Shedding Some Light on the Myths of Solar Energy

As new concepts and theories for residential energy production emerge, many sceptics voice their opinions claiming these new ideas simply don’t life up to the hype. Solar power is one such idea which has generated a considerable amount of cynicism.

With this article I aim to shed some light on some of the common misconceptions regarding the use of solar roof panels as a viable means of residential energy production.

“Solar panels will take too long to pay for themselves”

Year after year we are seeing our energy bills going up by ever increasing percentages. The promise of cheaper fuel bills from nuclear power never came to fruition so the need to consider renewable energy sources such as solar power is now a viable alternative. In the current economic climate, investment in cheaper bills for the future is a sound financial idea as remaining reliant on non-renewable energy sources such as coal, gas and oil can only become more expensive as they become scarcer and therefore more expensive.

On average UK homes consume around 3000 units of electricity each year and typical solar energy panels will produce around 1500 units each year (estimated average under UK conditions) which is half of the average yearly consumption. It’s difficult to state exactly how long it would take for residential solar panels to pay for themselves as many variables are involved. These variables include the initial cost of each solar panel, the type of installation plus the cost of installing the system, the price your electricity supplier charges and whether or not your energy supplier will pay you for any extra units which are fed back in to the grid. It is also worth checking with your local council as many grants are available which could cover up to 50% of the cost of installing home solar panels. What we do know is that non-renewable energy prices will continue to rise. It is no longer a question of ‘can I afford solar panels?’ It’s more a question of ‘can I afford to not have solar panels?’

“Britain is not sunny enough”

This is a common false statement regarding the use of solar panels in the UK. Most people assume solar energy panels need direct sunlight in order to function. In actual fact they only require light from any source rather than direct sunlight as they absorb the electromagnetic radiation found in photons. This means that a solar roof panel will even work at night by absorbing photons from star light and street lighting; however, this happens on such a minimal scale you’d never notice. The output of each solar panel is considerably higher on sunnier days as strength of light (or the shear amount of photons) is a major factor, as is the angle the solar panel to the sun.

“Solar panels are useless during the short winter days”

Although there is some truth to this statement, residential solar panels are far from useless during the winter months. The daylight hours are significantly shorter meaning each solar panel will generate less power over the course of a full day. The truth of the matter is that hour for hour; each solar energy panel is on average equally as efficient as it would be throughout the summer. Prior to the installation of solar panels one should consider how much sun light will be hitting their solar panels during the winter months. Your roof may be in the shadow of nearby trees or a chimney stack may reduce the efficiency of the solar panels by leaving all or part of the solar panel in permanent shade whilst the sun is lower in the sky.

“If I don’t generate enough solar power, I’ll have no electricity”

This simply is not the case. Your home will still be connected to the national grid, so anytime you need more electricity than the solar panels are providing, you’ll get it as normal from the mains. It is unlikely that a household will be able to produce 100% of it’s electricity as a result of installing solar roof panels as we have become far to reliant on electrical appliances. Saying that, it has been proven in the past that once a household begins generating its own electricity using solar panels, its occupants become far more conscious of the way in which they use it and day by day will use far less electricity.

“It takes more energy to manufacture a solar panel than it will ever put out”

The energy payback of solar panels varies depending on which type of solar panel is fitted. Currently, the microcrystalline-silicon solar panels have an estimated energy payback of less than 4 years where as the ‘thin-film’ solar panels have an energy payback of around 3 years. Future developments in renewable solar energy coupled with increased production are expected to halve the energy payback time of both microcrystalline-silicon PV solar panels and thin-film solar panels.

“Modern solar panels are still not efficient”

Solar energy has come along leaps and bounds since the development in the production of the first practical solar cells in the 1950’s. These had a sunlight energy conversion efficiency of around 6%. By the late 1980’s scientists had developed solar cells with an efficiency of 17%. By 2000 solar cells had an efficiency of 24%, rising to 26% in 2002, 28% in 2005 and 30% by 2007. Increased efficiency coupled with lower production costs means residential solar energy systems are cheaper and more efficient than ever before.

You may ask yourself one question regarding the above figures, “If solar panels are getting more efficient and cheaper year after year, maybe I should wait a few more years?” Although there is some logic to this idea, the truth of the matter is waiting a few extra years could well prove to be a false economy. At the moment the British government are offering a variety of grants to financially assist those seeking to run a greener home, including the installation of domestic solar panels which could save you up to 50% of the installation costs. Government grants like this may not be available a few years down the line.

About the Author:

Solar Roof Panels
Energi Plc

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