Myths about solar power abound. Some are due to lack of awareness, while others are actively promoted by fossil fuel interests and the electric utility industry. We discuss and debunk a few of these myths below.
Myth: Solar Power Is Too Expensive
While this might have been true 10 years ago, it isn’t true today. Today’s rooftop solar power systems produce electricity that costs about one third less per kilowatt-hour than the typical retail cost of electricity in Florida, when considering the total cost of ownership during the term of the performance warranty on the solar panels.
Myth: A Solar Power System Will Need 20 Years to Pay for Itself
With today’s solar equipment prices, the solar tax credit, typical Florida electric rates, and assuming that just the historical average rate of inflation in U.S. residential electric rates for the last 45 years (3.968% per year) continues, the typical payback on a financed solar power system purchase is between 11 and 12 years.
The simple payback for commercial solar power systems is even faster. In addition to the solar tax credit, accelerated depreciation over five years is also available. With accelerated depreciation and a 35% corporate income tax rate, a roof-mounted commercial solar power system pays back its original cost in about six years. If a carport or trellis structures will be constructed for the solar panel array, the payback increases to about nine years.
Myth: It’s Better to Wait Until Solar Panel Prices Fall or Efficiencies Improve
No, today it really doesn’t make sense. The cost to install solar power has dropped by 73% since 2006. A solar power system for a home or business is more affordable today than ever.
As for improving solar panel efficiencies, current production solar panel efficiencies of 19–20% are approaching the theoretical limit of about 24%. (The actual theoretical efficiency limit is higher but is not achievable in real world operating conditions.) Stories about solar cell efficiencies of 30–40% or higher refer to concentrating solar cell assemblies that would not be either cost-effective, spatially practical, or sufficiently attractive for residential rooftop installation.
Now is the best time to install solar power.
Myth: There Isn’t Enough Sunshine Where I live
Solar energy systems can work well in a wide variety of places, including foggy and cold climates, and on overcast days. Germany, a Northern European country not exactly known for sunny weather, leads the world in installed rooftop solar power capacity.
Myth: Solar Panels Will Hurt My Home’s Resale Value
Actually, the opposite is true. Several independent studies have shown that a solar power system increases a home’s resale value. The reason is really pretty simple: Homes with solar power systems have significantly lower electric bills. The electric bill is the largest monthly cost of home ownership after the mortgage payment, so buyers are willing to pay more to obtain lower electric bills.
Myth: Solar Panels Are Not Environmentally Friendly
Solar power critics also argue that solar power is not environmentally friendly because of toxic wastes produced during the manufacture of photovoltaic solar cells.
It is true that acids and toxic metal wastes are produced during the manufacture of solar photovoltaic cells. In North America and Euorpe these wastes are burried.
In stark contrast, the toxic wastes produced by electric utility power plants—arsenic, mercury, chromium, cadmium and chlorine—are dumped into sludge ponds and spewed out of smokestacks into the sky. As for the amount of waste, the toxic waste produced to generate one megawatt of solar electricity is an order of magnitude less than the toxic waste produced during the generation of one megawatt of electrical energy by a fossil fuel-fired industrial power plant.
Myth: Solar Panels Are Not Energy Efficient
The idea here, pushed by critics of sustainability initiatives and renewable energy technology, is that the amount of energy needed to manufacture solar panels is greater than the amount of energy they produce. This idea is silly on its face.
Why? Because raw material refiners, product manufacturers and wholesale distributors in the solar power industry must include their energy costs in the prices they charge for their products in order to earn a profit. And their customers, in turn, won’t buy those products—solar panels—if the prices are too high in relation to the energy savings the solar panels produce.