Top 5 Solar Energy Myths
When it comes to solar energy, there’s a lot of misinformation. Even though it has been around for decades, some common solar energy myths still prevent consumers from taking advantage of solar energy generation, tax credits, and more.
We’re here to set the record straight. To put it simply, solar is a cleaner alternative energy source that’s changing the way we generate energy for good. In 2021, more than 96% of new energy generation will come from wind and solar sources.
That’s good news, because demand for solar energy is growing, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. In 2019 alone, 90% of Americans wanted to see more solar energy generation, and almost half have seriously considered adding solar panels to their homes.
While demand continues to grow, we wanted to take a moment to debunk some of the most common solar energy myths that still exist today.
Myth #1: Solar Energy Is Unreliable
This is one of the biggest solar energy myths.
The truth is that solar energy is reliable, even more so than coal and natural gas.
In an emergency event, natural disasters can severely disrupt fossil fuel operations. It takes a lot of manpower to bring these operations back online. If there’s a natural gas or oil spill, that not only disrupts the power supply but also pollutes the environment around it.
With solar energy, it’s much safer and easier to bring solar panels back online than it is to fix pipelines. In areas commonly affected by disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes, and tornados, solar provides consistent energy production and stability where it matters most.
Even solar panels are reliable. From 2000 to 2015, the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) did a reliability study of more than 50,000 solar panels. In the 15-year period, only 25 panels failed. With advances in solar panel manufacturing, they are now not only more efficient but also more resilient.
What most people outside of the renewable industry misunderstand is that solar energy is variable, which does not mean unreliable.
Variable means that solar can’t be dispatched or turned on and off. The energy must be absorbed into the supply, transmitted along the line, or stored for later use. If not, it’s wasted.
While it’s true there may be days where we don’t capture as much power from the sun (or capture too much of it), there is still non-variable energy generation happening in the background to support solar availability — such as hydroelectric and geothermal energy.
This brings us to the biggest “what-if” question about solar energy’s variability.
What if the weather is bad?
During the winter or under overcast skies, solar panels still capture sunlight. In some cases, panels actually perform better when it’s cool and sunny.
Plus, solar panels are waterproof, so heavy rains actually help improve their efficiency by washing away dirt and pollen.
We got Robbie McNamara, our National Renewables Business Development Manager, to weigh in on how weather affects the performance of solar panels.
“One of the things most people don’t know is that solar panels actually work most efficiently in cold, sunny environments,” he said. “While solar is popular in hot, sunny states like Florida, Texas, and Arizona, the heat can actually affect efficiency.”
However, what if the weather is really bad? Remember how we said that solar panels are as durable as they are reliable? Most solar panels are manufactured with a wind resistance of 2,400 pascals (the unit in which solar panel wind resistance is measured). That’s strong enough to withstand a Category 4 hurricane.
Solar panels can also be manufactured to be even more wind-resistant, depending on where they are installed. In 2017, when Hurricane Maria caused an 11-month blackout in Puerto Rico, solar energy was the least affected, with some systems operating at 100% capacity just days after the storm.
Myth #2: Solar Panels Automatically Let You Run Off-Grid
This one is simple. The answer is no. At least, not automatically.
Most people think solar panels mean you can run off the grid right away. However, most residential installs are grid-tied. This means that the energy your solar panels generate is sent to the power grid. Then, the utility company credits you for the generated power.
You can generate your own energy and you can use it, but that doesn’t mean you’re completely self-sufficient. If the power goes out, yours will, too.
To run an off-grid system, you’ll require a battery bank to provide dedicated energy storage and an inverter to help manage power flow. While off-grid systems can be a little pricey, you can rest assured that as long as you have enough energy stored in your batteries, you will have power in an emergency event.
Myth #3: Solar Energy Is Too Expensive
This is another one of the biggest solar energy myths. It might’ve been true 20 years ago, but it’s no longer the case today. With energy tax credits, subsidies, and rebates, it’s now much more affordable to invest in solar energy than ever before.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the average price of a solar energy system actually fell 70% from 2010 to 2020. Today, depending on local, state, and federal rebates, solar installs can pay for themselves in four to nine years.
National Renewables Business Development Manager Robbie McNamara says that solar is about more than just the energy savings. It’s also about resale value.
“Solar for a homeowner is a great investment. Especially if they have local rebates available to them outside of the federal ITCs,” he said. “In most cases, not only will the solar array cost less per month when financed than their current electricity bill, but it’ll also improve the value of their home if they ever want to sell.”
Before incentives kick in, homeowners can expect to spend anywhere from $10,000 to $18,000 for an average 6kW installation. Even if the homeowner isn’t expecting to reap the full benefits of their solar install over the next 10 years, they’ll still see an immediate increase in their home’s value. Guess you could say that solar energy myths about affordability don’t hold value anymore.
Myth #4: High-Efficiency Panels are the Best Option
If you’re dropping $10,000 on a new solar install, you probably want the best-performing solar panels on the market. Here’s why that’s wrong.
High efficiency doesn’t always mean high quality.
Efficiency is just one feature to look for in a solar panel. Warranties, panel degradation, and panel durability are all important factors, and sometimes more important than efficiency itself.
“You get what you pay for,” McNamara added. “While lower-priced panels might seem like the best option, you need to consider the efficiency and the power output degradation over the life of the module. If high-priced panels are over budget, there are always great, reputable, middle-of-the-road modules that give you a great power warranty at an affordable price.”
Another area to consider is space.
Because high-efficiency panels are generally the most expensive options available, you might have to install fewer panels to meet your budget. In the long term, it might actually be more cost-effective to install a higher number of moderately efficient panels — as long as you have the space for it.
Myth #5: Solar Panels are Bad for the Environment
Fun fact, solar panels can last up to 25 years. Even better, glass makes up 90% of most PV panels and other recyclable materials. As an added bonus, some manufacturers will even recycle retired panels for you free of charge.
While thin-film photovoltaics do contain some heavy metals, numerous studies like this one have found that these metals do not leach into the environment even under emergency events such as storms or fires.
Combine the recyclability of solar panels with their emission-free energy production, and it’s easy to see that solar is good for the environment.
Interested in solar? We can help.
Got a renewable energy project on the horizon in the residential, commercial, industrial, or utility market? Contact our Renewable Energies Division, and they can help you with anything from supplying materials to providing financing options on your next project.
For residential and commercial solar projects, contact us at Res-Sales@cityelectricsupply.com.
For utility solar projects, contact us at UtilityRenewableSales@cityelectricsupply.com.
If you’d like to see us in person, we can help you with that, too. Just stop by any of our 500+ locations and ask our knowledgeable staff about renewable energy. With our nationwide distribution network, we can truly serve as your one-stop shop for all things renewable.