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5 myths about solar power – and the real facts

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Solar energy and the solar industry have exploded in the last decade, and is today an established and competitive renewable energy source. Despite this (or maybe because of this), solar energy has been surrounded by myths, rumors and false facts that has dimmed the sunny picture. Here are the five most common solar energy myths – and the real facts.

Myth 1: More energy is needed to manufacture a solar cell than it will generate under its life cycle (alternatively, more CO2 is produced to manufacture a solar cell than it will save under its lifetime). Fact: Not at all true. Today, the energy payback for silicon solar cells is less than two years. For thin film solar cells the energy payback is less than one year! After that period, energy (and CO2) is saved and accumulated during the remaining life span of the solar cell (often 25 years). Which makes solar cells extremely environmentally friendly.

Myth 2: Solar energy is not financially viable without subsidies. Fact: Subsidies are being rapidly phased out and technological advancements continue to make solar cells more efficient. Solar energy is now cheaper than purchased electricity (market prices) almost everywhere in the world where the sun shines. There has been a rapid decline in solar energy costs over the last 12 months to the point that it competes favorably with even the cheapest of fossil fuels. A utility owned by U.S. tycoon Warren Buffet recently agreed upon a purchase price of 3.87 cents per kWh from First Solar’s Nevada plant – probably the cheapest electricity price in the US and most of the world.

Myth 3: Once the global warming “scam” is uncovered, no one will be interested in solar energy. Fact: 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 foreseeable 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. So global warming, believe it or not, really has nothing to do with the benefits of solar energy.

Myth 4: All solar cell manufacturers lose money. Fact: some do, but not all. Many manufacturers of silicon solar cells compete in the same segment using the same technology. They are having a tough time. Other segments are more profitable, such as thin, lightweight and flexible solar panels.

The solar energy industry is immature, with constant changes of leadership positions and markets. What we are witnessing is in reality a traditional consolidation phase in a new and fledgling industry, with winners and losers, and with the surviving players facing a bright and profitable future.

Among future winners, we must include roof and construction companies with the insight to see building integrated photovoltaics as the ’next big thing’. Solar cells will become better integrated with both roofs and facades, and current manufacturers of construction materials have a great opportunity to gain market shares in this area.

Myth 5: Solar energy will become attractive only when Tesla or any other battery manufacturer commences serial production of cheap and efficient batteries for the storage of electricity. Fact: See myth 2. Solar energy is already a very cost competitive source of energy. Cheap and efficient batteries will of course strengthen its attractiveness, but the fact that solar energy is produced when it is demanded the most (i.e. in the middle of the day) makes solar energy less dependent on storage solutions than many other energy sources.

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27 Comments
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It's nice to know the Nuclear Power show is folding its tent in Japan.

Even better, solar is just beginning. At the usual rate of improvement solar will replace 40-50% of ordinary energy generation needs. After that? The only thing needed is the will to keep more and newer power generation sustainables coming online. Good read.

4 ( +9 / -5 )

I basically agree. No brainer that solar will be increasing used around the world.

One thing I don't like about it here is I have seen FORESTS cut down for solar.........that's a bit messed up with so much unused land in the countryside here!

5 ( +7 / -2 )

I at work In the middle of the day my partner is at Uni. So how can I use on demand. Maybe some-else if it is fed into the grid which the producer (houseower) should be paid. Is this option available. This is a very important (Myth).

0 ( +3 / -3 )

kcjapan

Even better, solar is just beginning.

Fully agree. I think we'll continue to see improvements made in solar technology. Maybe in the not too distant future people will wonder why petroleum was burned to the degree it has been. Maybe people will see that petroleum has many more valuable uses when not burned, that burning it like we're doing now was a waste of a valuable resource.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

" It is probably the cheapest way to generate electricity in sunny regions and brings energy independence to individuals, corporations and countries alike." - article

Cleaning up the leftover messes (containments) will keep everyone busy, but building out the solar grid is underway. Much more to do, of course, but maybe the tide has turned?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

John san surely you have heard of batteries! And they are getting better over time as well!

2 ( +4 / -2 )

In Japan solar power at home is fed back to the grid and the electric power company does buy it by balancing the monthly bill. That said myth 2 in Japan for home owners with solar cells is basically a zero sum since you are require to acquire various voltage regulators and converters which hikes up the initial cost.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Fact, solar is .007% as efficient as nuclear.

Fact, solar "capacity" is a misnomer, real output is 25% of rated capacity.

Fact, Japan' s northern latitude makes solar barely efficient in the summer months, and not at all efficient in the summer months.

Fact, solar systems cost about $4 per watt. If you install a 5000 watt solar system in your home, it would take about 4 decades for you to recoup the cost.

In Germany, alternative energy "capacity" is over 30%, but actual output is 5%.

As a side note, my home is 100% solar.

-5 ( +8 / -13 )

@sangetsu03, you make good points and my only conclusion is that more and more research and investment is required in solar to bring up those numbers.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Yep.

Lookit, I have state subsidized PV panels on my house in one of the sunniest markets and I feed power to a utility that is forced to both take it and credit me for it. As an energy industry guy, I can assure you that even in the most expensive energy market in the USA, this makes no economic sense because the utility is forced to pay me for power when they have lots of it.

Until there is a really efficient way to store power, solar makes very little sense.

I would be an idiot not to take advantage of it. Makes me feel bad because I am in effect taking tax dollars from the poor, though...

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Solar is not the only renewable,,if combined with the others, with ongoing R&D, they can transition traditional power to a clean source not in a distant future. There has been a shift from telegraph to smart phones only in a decade, why not for clean energy that is more controllable by local communities and individual families, not by large corporations.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/03/24/3638085/california-utility-solar-sets-record/

California gets more than 5% of its electricity from large solar projects, and generates more electricity from solar than all of the 49 other states, combined. Having progressive leadership at the state level is really important.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

"I have state subsidized PV panels on my house in one of the sunniest markets . . . I would be an idiot not to take advantage of it. Makes me feel bad because I am in effect taking tax dollars from the poor, though..." - comment from the States; "Solar Steals from Impoverished"

How is it energy generation by solar is taking tax dollars from the poor?

That's an interesting unintended effect. The poor are paying for Solar generators. Maybe Solar is too immoral to succeed after all? Solar steals from the poor, unforgivable.

Apparently Solar is directly pillaging from the rice bowls of the poorest Americans "in the most expensive energy market in the USA".

How horrible. Those poor people should have representation to protect them from the rabid dog of Solar Energy. Imagine if the hounds of Solar were unleashed upon the world? The Horror, the horror.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

In the 80s, Popular Science proclaimed that Solar would boom in 10 to 15 years.

It didn't, nor will it now.

It's been tried countless times in countless places.

It only works in specific areas like Arizona.

Case closed.

If you like, you can spend a fortune to install it on your house to see what a scam it is.

BTW, how much sunlight have you seen in the last 2 weeks?

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

Um, I don't know about myth 5. The lack of a reasonable battery option is definitely what is stopping me from seriously looking into investing.

I was thinking of trying to line up 8 golf cart (deep cycle) batteries between a solar and/or wind generator system, then just install separate plugs in the house connected to it, allowing me to have power when and if the batteries run out. Not sure how my devices will do on DC though. I would also need a device to prevent over-charging of the battery system.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

In Japan there are several manufacturers that offer household batteries and PHEV can also be used as a battery as well.

http://jpn.nec.com/energy/aes/home.html

http://eliiypower.co.jp/products/general/pi6h.html

2 ( +2 / -0 )

How is it energy generation by solar is taking tax dollars from the poor?

Tax credits for green energy mean lower tax revenues and higher power costs. The first takes tax dollars from the poor, the second takes income from the poor. That's how.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

In the case of Solyndra, $500M, it was a helluva lot of taking.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@Burning Bush

Ok. Why solar power wouldn't work in Africa?

I think myth 5 isn't a myth at all. You can't make electric on the basis of let's hope the supply meets the demand. It must work 100%! You can make the solar power work if there is enough gas power plants as backup power. Nuclear energy doesn't work, because it you'll need to adjust the energy output on short notice. If there would be cheap ways to storage electricity, that would make solar the best option, but right now supply and demand is the problem.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

One of the biggest problems in the western world is too many of us are living in obscene environments, houses have gotten STUPIDLY large & all the energy needed to heat & cool these monster houses is just ridiculous(this is mostly outside Japan).

Bottom line is if we don't start living smarter/smaller(housing) there WILL be hell to pay!

If only we could live WITHOUT all the CRAP in our lives we might have a chance & those that do........solar has a MUCH better chance of fulfilling our needs

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I mostly use solar power when I go boondocking and with two sub-batteries, I can get most of what I need for the camper. The problem is always when it rains or is cloudy and I haven't driven anywhere in days, then the generator is needed (but that doesn't happen very often and is usually only needed for about an hour at the most) to top off one of the batteries.

It makes sense if you don't have a large energy need and that's why I use solar mostly for my outdoor activities. GW is spot on with his comment.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Gosh, nothing about the variability of solar, the seasonality, the need to provide transmission rated for full power - power with rarely hits that level.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

We could shift to renewables. The problem is that there are a lot of vested interests trying to keep that from happening. Look at Japan's nuke reactors for one

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Aly,

the problems are not with vested interests - they are with physics.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

There combined in it's own use, Nuclear, Solar and Wind energy all at once...used as needed... dependable and safe if used in it's right capacity...! Not so hard to combine, accordingly.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It is much better to have your own energy grid than to be dependent on others.

Your best battery systems are in cars like the Nissan Leaf and especially Tesla. The problem with Lithium batteries is that you are looking at 3+ years before they need replacement. With lead-acid batteries you have the sulfation issue especially with deep cycle use (need a desulfator charger).

I would say the panel technology is there and I like Sharp crystalline panels. As noted above First Solar thin-film has advantages in hot climates. Sharp also makes

I would expect to see more solar panels everywhere cars, tablets etc.

Best bang for the buck solar. Plug in a 13-15V (12-50 watt) solar panel under the back (or front) window of your car. This will charge your battery when sitting and prevent sulfation of your lead-acid car battery => expect your battery to last its' full 7+ years and your car to always start.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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