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 recognize the importance of solar energy in the mix as we move to cleaner energy sources. Despite this, many solar myths can still prevent people from making the switch or considering solar as a serious renewable energy contender. In this article, the aim is to debunk those solar energy myths and show just why solar energy is a worthwhile choice.
The days of expensive solar energy have gone. We now find ourselves in a time when solar energy systems are becoming more and more affordable and starting to overtake fossil fuels - whether on larger farms feeding the grid or smaller installations powering individual homes or communities.
Scientists and engineers are investing more money in solar technology. Significant progress has been made over the past 25 years in improving the energy output from solar.
This is primarily 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 brought us closer to 25%. And then later, in 2017, scientists in Germany achieved 44.5% efficiency4. That's an improvement in solar efficiency of nearly double in less than ten years.
Whereas not entirely down to solar, over the first five months of 2019, the U.K. generated more power from non-polluting clean energy sources than fossil fuels. In the U.S., 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.
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, it supports the electricity grid with this cleaner energy source.
All energy, whether renewable or non-renewable, will combine in the grid. It is not possible to split up the various sources once they enter the system. However, adding more solar energy to the grid reduces the need for other non-renewable 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 in achieving consistent levels of renewables.
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.
Coupled with a solar energy system to store electricity and turn it into usable energy, a solar installation can easily pay for itself over several years. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that the manufacturing energy cost versus the energy production payback typically happens in less than four years2.
So, even if solar does mix with traditional energy, it does not make it non-renewable. A balance is necessary while we transition to more renewable sources.
The more energy from solar systems goes into the grid, the cleaner our energy becomes. Governments, energy companies, and individuals are shifting the balance in favor of renewable energy. As we do, we can look to completely phase out non-renewable energy. For the environmental benefits to our planet and climate, the sooner this happens, the better.
Related read: Environmental Impact of Solar Energy.
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 land5, but that does not mean they waste land. Solar panels require space, and we need to find that space to accelerate renewable energy use.
Generally, for every 1 kW of energy we generate via solar power, we need around 100 square feet of panels8. So, if we consider a 1mW solar PV plant, we will need about 100,000 square feet. This is not a vast amount of space in the grand scheme of things.
All solar farms are subject to rigorous planning. As part of this, low-grade land is prioritized. Additionally, solar farms can co-exist with livestock. Replacing empty land or crops can provide a haven for bees, birds, and other insects and wildlife. This improves pollination and helps crop yields in other fields7.
So, we find the solar myth that solar farms waste land incorrectly. They can actually help farmers to enhance their productivity. It can also allow us to make use of stubborn land while, in measure, supporting natural habitats at the same time.
Perhaps ten or fifteen years ago, we were able to say that the cost of most solar panels was too expensive. However, solar is now a cheaper source of energy than fossil fuels.
We are seeing increased demand and technological developments, which push solar panels' cost of installation down. Those who choose to install solar PV panels can benefit from an affordable solar system and from feeding excess energy into the grid. For many, this means becoming energy self-sufficient and no longer needing to draw power from the grid or pay a utility company, also meaning that the electric bill becomes a thing of the past.
The U.K. government has pledged a significant amount of funding, including £177 million, in order to bring the cost of solar energy technology down. Eventually, these solar incentives 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 while helping to reduce energy costs.
Solar doesn't just help you save on electricity bills. A study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that for every $1 that a solar energy system saves on household electricity bills annually, the value of your home increase by $20. For example, if a solar panel installation reduced your energy bills by $1000, the value of your home would also increase by $20000.
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, there is no way that global warming is a hoax6.
So, those who think 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 favorable than that of climate-polluting fossil fuels.
On Earth, we can generate 89 Petawatts of solar energy making solar energy the most abundant power source in the world10.
In fact, solar energy is now more accessible than ever before. Community solar projects are rising, with businesses and homeowners taking advantage of them. 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 a limited need to worry about long-term maintenance. Of course, large farms will have teams of specialists who monitor systems. This ensures that they operate efficiently as well as helps to identify problems.
Unlike other traditional methods, solar energy does not require individuals who work in the power plants in the same way1 after the solar installers have done their job. The panels will need checks from time to time. However, there is a reduction in the need for maintenance, helping reduce the ongoing cost.
Everyone associates solar energy with the sun. While this is true, solar panels work and harness sunlight when the weather is cloudy. We can rely on solar arrays all year round3, even when it snows.
Solar energy is a highly reliable source of energy. Energy production might drop with less sun; however, the solar modules will continue to operate. Furthermore, solar batteries and other forms of energy storage can collect excess electricity at peak generation times for use when cooler temperatures might reduce capacity.
Perhaps surprisingly, solar energy generation is known to improve when the temperatures are low. This is because the electronics in PV systems function more efficiently during lower temperatures.
If we take solar energy seriously, we need to understand what makes solar energy green. Solar energy is improving, solar costs are coming down, and it's cleaner and greener, all making it a worthwhile technology. More countries use solar than ever before to generate more energy. From affordability to accessibility, solar energy is a hugely important part of our energy future. Nobody can argue with that.
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