Solar: Myths and Truths

Solar technology has been changing rapidly, and sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between the truth and common misconceptions. Get the facts about Solar Energy!

FACT: Utah is a great state for solar!
Solar irradiation levels vary across the United States, but every state receives enough sunlight to make solar a good investment. Solar panels will continue to produce a singificant amount of energy on overcast days. Germany has more solar than any other country in the world (and six times the installed capacity of the U.S.), yet Germany's solar resource  is roughly equivalent to that of Alaska!1 Solar can work in almost any climate, as long as panels are properly installed in an un-shaded location and at the proper tilt and orientation.

FACT: Solar is cost competitive with other sources of electricity.
The price of solar technology has fallen steeply in the past several years, and solar technology has never been as affordable as it is right now. Tax incentives can help reduce the upfront cost, and solar financing mechanisms help spread the upfront cost of solar out over several years. If your system is appropriately sized and you have average energy usage, you can expect to see a return on your solar investment in your first year and pay off the entire cost of your system long before its warranteed lifetime (usually 25+ years). Very few household purchases actually pay for themselves: by going solar you are not only locking in 25+ years of free, renewable energy, but hedging against the rising cost of electricity and saving money on your bills.

FACT: All energy sources receive subsidies.
All sources of energy have received federal incentives, and the fossil fuel and nuclear industries received more robust subsidies during their early development than renewable technolgies are today. There are many types of subsidies that have been used to support the development of energy technologies, including tax incentives (like the Federeal Renewable Tax Credit), research and development support, provision of services and infrastructure, grants, loan guarantees, and even bankruptcy protection. Federal subsidies for solar have been in place since 1994, while subsidies for oil and gas have been in place since 1918 and subsidies for nuclear since 1947. Federal subsidies for oil and gas development were five times greater than federal subsides for renewables during the first 15 years of each technologies' life, and nuclear subsidies were 10 times greater.2

FACT: Solar is one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S.
The solar industry employs almost 120,000 Americans, and in 2012 the solar industry grew 13.2%, creating jobs faster than the general economy for the third year in a row. In comparison, the fossil fuel generation industry shrank by 3.77%.3 Solar is bringing jobs to the U.S., and solar installers project continued growth in the industry and a bright future for solar.

FACT: Solar is a mature technology, and there has never been a better time to install solar.
Basic solar photovoltaic technologies have been around for more than 30 years. While efficiencies have increased and costs have decreased, solar PV systems built in the 1970s still produce the same product (kilowatt-hours of electricity) as any modern solar PV system. The solar industry, like other electricity-generating industries, does not evolve as rapidly as the electronics industry has. The 30% Federal Tax Credit for renewble energy expires in 2016, so if solar makes sense for you today, then there is no reason to wait to take advantage of solar power's benefits.

FACT: According to a 2004 National Renewable Energy Laboratory study that analyzes several different panel technologies, it takes 1 – 4 years for the energy savings accumulated by producing electricity from solar to equal the energy cost of producing the panel. Solar panels generally have life expectancies of 30 years, so 87% - 97% of the energy produced by the panels is clean energy (i.e. no pollution and/or greenhouse gas emissions). This 2004 NREL study assumes 1,700 kilowatt-hours per square meter of solar insolation, and in northern Utah we receive more sunlight than that (from 1,800 – 2,000 kWh/m2), so solar panels will "pay back" the energy used in the cost of their production more quickly that estimated in this study.4

Solar technology has improved in the years since this study was conducted, and production efficiencies have driven the "energy payback period" down even further. More recent studies estimate that the energy payback for monocrystalline and polycrystalline cells is 1 to 2 years, assuming 4.7 peak sun hours per day (Utah receives over 5 peak sun hours per day. Learn more about Utah's Solar Resource).5

This myth is based in truth: in the 1970s and 1980s, it took from 10 - 25 years to pay back the amount of energy expended to create solar panels. However, solar technology has improved significantly in recent decades, and newer solar panels are significantly more efficient than their ancestors.

FACT: Solar is for everyone!
Solar has environmental benefits, but it can also help homeowners and businesses save money and ensure energy security. The US military is adopting solar power at home and abroad, and solar arrays and mobile solar kits help keep soldiers safe in areas where transporting fuel to remote locations can be both costly and dangerous.And iconic American brands are among the biggest adopters of commercial solar: Wamart, Costco, Toys 'R' Us, and Crayola are all installing solar and enjoying the benefits of home-grown electricity.7

FACT: Having solar installed can increase the value of your home.
Homes with solar photovoltaic systems can sell for a premium as compared to homes without solar systems.8 Home buyers know that solar energy will save them money on utilty bills, and can recognize the value of investing in a home with solar. Even if you are not sure you will be staying in your home for the lifetime of your solar system, you may still benefit from your solar installation when you sell the home.

 

 

 
1 Ren 21: Renewables Global Status Report <http://www.ren21.net/REN21Activities/GlobalStatusReport.aspx>
3 The Solar Foundation: Noational Solar Jobs Census 2012 <http://thesolarfoundation.org/research/national-solar-jobs-census-2012>
4 NREL: PV FAQs, What is the energy payback for PV? <http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy04osti/35489.pdf>
5 Mother Earth News: Dispelling the Myths of Solar Electricity: Energy Payback <http://www.motherearthnews.com/energy-matters/dispelling-the-myths-of-solar-electricity-energy-payback.aspx#axzz2QvwtutWE>
6 NPR: U.S. Military Tests Out Green Tech In Afghanistan <http://www.npr.org/2011/12/29/144395953/u-s-military-tests-out-green-tech-in-afghanistan>
7 SEIA: Top 20 Commercial Solar Users in the U.S. Iconic American Brands <http://www.seia.org/news/new-research-top-20-commercial-solar-users-us-includes-iconic-american-brands>
8 LBL: Berkely Lab Study Finds that Photovoltaic System Boost the Sales Price of California Homes <http://newscenter.lbl.gov/news-releases/2011/04/21/bright-spot-for-solar/>

 

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