Three Common Solar Energy Myths

Powering your home with the sun isn’t nearly as difficult as these solar energy myths make it out to be

A number of damaging solar energy myths still pervade modern thinking about alternate energy sources, and that’s a shame. Leaving aside conspiracy theories about Big Oil, it seems likely that these myths derive from past issues that sidelined the early adoption of solar power, many of which no longer apply.

Let’s take a look at three common myths about solar energy that we can now put to rest.

Myth #1: Solar Panels Don’t Work When It’s Cloudy or Cold

This seems logical enough at first glance, but only because it assumes that solar energy requires bright, hot, visible sunlight. Not necessarily. Case in point: Germany, one of the cloudiest countries in Europe, is the solar energy capitol of the world. Bright sunlight is great, but not always required.

What solar panels need is energetic solar radiation, which doesn’t have to be visible and may not generate much waste heat. UV radiation, which penetrates clouds, works just fine. And the truth is, the panels work more efficiently when it’s cold, because they conduct electricity better.

Myth #2: Solar Energy Systems are Inconsistent and Unreliable.

This seems like a safe assumption, too, since you can’t generate solar energy at night (except secondhand through the moon, and that’s very weak) and, of course, there’s the myth that these systems don’t work on cool or cloudy days.

Well, that myth’s busted. And consider this: solar energy systems have few if any moving parts that can break down, they’re not subject to local power-grid outages, and battery technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last decade, so consistent delivery isn’t much of a problem anymore.

Indeed, in recent years solar energy systems have become so reliable that they’re commonly used for warning systems such as navigational buoys and railroad crossing signals, where, for safety reasons, power failure isn’t an acceptable option

Myth #3: Solar Panels Are Inefficient.

Not really. This used to be true, but it’s a fact that the efficiency of solar panels had improved by a factor of four since the 1970s, when they first came into limited use. These days, the best solar panels are 15-19% efficient, which is roughly equivalent to the standard gasoline engine.

If gas engines had improved as much as solar panels in the same time frame, we’d get about 80 mpg — assuming it’s possible to squeeze that much efficiency out of gasoline, which isn’t a foregone conclusion.

Meanwhile, solar energy systems and related technologies continue to advance steadily. You might say that the future looks bright for solar power — as long as you don’t let these and other solar energy myths cloud your outlook.