Solar energy facts and myths. We have all heard of them but how many of us believe them?
In fact, how many of us completely disregard them?
The reality is that most recognise the importance of solar energy in the mix as we move to cleaner energy sources.
Despite the various solar energy facts and myths, the reality is that the days of expensive solar energy have gone. We now find ourselves in a time where solar power systems are becoming more and more affordable.
Therefore, they are now starting to overtake fossil fuels. Whereas not entirely down to solar, over the first five months of 2019 the UK generated more power from non-polluting clean energy sources than fossil fuels. In the US reports state that April was the first month the same occurred, ever. Elsewhere in the world, India is now investing more in solar than coal.
Whether you want to do your bit for the planet or reduce your electricity bill, solar energy is a serious contender.
Scientists and engineers are investing more money in solar technology. Significant progress has been made over the past 25 years improving the energy output from solar.
This is mostly down to improvements in the efficiency of solar energy. Solar energy efficiency is how much of the sun’s energy is actually converted into heat or electricity. Way back in the 1960s, Les Hoffman created a solar cell with an efficiency of around 14%. Later in the 2000s, new microelectronic materials bought us closer to 25%2. And then later in 2017 scientists in Germany achieved 44.5% efficiency6. That’s an improvement in solar efficiency of nearly double in less than 10 years.
Of course, reversing damage to the environment is vital. One way we can help remove our need for C02 polluting fuels is to accelerate the transition to solar energy. In turn, supporting the electricity grid with this cleaner energy source. Despite this, a whole host of solar myths can still put people off making the switch. In this article, the aim is to debunk those solar energy myths and show just why solar energy is a worthwhile choice.
All energy, whether it is renewable or non-renewable will combine in the grid7. It is not possible to split up the various sources once they enter the system. However, if we add more solar energy to the grid, it reduces the need for other energy sources. We can only consider this to be a good thing.
Many of us desire 100% renewable energy. However, the variability of solar generation on a large scale can present problems achieving consistent levels of renewables3.
However, people can guarantee 100% renewables off-grid. We can achieve this via independent solar PV systems. By installing solar panels on roofs and not drawing electricity from the grid homes can achieve 100% renewable energy.
So, even if solar does mix with traditional energy, it does not make it a non-renewable. A balance is necessary whilst we transition to more renewable sources.
The more solar energy that goes into the grid the cleaner our energy becomes. Governments, energy companies and individuals are shifting the balance in favour of renewable energy. As we do we can look to completely phasing out non-renewable energy. For the planet and our climate the sooner this happens the better.
If we want to build solar farms that can contribute to the energy needs of whole countries then we need space. Yes, solar farms are often built on agricultural land but that does not mean they waste land. Solar panels require space and to accelerate renewable energy use we need to find that space8.
In general, for every 1 kW of energy we generate via solar power, we need around 100 square feet of panels11. So, if we consider a 1mW solar PV plant, then we will need around 100,000 square feet. In the grand scheme of things, this is not a huge amount of space.
All solar farms are subject to rigorous planning. As part of this, low-grade land is prioritised. Additionally, solar farms can co-exist with livestock. When replacing empty land or crops they can provide a haven for bees and birds as well as other insects and wildlife. This improves pollination and helps crop yields in other fields10.
So, we find the solar energy myth that solar farms waste of land incorrect. They can actually help farmers to enhance their productivity. It can also help us to make use of stubborn land whilst, in measure, supporting natural habitats at the same time.
Perhaps ten or fifteen years ago, we were able to say that solar energy was too expensive. However, solar is now a cheaper source of energy than fossil fuels.
We are seeing increased demand and developments in the technology and that pushes costs down12. Those who choose to install solar panels can benefit not only from an affordable system but also from feeding excess energy into the grid.
The UK government has pledged a significant amount of funding, including £177 million, in order to bring the cost of solar energy technology down. Eventually, this will feed through to end customers who will then benefit from making savings. Innovative feed-in tariffs provide a further incentive. Solar installations can earn money whilst helping to reduce energy costs.
There are still people out there who believe it is a hoax. Despite this, scientists are proving that climate change is down to human activity. As 97% of climate scientists believe this, then there is no way that global warming is a hoax9.
So, those people who think that solar energy is pointless should think differently. These scientists are experts in their fields. Therefore, we should take action to counteract global warming.
Another solar energy myth is that solar energy is inaccessible. On the contrary solar energy is a cost-effective, electricity generation solution. The cost is now less than that of fossil fuels. The economics of solar energy is now more favourable than that of climate polluting fossil fuels13.
On earth, we have the ability to generate 89 Petawatts of solar energy15. This makes solar energy the most abundant source of power in the world.
In fact, solar energy is now more accessible than ever before. Community solar projects are on the rise with businesses and homeowners taking advantage of it. There are also some excellent examples of schools using solar energy.
Solar energy requires land and it also requires a solar installer. However, once we install solar PV panels there is limited need to worry about long term maintenance4. Of course, large farms will have teams of specialists who monitor systems. This ensures that they operate efficiently as well as help to identify problems.
Unlike other traditional methods, solar energy does not require individuals who work on the power plants in the same way. The panels will need checks from time to time. However, there is a reduction in the need for maintenance helping reduce the ongoing cost1.
Everyone associates solar energy with the sun. While this is true, they still work and harness sunlight when the weather is cloudy. We can rely on solar energy all year round5, even when it snows.
Solar energy is an extremely reliable source of energy. Energy production might drop slightly with less sun however they will continue to operate.
Perhaps surprisingly, solar energy generation is known to improve when the temperatures are low. This is because electronics function more efficiently during lower temperatures.
If we are to take solar energy seriously, then we need to understand what makes solar energy green. Solar energy is improving and that has made it a worthwhile technology. More countries use solar than ever before. From affordability to accessibility solar energy is a hugely important part of our energy future. Nobody can argue with that.
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|Sterman, J. D. and Sweeney, L. B. (2002), Cloudy skies: assessing public understanding of global warming. Syst. Dyn. Rev., 18: 207-240. doi:10.1002/sdr.242|
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|U.S. Community Solar Outlook 2017. Wood Mackenzie, February 2017.|
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