6 myth-busting facts about solar energy

Solar power has been on the rise in the last few years. Its potential to generate large amounts of electricity coupled with the economic benefits makes it an attractive renewable energy option. As more people start to consider an investment in solar power, we thought it would be helpful to de-bunk the most common solar energy myths. To set us on the right track, we sat down with our in-house renewable energy expert Shaun Heasman.

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MYTH 1: It doesn’t work when it’s cloudy

Solar panels create the most electricity on clear days with lots of sunshine (unsurprisingly), but do they work when it’s overcast? Yes – only not as well.

Ultraviolet light also reaches the Earth’s surface in abundance on cloudy days (as anyone who has ever been sunburnt at the beach when it’s overcast can tell you).  Some solar cells can capture UV rays, such as solar PV (photovoltaic) panels which convert light energy directly into electricity using a photovoltaic effect.

Typically solar panels can produce 10-25% of their rated capacity on a cloudy day. The exact amount will vary depending on cloud density, and the type of solar panel. For example, by choosing a solar panel which has been designed to capture a broader range of the solar spectrum, you can generate higher amounts of electricity when it’s overcast.

MYTH 2: There’s only one way to use solar to create energy

There are actually three main ways to create energy with solar, and many more are being discovered regularly. They are:

Solar cells

Solar cells (also known as “photovoltaic”, “PV” or “photoelectric”) convert light directly into electricity. In a sunny climate you can produce enough power to run a 100W light bulb from just one square metre of solar panel. It was originally developed to provide electricity for satellites, and can now be found powering everything from calculators to golf carts.

Solar water heating:

During the solar water heating process, sunlight is converted into energy that heats water using a solar thermal collector. Water is pumped through pipes in the panel (painted black to help increase the amount of heat retained) and circulated throughout the building providing hot water.

Solar furnaces:

A solar furnace is a structure that uses concentrated solar power to produce high temperatures – usually for industry or cooking. Mirrors concentrate light onto a focal point, which can reach an average of 3,500°C (6,330°F). This heat can then be used to generate electricity, melt steel, make hydrogen fuel or nanomaterials.

MYTH 3: Solar power is a new fad so it’s best to wait until there is better technology before investing

The history of solar energy begins with Leonardo da Vinci, whose sketches (dating back to the 15th century) show that he had been imagining techniques for harnessing solar energy. There’s also evidence that British astronomer, John Herschel, used a ‘hot box’ to cook his food during an expedition to South Africa in 1833.

Although it’s fair to say that solar power wasn’t economically viable for a long time, huge strides have been made in efficiency, reducing the cost of solar panels in the last few years. This means that there has never been a better time to invest in solar.

MYTH 4: It can’t supply energy 24/7

It is true that solar panels can’t generate power in total darkness, but solar systems frequently generate more energy during daylight hours than a building needs. This excess energy can be sent back to the grid, lessening the demand on the power utility for everyone else’s fossil-fuelled electricity.  In the UK you are able to sell or get credit for surplus energy. If you are interested in finding out how you can sell your excess energy, please click here.

MYTH 5: Solar panels add to global warming

Any manufacturing process, including those of solar panels, requires energy, transportation and waste disposal. However, this is where solar energy’s carbon footprint ends while other forms of energy continue to create harmful CO₂ emissions year after year.

Another myth is that solar panels increase atmospheric temperature. Thermal power plants increasingly release more waste heat into the environment. Solar panels earn their emissions back by offsetting emissions from fossil-fuel power plants within a few years.

MYTH 6: You cannot rely on solar power

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, solar power is the most reliable source of power currently available. In surveys taken by the department, 94% of business owners rated their solar power installations as highly efficient, regardless of how it was being used. In the Middle East, solar power is desalinating sea water rather than any other energy source, as the efficiency levels are unmatched by any other source of power.

Want our Renewable expert to debunk any other myths or answer any questions? If so, leave us a comment.

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