate the evolving landscape of energy efficiency, the spotlight on solar energy becomes increasingly relevant. If you’re considering the shift towards a more sustainable and economically viable future, Energy Matters provides a practical step forward. Get FREE solar quotes to explore how solar energy can seamlessly integrate into your vision for a more efficient and environmentally friendly energy generation.

Energy Matters has been a leader in the renewable energy industry since 2005 and has helped over 40,000 Australian households in their journey to energy independence. 

Let us discuss and choose the best quote that suits your needs and budget, and we can connect you with our trusted local installers, who will provide up to 3 FREE quotes for your home and business solar energy system.

Renewable energy vs fuel power stations

Solar energy is a renewable energy source. It uses solar energy to power houses, cars, street lights, and other devices. The utilisation of solar power energy will remain the same. As long as the sun exists, sunlight can be accessed at any time of day. It will be around for millions of years.

On the other hand, coal is a non-renewable energy source. The earth’s coal reserves are finite. As a result, once we deplete fossil fuels, there are no means to replenish them. It will require millions of years to replenish itself.

Check out our page to learn more about the similarities and differences between solar and coal energy.

Carbon emissions are harmful

As a byproduct of burning coal, carbon dioxide is produced. Carbon dioxide is trapped in the atmosphere, where it retains heat. Heat retention produces major climatic shifts, leading to global warming. This poses a major threat to humanity and highlights the importance of transitioning to cleaner energy sources such as solar power plants.

Solar energy, on the other hand, does not emit carbon dioxide or other hazardous gases that could poison the atmosphere. It has little impact on the environment and is a more environmentally friendly option compared to coal power plants.

Furthermore, solar energy does not cause climate change or global warming.

Between 2019 and 2030, CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants will be reduced by 75%. This means that the least efficient “subcritical” coal plants would be phased out completely, as would most “supercritical” plants.

Carbon emissions are harmful

How efficient is solar power compared to coal power plants?

Solar energyFossil fuels
Efficiency rate15% to 22%20% to 40%
CO2 emissions
Long-term availability

In terms of environmental impact, solar energy is the most efficient. However, coal and natural gas are more efficient regarding reliable uses. Solar panels typically have an efficiency of 15% to 22%, which is improving with technological advancements.

In contrast, coal has an efficiency of up to 40% and natural gas efficiency of up to 60% — the remaining energy in fossil fuels and coal is lost in heat and forever.

Because only 22% of the total energy interacting with solar panels is converted to electrical energy, you’ll need more panels if you require more energy production. Installing a solar concentrator or backup batteries to increase the effectiveness of your solar panels and improve their efficiency, allowing for more reliable energy generation.

Solar panels are far more efficient today than they were previously. Photovoltaic technological advancement allows solar panels to capture solar energy from the sun, even on dark and foggy days. The efficiency will be only slightly lower than in regular weather.

As a result, even in poor weather, you will spend less on electricity than fossil fuels.

As a result, technological advancements will improve the efficiency of solar panels in the future. This will also lower costs, increasing demand for solar energy.

Australian Government-Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water Source&Image: Australian Government-Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water

Cost efficient

Solar energy is rapidly becoming the most cost-effective power source. Because coal is a limited resource, and many cities and states seek to phase it out, residents are looking for long-term energy alternatives.

Solar costs are falling due to increased capacity and renewable energy production, while coal costs are rising. Coal power plants must be continually cultivated through mining, where supplies must be discovered, harvested, and transferred. Because of this constant search for replenished sourcing, coal plants will only be able to keep up with falling solar costs if they will always have to purchase mined fuel.

Cost efficient

Solar energy is a clear choice for renewable, environmentally safe energy and a less expensive option when considering coal vs solar. The effects of energy production on the environment and the city’s resources are long-lasting, so it is critical to select the best option for both. Solar energy may be more expensive initially, but the savings outlast the initial investment due to its energy efficiency.

Renewable energy production, such as solar power plants outperforms typical coal plants in terms of cost. Although the cost of solar and wind energy production was initially higher than that of fossil fuels like coal, that price comparison has flipped over the past decades due to the drop in production costs for solar panels and storage systems. This is due, in part, to the fact that as the size of solar panels decreases and production capacity increases, they become more cost-effective.


Solar installations generate inconsistent electricity by definition. They only generate electricity during the day. When it’s cloudy, productivity drops dramatically, affecting solar power plant efficiency. Aside from deciding how many solar panels to utilise in their installation, utilities have no control over how much electricity solar power produces. When everyone gets home at 6 p.m. and cranks up their air conditioning, oven, and TV, they need to make the solar panels produce more electricity. If a storm hits and the electricity produced by the solar power plant suddenly reduces, the utility must find a solution to replace the void.

Solar must be combined with a cost-effective storage option to thrive as something we rely on daily truly, addressing the intermittency issue and improving the coal vs solar comparison.

We know exactly what we need, and the solar industry is working hard to make solar plus storage a viable option for all homeowners. The focus on storage enhances the efficiency of solar energy usage and reduces reliance on other sources such as coal.

Solar storage batteries complement PV solar, and the solar industry is working feverishly to create batteries in response to this challenge, seeking ways to enhance storage capacity while lowering prices. Tesla’s Powerwall2 is a prime example of where solar batteries are heading: a sleek, easy-to-install piece of equipment that is reasonably priced for what it contains. Many homeowners in high-cost places already incorporate batteries with their solar installations, promoting overall energy efficiency.

On the other hand, coal-fired power plants are ubiquitous due to their dependability and controllability. Utilities may increase or decrease production as needed, and they will always know exactly how much power will be produced, regardless of whether the weather is sunny, wet, snowy, or anything in between.

Solar technology vs. natural resources

As a result, technological advancements will increase the efficiency of solar panels. This will also lower costs, increasing demand for solar energy and further reducing the reliance on coal.

Fossil fuels are found in many places in the world. They are also inexpensive to mine. However, these natural resources are in danger of extinction because man has been using them excessively without regard for conservation. Recognising this, the shift towards solar energy as a renewable resource is gaining momentum, emphasising the importance of coal vs solar comparison.

Solar energy, on the other hand, is collected from the sun using a technique known as photovoltaic technology. For example, solar panels and power plants are outside to gather the sun’s rays. The sunlight is subsequently transformed into energy that may be used in various ways. By harnessing the virtually limitless power of the sun, solar energy ensures long-term availability and environmental sustainability, unlike coal.

Technology is constantly evolving. As a result, the disadvantages of solar energy will be solved soon. Due to technological advancements, solar energy will soon become the most reliable and beneficial renewable energy source. The same cannot be said about fossil fuels like coal, highlighting the overall superiority of solar power plants over coal power plants when considering coal vs solar efficiency and environmental impact.

Advantages and disadvantages of solar and coal-based power systems

Highly efficient vs less efficient

Efficiency is a critical factor when comparing solar and coal-based power systems. Solar power systems harness energy from the sun through photovoltaic (PV) panels, which convert sunlight into electricity. With its abundant sunshine, Australia has excellent solar energy potential, making solar power systems highly efficient in many parts of the country.

On the other hand, coal-based power systems generate electricity by burning coal to produce steam that drives a turbine to generate electricity. However, coal-based power systems are known to be less efficient, as a significant portion of the energy is lost during the combustion process and through transmission and distribution.

Environmentally friendly vs negative environmental impact

Another crucial aspect to consider is the environmental impact of solar and coal-based power systems. Solar power systems are widely considered environmentally friendly, as they produce electricity without emitting harmful greenhouse gases or air pollutants. Solar power is a clean and renewable energy source that helps reduce carbon emissions, air pollution, and the overall environmental footprint, highlighting the advantages of solar power plants over coal power plants in terms of environmental impact.

On the other hand, coal-based power systems are notorious for their negative impact on the environment. Burning coal releases large amounts of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and other pollutants, contributing to air pollution, climate change, and other environmental problems. Coal mining can also harm land, water, and wildlife habitats, emphasising the overall superiority of solar power plants in terms of environmental friendliness.

Minimal operating costs in the long run vs expensive to maintain

Cost is also a crucial factor when comparing solar and coal-based power systems. Solar power systems require an upfront investment in PV panels, inverters, other equipment, and installation costs. However, once installed, solar power systems have minimal operating costs and can generate electricity for decades, making them cost-effective in the long run. The cost of solar panels has also decreased significantly in recent years, making solar power more affordable and accessible to consumers.

On the other hand, coal-based power systems require ongoing costs for coal mining, transportation, and maintenance of power plants, which can be expensive, and the prices of coal can be subject to fluctuations in the global market.

Decentralised vs centralised

In addition to efficiency, environmental impact, and cost, there are other factors to consider when comparing solar and coal-based power systems. Solar power systems are decentralised, meaning they can be installed on rooftops, in remote areas, and even on mobile platforms, providing energy access to a wide range of locations. Solar power also has the potential to create local job opportunities in manufacturing, installation, and maintenance, promoting coal energy efficiency and local economic growth.

On the other hand, coal-based power systems are centralised, requiring large power plants that are often located far away from population centers, leading to energy transmission losses and higher costs for infrastructure development. Coal mining can also have social and health impacts on local communities, including displacement, pollution, and health issues for workers and nearby residents, highlighting the advantages of solar power plants over coal power plants in terms of decentralisation and community benefits.

The different challenges faced by solar and coal power systems in Australia

Over the years, the country has relied on solar and coal power systems to meet its growing energy demands. However, these two sources of energy generation face different challenges that impact their performance and efficiency.

1. Solar power systems

Solar power systems have gained popularity due to the country’s abundant sunshine and favorable climate conditions. However, there are several challenges that solar power systems face, including


Solar power generation depends on the availability of sunlight, making it an intermittent energy source. Cloudy weather, short days during winter, and shading from tall buildings or trees can significantly impact the performance of solar power systems, leading to reduced energy output.


Although solar panels have decreased over the years, the initial installation cost of solar power systems can still be expensive. This can be a barrier to widespread adoption, particularly for low-income households or businesses with limited capital.

Grid integration

Solar power systems need to be integrated into the existing power grid, which can be challenging due to technical and regulatory issues. These issues include grid stability, power quality, and grid connection requirements, which can add complexity and cost to the installation process.


Solar power systems generate electricity during the day when demand may be low, and excess energy is often fed back to the grid. However, storing solar energy during times of low or no sunlight can be challenging and expensive, requiring additional equipment such as batteries.

To overcome these challenges, several strategies can be employed. 

First, advancements in solar panel technology, such as improved efficiency and increased durability, can help mitigate the impact of intermittency and increase the overall performance of solar power systems. 

Second, financial incentives and government policies, such as subsidies or feed-in tariffs, can help reduce the upfront costs of installing solar power systems, making them more accessible to a wider range of consumers. 

Third, investing in energy storage technologies, such as batteries or pumped hydro, can help store excess solar energy for use during times of low sunlight, improving the reliability of solar power systems. Finally, closer collaboration between solar power system manufacturers, regulators, and utilities can help streamline grid integration and resolve technical issues, ensuring solar power systems’ smooth and efficient operation.

2. Coal power systems

Coal has been a dominant source of electricity generation in Australia for many years. However, coal power systems face their own set of challenges, including

Environmental concerns

Coal is a fossil fuel that emits greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change and air pollution. Coal power systems are under increasing pressure to reduce their environmental impact, and compliance with stringent environmental regulations can add costs and complexity to coal power operations.

Resource availability

Although Australia has significant coal reserves, there are concerns about the long-term availability of coal as a fuel source. Depletion of coal reserves, increased mining costs, and environmental concerns related to coal mining practices can impact the sustainability of coal power systems in the long run.

Aging Infrastructure

Many coal power plants in Australia are aging, and maintaining their reliability and efficiency can take time and effort. Retrofitting older plants with modern emissions control technologies or investing in new, more efficient coal power plants can require significant capital investments.

Market uncertainty

The energy market in Australia is undergoing significant changes, with an increasing focus on renewable energy and a transition towards a low-carbon economy. This can create market uncertainties for coal power systems, including changing energy prices, policy shifts, and shifting consumer preferences, which can impact their financial performance and long-term viability.

To address these challenges, coal power systems can adopt various strategies. 

First, investing in advanced emissions control technologies can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, ensuring compliance with environmental regulations. 

Second, exploring alternative fuel sources, such as renewable biomass or waste-derived fuels, can help diversify the fuel supply and mitigate concerns about coal resource availability. 

Third, upgrading and modernising aging coal power plants can improve their efficiency and reliability, reducing operational costs and extending their lifespan.

Additionally, diversifying the revenue streams by exploring opportunities for carbon capture and storage (CCS) or repurposing coal power plants for other applications, such as hydrogen production, can enhance their economic viability.

Coal power systems can explore collaborations with renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, to achieve a more balanced and sustainable energy mix. This can include co-firing biomass or using hybrid systems that combine coal and renewable energy sources to optimise energy generation while reducing environmental impact.

In conclusion, why is solar power superior to coal power?

Coal is a major source of pollution and causes irreversible environmental damage. They also directly impact the land and water where they are removed. It is also not renewable and will likely run out before too long.

Solar energy is less harmful to the environment than coal. It helps to offset electricity costs while also protecting against rising utility prices. The best part is that it is infinitely renewable. 

Solar power is a better alternative to the environmental impact of solar electricity than coal power. For perceived reliability, many consumers choose fossil fuels; oil, coal, and natural gas have a higher energy density (the amount of stored energy per unit volume) than solar power.

On the other hand, investing in a battery for solar storage allows you to tap into energy even when the sun isn’t shining and helps give predictability.

Energy Matters is committed to educating and raising awareness about the benefits of renewable energy. Our goal is to empower Australians to make informed choices about their energy use and to help create a cleaner, brighter future for us all. 

Still can’t afford to switch to solar power?

Are you considering getting solar panels but are currently short on funds? You can still invest wisely, and Energy Matters can help you. 

Powow and Energy Matters have teamed up to provide consumers with an alternative to switching to solar power and battery storage. 

The biggest obstacle to installing solar and battery storage is typically finance. With Powow’s PPA and VPP, our customers will have a $0 upfront option and financial stability in the uncertain energy market.

Get up to 3 obligation-free quotes by getting in touch with us right away. Find out what payment plan options suit your needs and budget!

Check out our page for Powow: Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) and Virtual Power Plant (VPP).