Demystifying solar and dispelling the myths
It will come as no surprise to many of you, that political, cultural, commercial and scientific agendas all come into play when a discussion of energy and the environment arises. Everyone is entitled to form an opinion but, as they say, they’re not entitled to create their own facts. Here, we try to shine some light (pun intended) on the subject of solar power to correct errors, distortions, fables and outright falsehoods promoted by those with competing interests.
Cost Efficiency Myths
Solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies have declined in price every year since they were introduced. PV has never been more affordable than it is right now. This is the exact opposite of oil, gas and coal sources, which become more expensive and less abundant with every ton that is burned. PV solar panels operate during peak daytime load periods, when oil, coal and natural-gas-fired electricity is at its greatest demand and most expensive. In fact, in an efficiently designed PV system, the panels can actually be returning excess power to the grid when it is most needed and that’s what makes the electric meter in a solar-powered building run backwards, generating credit instead of cost.
Reliability & Efficiency Myths
Solar panels have no moving parts and do not require regular maintenance. The recommendation is to clean the panels annually by hosing them off, although many owners let the rain do the job for them. District Sun includes a five-year annual maintenance plan in its installation contract, so you’re covered! Besides, solar systems come with monitoring software that allow you to spot any degradation in power generation.
Some claim that we will run out of rare materials like indium, much as we are depleting the world’s oil reserves. But that is simply not true. Indium, silicon, gallium and other elements are basic chemical elements found in the periodic table and, as such, are indestructible. They cannot run out, merely change shape, location and application. There will always be as much indium on earth as there has ever been, and it can be recycled. (There is three times as much indium in the earth’s crust than silver, but no one claims that we will run out of silver.) In addition, manufacturers have managed to halve the thickness of thin film solar cells in recent years and in the process greatly reduce the amount of material needed.
Totally false. The energy payback for silicon solar (photovoltaic) cells is under four years, and in some studies under two years. For thin film solar cells the energy payback is less than one year! After that period, both energy and carbon dioxide is saved and accumulated during the remaining life span of the solar cell (often 25 years). This makes solar cells extremely environmentally friendly.
Whether you believe in global warming or not, and most people do, photovoltaic solar energy is a very attractive way of generating your own electricity at a low predictable cost. It is probably the cheapest way to generate electricity in sunny regions and brings energy independence to individuals, corporations and countries alike. It is also a potential job creator. Global warming, believe it or not, has nothing to do with the benefits of solar energy.