Green Energy Technology

Eight Myths and Misconceptions about Solar Power

Solar power production in the United States is growing exponentially, up an astounding 139,000 percent in the last decade. The drop in solar hardware costs and financial incentives to go solar have fueled this growth. But many American homeowners remain reluctant to commit to solar, primarily due to outdated, mistaken beliefs about solar energy. Here we debunk eight of the most common solar myths and misconceptions.

  1. Having a solar system means that I am no longer on the grid. Not true. Almost all solar installations in the U.S. are “grid tied,” meaning that, in addition to the electricity generated by the solar panels, electricity is also provided over the electrical grid to the installation site. So, when the sun goes down, electricity flows from the grid to meet all of my electrical needs. On a sunny day, my solar system may generate more electricity than I need. This excess electricity flows from my home or business to the grid, a process called “net metering.” My electrical utility then credits my account for the net-metered solar power that I have provided to the grid. This net-metered electricity helps the utility to meet the demand during high-usage periods, and it reduces the amount of electricity that the utility must generate or purchase over the grid to meet power obligations to its customers. Grid-tied solar installations allow the utilities and their solar customers to have a symbiotic relationship, helping one another out during times of electrical demand.
  2. If I have a solar system, I also have to buy lots of storage batteries or a generator, for when the sun goes down. As explained above, this is almost never the case. According to Stephen Lacey, Senior Editor of GreentechMedia.com, “Over the last decade and a half, battery storage went from being the core enabler of solar PV (photovoltaic) to a marginal technology. Battery-based systems now only represent around 1 percent of yearly solar installations in America and throughout the world.”
  3. Having a solar system means that I have to make sacrifices to my lifestyle, foregoing modern conveniences. Again, because solar homes and businesses are also tied to the grid, there is always adequate power to meet the electrical demands for air conditioning, appliances, and other devices.
  4. Solar power only works when the weather is hot and sunny. Not true. Even on a cloudy, rainy day, a solar system is generating power, although at a reduced level. And, contrary to what most people think, solar panels are actually more efficient at generating electricity when the weather is cold versus hot. According to com, Germany, a country with a relatively cool climate and which gets about as much sunshine as Alaska, remains the world leader in solar energy capacity, generating about 35.5 GW (gigawatts) per year, or 26 percent of the world’s total installed PV capacity.
  5. Solar panels are high maintenance and require constant cleaning. Generally, not true. If you live in a dusty, dry locale, such as Phoenix, it may be necessary to occasionally rinse the panels. But most solar installations require zero maintenance. Rain naturally cleans the panels, which have at least a 30-year life cycle, but commonly function well beyond this period.
  6. Solar panels will damage my roof. Not true. Actually, solar panels shield the roofing shingles from damaging ultraviolet sunlight, and thus extend the life of your roof. Solar panels are mounted on the roof using a rail system, so the panels are raised and never touch the roof. Yes, holes are drilled into the roof to mount the rails, but the roof is then weather-proofed using the same kind of metal flashing that is used for vents, chimneys and windows.
  7. Manufacturing solar panels uses more energy than the panels generate. Not true. The energy payback time (EPBT) is a measure of how long it takes for the energy generated by a particular solar cell to offset the energy consumed when manufacturing it. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, referenced at EnergyTrend.com, “the EPBT is 1 to 4 years depending on the type of the cell (the latest CdTe [cadmium telluride] cell has less than 1 year of EPBT). A solar cell, presumably continuing to function for 30 years, can provide 26 to 29 years of zero-emission electricity.”
  8. Solar power is expensive. Up-front customer costs can be zero or tens of thousands of dollars. There are many financial options for having a solar system installed. Very commonly, the solar installer retains ownership of the system (referred to as a third-party ownership [TPO] arrangement), selling the electricity that the system produces to the customer at a rate lower than the utility, thus recouping their investment. TPO’s usually require no up-front investment by the customer, and are now the most popular solar installation arrangement.

Other customers elect to purchase their solar systems. Even though the costs of solar panels have dropped precipitously, the up-front costs can still be challenging, although many choose to finance these costs. Financial incentives often allow purchasing customers to quickly recoup their solar investment. These incentives include federal, state, and local rebates and tax credits. Some states (mostly in the northeast) also have a mandated solar renewable energy certificate (SREC), or carbon credit, system in place, which reimburses customers, based on the total amount of solar system production.

So, how long does it take for a purchased solar system to pay for itself? According to PureEnergies.com, the length of time can vary widely, depending on the cost of electricity in each state and the incentives in place. In Massachusetts, the payback time is only about four years. But in Washington, the payback time can be as much as 19 years, because of the abundant supply of cheap hydroelectric electricity.

Another financial consideration: according to a study prepared by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, referenced by The Solar Foundation, solar energy systems significantly increase home resale values. In California, for instance, homes with a solar system sold for about $17,000 more than homes without solar.

Solar power is an environmentally friendly, financially rewarding, hassle free energy solution for most homeowners in the United States. And solar energy adoption will continue to grow rapidly. As stated in the November 7, 2014 Mother Jones, “We’re only a few years away from the point where, in most of the United States, there will be no economic reason not to go solar. If you care about slowing climate change or just moving toward cleaner energy, that is a huge deal….It’s been a bit player, but solar power is about to shine.”

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About James Bedsole

James is a Boston-based freelance journalist and medical professional. Raised in Memphis, TN, James moved to Massachusetts in the 1980's and never plans to leave.

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