The promise for harnessing solar energy being hampered by cost, triggered efforts to reduce them. As a consequence low-efficiency, low-cost photovoltaics (PV) panels prevail. Conversely, in the traditional energy sector efficiency is extremely important due to the direct costs associated to fuels. This also affects solar energy due to the radiative forcing caused by the dark solar panels. In this paper we extend the concept of energy payback time by including the effect of albedo change, which gives a better assessment of the system sustainability. We present an analysis on the short and medium term climate forcing effects of different solar collectors in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and demonstrate that efficiency is important to reduce the collector area and cost. This also influences the embodied energy and the global warming potential. We show that a placement of a high concentration photovoltaic thermal solar power station outside of the city using a district cooling system has a double beneficial effect since it improves the solar conversion efficiency and reduces the energy demand for cooling in the city. We also explain the mechanisms of the current economic development of solar technologies and anticipate changes.