Holding a light bulb with sunset power concept

Renewable energy continues to advance, particularly the solar energy market which is dynamic and evolving quickly. Proof you say? Let’s take a look at a few facts first.

  • The solar industry had another record-breaking year in 2015, with installed capacity increasing 16% over 2014 installations.
  • At the same time, solar system prices fell by 17%.
  • For the first ever, solar beat natural gas in new power capacity last year, with solar energy contributing 29.4% of total new electric generation capacity.

Meanwhile, solar technology advances are making systems more energy efficient and resistant to shade from trees and buildings, allowing them to produce a larger percentage of overall household energy consumption. Many solar installers now offer solar system monitoring, so homeowners can view historic and real-time solar system output data. With such a dynamic market and with technology advances, things that were true a few years ago may no longer be true today.

Researching renewable energy

Separating fact from fiction, let’s take a look at a few myths about solar energy that still prevail. Here are the Top 5 myths about renewable energy — specifically solar.

Myth 1: Solar PV systems require a lot of maintenance and upkeep

Man working on a solar renewable energy panel
With no moving parts, grid-tied solar renewable energy electric systems (without batteries) requires virtually no maintenance. Image Credit: LUCARELLI TEMISTOCLE / Shutterstock

With no moving parts, grid-tied solar electric systems (without batteries) requires virtually no maintenance. This is impressive, considering the design life of most solar systems is 25 to 30 years. Most solar panel manufacturers even provide 20 to 30 year warranties, because the technology is so reliable.

It is however recommended to inspect solar panels for dust or debris a couple times a year, and clean them with the garden hose if necessary to ensure optimum energy output. Use caution when viewing or cleaning solar panels from high heights, if they cannot be clearly viewed from the ground. Most solar system owners never do inspect panels for cleanliness or clean them however and their systems continues to perform well.

Most residential solar systems are connected to the electric grid and have no batteries, which makes them more efficient than a system with batteries. Most utility companies across the country have net metering programs to credit solar system owners for feeding solar electricity to the power grid, when the system is generating more than the home consumes at the time.

Batteries decrease the sustainability and efficiency of the solar system, as not all the power is actually captured and used. Like any other kind of battery, solar system batteries do require maintenance and will need to be replaced every five to ten years. They are also bulky and the batteries themselves have an environmental impact, even if they are recycled at the end of their life.

Myth 2: Solar power is very expensive

Although this was a true statement just a decades ago, the cost of solar panels and equipment has plummeted. As solar technology advances, solar energy production is also increasing significantly, allowing the system to produce more of the overall household electricity. Now that solar electricity has grown nearly exponentially in popularity, solar equipment is mass produced, allowing prices to fall significantly.

A similar phenomenon happened with digital cameras, DVD players, and laptops. Although these gadgets were very costly when they first hit the market, prices have since declined dramatically, making them more affordable for many people. Likewise, solar technology is advancing and becoming more efficient as well.

“There are higher efficiency solar panels available on the market now, which come at a slightly lower price [per watt],” says Nir Maimon, CEO of Sol Reliable, a solar installation and green energy solutions company headquartered in Los Angeles. “Average panel efficiency is now 17%-21%, while previously, it was closer to 16%-17% efficiency.”

At the same time, residential electricity rates have also increased over the last decade, especially in certain areas of the country. The financial performance of a solar system is largely dependent on the cost of electricity that a homeowner would otherwise pay. Today, solar energy systems have never been as affordable, or a better investment, especially in certain markets.

Myth 3: Solar panels don’t generate much electricity during the winter

Solar renewable energy panels covered in snow
When the temperature of the solar panels is cooler, they can generate more renewable energy. Image Credit: Bernhard Richter / Shutterstock

Unless you live on the North or South Pole, solar energy systems typically generate a lot of electricity during colder weather, unless they are covered by snow or ice. Despite the angle of the sun being lower in the sky and the days being shorter, solar energy systems can generate significant amounts of electricity throughout the winter months.

This is because solar panels use light, not heat, to generate electricity. When the temperature of the solar panels is cooler, they can generate more renewable energy. Once they reach temperatures around 32 degrees Celsius or 90 degrees Fahrenheit, solar panel output starts to decline. Since panel temperatures are roughly 20 degrees Celsius warmer than ambient temperatures, these temperatures are commonly reached in most climates.

Myth 4: Solar technology is not reliable

Solar PV systems are very reliable and durable throughout its 25 to 30 year design life, requiring few if any repairs. Of course some of this depends on the components by specific companies, as some solar panel and equipment companies offer higher quality products than others.

Solar panels are manufactured to handle extreme weather, including medium-sized hail and falling branches. In fact, the EU Energy Institute found that 90% of solar panels last for 30 years or longer. Because solar electricity is so reliable, it is frequently used to power vital systems, including railroad crossing signals, construction safety signs, aircraft warning lights, and navigational buoys.

Myth 5: I will be off grid and store solar energy in batteries

Most solar homes are still connected to the power grid, for financial and environmental reasons. Most solar systems produce more electricity than is needed during the day. Being connected to the power grid allows homeowners to feed excess daytime electricity to the grid under a program called net metering. Studies show that an average of 20% to 40% of a solar system’s output is fed to the power grid, where it helps to power neighboring houses. Credits appear on the electric bill for energy sold back to the power grid. During overcast weather and at night, solar homes draw power from the grid.

If a home is located in a remote area away from the power grid, a standalone solar system with batteries may be the most practical solution. There is typically a charge for extending the power grid, which can be thousands or even tens of thousands, depending on the distance and other factors. Sometimes stand alone solar systems are more cost-effective to install than extending the power grid, even when taking the costs and upkeep of batteries into account.

Feature image credit: lovelyday12 / Shutterstock

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.