The 8 Biggest Solar Myths and Facts - Modern Group

The 8 Biggest Solar Myths and Facts

5 Nov 2023
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The 8 Biggest Solar Myths and Facts

Which solar power facts are true, and which are just myths? Depending on who you talk to, their agenda and level of knowledge, you’ll hear a different story. It’s time to leave the misinformation in the dark and shine light on some solar power system facts.

Myth 1: High Power Prices is Solar Energy’s Fault

This myth that solar subsidies and incentive schemes cause high power bills continues to linger, in spite of comprehensive data showing it’s simply untrue. While there’s no question electricity costs have skyrocketed in recent years, there are many reasons behind the price hikes and solar is far from the worst offender. Industry data points to network and transmission charges as the biggest culprits, while the impact of solar rebates is shown to be trivial. An EUAA (Energy Users Association of Australia) media release summarises the current state of affairs: “Network prices, i.e. the prices charged to transport power across poles and wires, make up half of the electricity bill and have been by far-and-away the main contributing factor to the price increases.” Indeed, a breakdown of the average Australian household’s power bill by the Clean Energy Council puts solar schemes at just 6 per cent of total cost. Government support for large-scale renewable energy accounts for 2 per cent; the remaining 92 per cent is made up of wholesale electricity price, network charges and other costs.

Myth 2: Solar Panels are Too Expensive

In the past, the price of solar panels could certainly have been seen as prohibitive to most Australian families. Today though, the cost of producing and installing solar power has dropped drastically—especially in recent years. According to the Clean Energy Council, solar panels are more than 500 times cheaper to manufacture than the first solar cells of the mid-1950s. Global market prices for solar PV have dropped by 75 per cent in the last four years and 45 per cent in the last 12 months alone. Solar panels are more affordable than ever and it shows—the number of Australian households with solar PV systems has increased by more than 55 times since the beginning of 2009. The question of whether solar PV is yet competitive with coal is more complex. Many commentators believe residential solar has already achieved grid parity; some others suggest that while grid parity has not been reached, it is not far away. According to a research paper released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), the confusion surrounding price competitiveness relates largely to the metrics used to compare the costs of different energy sources.

Myth 3: Solar Power only Works in Sunny Weather

Solar power comes from the sun. The more sun, the more power. Right? While it’s true that sunnier conditions are generally ideal for solar power generation, it’s not that simple. Even overcast conditions and cloudy days can provide optimal solar generation since panels generate electricity from light (UV rays), not heat. This misconception was roundly dismissed by the CSIRO in a 2012 report entitled ‘Solar intermittency: Australia’s clean energy challenge’. Following a year-long, world-first study, the report concluded that while cloudy weather can reduce electricity production from solar panels, intelligent grid management would mean panels and mirrors could supply 40 per cent of the nation’s energy. An extension of this myth is the notion that rooftop solar panels are unproductive during colder months. While the summer months do bring the benefit of longer daylight hours, in reality, winter can be a good time for solar electricity production, as too much sun can even restrict power generation due to the ‘Max Power Temperature Coefficient‘. Even in the darkest, dullest, cloudy-day weather, a solar rooftop system can generate as much as 25 per cent of a normal clear day output.

Myth 4: Solar is Only for the Wealthy

Rooftop solar may once have been largely the domain of wealthy inner-city homeowners. But new research demonstrates this is no longer true, and quite the opposite. Data from the Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator shows that households in low- to middle-income suburbs, regional areas and retirement belts have embraced solar power systems in the highest numbers. The top Australian solar postcodes in 2012 include Dubbo (NSW), Caloundra (QLD) and Victor Harbour (SA), where more than a quarter of households have now installed solar power. Acting Chief Executive of the Clean Energy Council Kane Thornton said the information suggested those most vulnerable to rising power bills were more likely to invest in a solar system. “With the price of panels now about a third of what it was just three years ago, many people see solar power as a way to save on their energy bills as well as do something for the environment,” he said. “Solar panels are fast becoming the Hills Hoist of the 21st Century.” And with some solar panel companies also offering financing options on solar systems, the cost of solar panels are becoming more affordable and accessible for homeowners across Australia. For home resale purposes, solar panels can also be an attractive feature for potential buyers if homeowners are looking to sell.

Myth 5: Solar Panel Systems are often Poorly Installed

It can happen, but the reality is, the solar industry is very highly regulated and controlled, with strict compliance standards. Solar installers must first become qualified electricians, and then from that point can attain their solar accreditation. In order to make sure you’re dealing with a reputable solar installer, ask them the key questions that will help identify whether they’re a long-standing, reputable company in the solar industry, or whether they’re an installer looking for a quick buck looking to go by the bare minimum.
    • Are they Clean Energy Council Accredited?
    • How long has the company been in the solar PV industry?
    • Who is responsible for repair or replacement costs?
    • What performance, workmanship and product guarantees do you get?

Myth 6: The Fire Brigade Won’t Come to Your Home if You have Solar

This misconception is one that has caused people to question the safety of installing solar panels. According to both the South Australian Metro Fire Service (MFS) and the SA Country Fire Service (CFS), this urban myth is completely incorrect. The CFS District Officer of Community Safety Allan Foster says, “I’d like to assure the public that no matter what power supply exists at a property, fire-fighters are well prepared and educated to bring a fire under control” On top of this, according to information published by the Clean Energy Council in 2011, approximately 100,000 solar panels were installed on Australian houses in the last 30 years—with no reports of any system acting as a catalyst for property fires.

Myth 7: Solar Panels Require a Lot of Maintenance

Another common myth around solar panels is that they require a lot of maintenance. A solar energy system is no different to any other technical system installed in your home. If you choose quality products from a trusted installer, you can reduce unexpected maintenance costs in the long run. A solar system comprises solar arrays, which are grouped solar cells or photovoltaic/PV cells, one or more solar inverters and an optional solar battery. All elements combine into a solar power system to generate electricity that can power a house or be exported to the grid. Here are some ways to maximise the benefits and minimise the maintenance on your solar panel system:
    • Choose high quality solar panels from leading global manufacturers.
    • Choose superior workmanship for solar panel installation, purpose-built for your needs.
    • Choose a trusted solar company with decades of experience.

Myth 8 (the Biggest Myth): Solar PV Won’t Pay Back the Energy Used to Create It

According to the Energy Yield Ratio model (EYR), the investment to power return for a 2kW grid-connect monocrystalline-silicon system in Australia is estimated at 7.5 over 20 years and 11.2 over 30 years. This means that this solar power system will repay the energy used to produce it 7.5 times in the first 20 years of its life, and 11.2 times if it reaches 30. (Most solar PV systems carry a warranty of around 25 years). Originally, the Energy Payback Time (EPT) model was used to quantify the radio of energy generated compared with the energy used to produce solar PV electricity. However, Richards and Watt argue that the concept of EPT is flawed; that it does not reflect the net energy produced throughout the life of an individual product, and becomes problematic when considering the replacement of various system components over the entire life cycle. They propose a new identifier – energy yield ratio (EYR). The EYR model calculates how many times the energy invested is paid back by the system in its entire life. An EYR of 1 or greater indicates an energy product that generates more energy over its lifetime than was required to manufacture it. Regardless of the indicator is used, the idea that a solar energy system cannot pay back its energy investment is clearly a fallacy. Indeed, based on models and real data, it is evident that solar PV repays the energy used to create it many times over. What’s more, as solar cell technology continues to advance, the manufacturing processes and materials used are becoming increasingly efficient. The energy required to manufacture is decreasing, while the life of a system life and amount of energy it can produce is getting higher.

More about Solar Batteries and Making the Most of your Household’s Solar Energy

Even if you have solar panels, your home will probably still be connected to the electricity grid in your area. What this means is that you’ll draw on the electricity grid when you have less solar power (i.e. at night). But when your solar panels produce more energy than you need, it’ll send excess energy to the electricity grid. This solar system set-up is known as a grid-tiered solar system where panels are connected to an inverter enabling a transfer of solar energy to the electricity grid and back again depending on your home’s varying supply needs. In this instance, the electricity grid is your battery. But in the event of blackouts, your solar system will stop sending energy to the electricity grid as a safety feature to prevent utility company line workers from injury. What this also means is that your home will be without electricity. To keep solar power through a blackout, households can add solar batteries for solar battery storage or a solar powered generator.

A Quick Look at the Bigger Picture

In some states and territories across Australia, government rebates and assistance on solar power systems is available. Broadly stated, feed-in tariffs for renewable energy pay for excess energy generated by small-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) or wind power systems. This excess power output resale amount varies depending on the electricity retailer. Smart metering is another Australian government initiative with micro benefits of neighbourhoods trading solar power stored energy and macro benefits of remotely being able to detect power supply problems in advance and not needing to rely on consumers to report the issue. While government solar initiatives, energy payback and tax credits are important, it barely scratches the surface when considering the bigger question of the overall environmental impact of solar PV. While any manufacturing process requires energy, the carbon footprint of solar cells ends there, while other forms of energy continue to produce emissions. The value of solar PV should be measured not only by the smallness of its carbon footprint, but also in terms of the emissions it prevents as a clean alternative to fossil fuels. Concrete statistics relating to this area are difficult to come by as there are many variables to consider (energy consumption, the type of solar system, location etc.). To provide a frame of reference, here is a rough calculation offered by the US Department of Energy: An average U.S. household uses 830 kWh of electricity per month*. Producing 1,000 kWh of electricity with solar power reduces emissions by approximately one tonne of carbon dioxide. During its projected 28 years of clean energy production, a rooftop system with a 2-year energy payback and meeting half of a household’s electricity use would avoid conventional power plant emissions of 100 tonnes of carbon dioxide. *World Bank data shows that average Australian electricity consumption sits somewhere around 900 kWh per capita, per month-–even higher than the US average used in the calculation. To put that amount in perspective, one ton of carbon dioxide would fill a cube of 8.2m x 8.2m x 8.2m – approximately the size of a two-storey house. Using this calculation, installing a solar PV system saves the equivalent of 100 two-storey houses’ worth of carbon dioxide – approximately the same amount that would be offset by 600 pine trees over 25 years.
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