Five Common Misconceptions about Solar Power

Updates

Solar Power

I was originally going to make this a top ten list, but when I started adding details it was too long, so I shorted it to five, and I’ll post the other five later this week.  Some of these are going to turn into full blog posts later, as I’ve left out details that matter.

Basically, there are many misconceptions about solar power floating around, and lately I’ve been hearing them repeated even in main stream media.  Solar is still a new industry, so that’s understandable, but these misconceptions will never go away unless people start addressing them.

So, without further ado, and in no particular order – five common misconceptions about solar power.

  1. Solar power needs some new additional technology to be viable

    I talked about this somewhat in my last post about the MIT scientists and their hydrogen battery technology.  Solar power is basically a mature technology now – this is a multi-billion dollar industry with hundreds of millions in new investments pouring in every week.  The majority of that new investment is to ramp up production of existing technology, not in new research.That said, we’re developing new technology, and we’re going to have a profound impact on the CPV solar farm market as well as the BIPV market.  There’s a big space for new technology in solar, but if discoveries and new technologies stopped happening today, the solar energy market would still be thriving 50 years from now.
  2. Solar power needs storage

    Solar power benefits from cheap, efficient storage sure, and on an industrial scale being able to control exactly when you get power is really valuable, the truth is for most users, solar power is producing peak electricity when people need it the most.  Storage would be great for all that cheap morning power that could be stored for use for a couple of hours after sunset, but the peak demand is 2 or 3PM to 7 or 8PM.  I covered this in detail in my last post and I can leave it alone for now.
  3. Solar power is too expensive to be viable

    Right now, if you compare the average price of electricity today, to the average price of a solar power installation today, it takes between 9 and 16 years for the system to pay for itself.  As an investment it’s lousy if everything stays as it is today.  However:

    • IF the price of electricity ever goes up (it’s expected to double in the next five years) and,
    • IF the price of oil doesn’t go down and stay down, and
    • IF the electricity market’s insulation from the higher price of oil doesn’t last forever, and
    • IF any of the cost overruns on the current nuclear power projects being built continue (here in Ontario we’ve got a project that’s only a billion over budget, and compared to some of the other projects out there, we’re doing good), and
    • IF more proposed coal fired plants get blocked by locals concerned about the mercury, other toxins and of course the carbon, and finally
    • IF we ever put any kind of price, tax or disincentive on carbon emissions.

    So, in a perfect world, it’s true, solar is just too expensive. If we don’t live in a perfect world, solar’s not such a bad bet.  Of course, the fact that solar is rapidly declining in price doesn’t hurt either.

  4. Grid parity is too far away, or grid parity is some specific number

    Grid parity is the point where generating electricity through solar power costs as much or less than the average price of generating electricity.I’ve seen people refer to grid parity like it’s some fixed number, ignoring the fact that people living next door to each other in California aren’t necessarily paying the same for their electricity.  Never mind the price difference in electricity between Seattle and San Diego or San Francisco and Cleveland.The price of electricity is variable throughout the day (highest between 2PM and 7PM) and variable depending on where you are.  So grid parity is a moving target, and since the price of electricity is going up, it’s a fun target to shoot for if you’re a solar power company.

    Also, remember that when solar power is producing electricity, the price is at it’s highest.  If you look at total output to average price, solar is a few years away still.  If you look at daytime output to compared to daytime electricity prices, some solar installations are at grid parity now.
  5. Coal power is cheaper than Solar power

    Coal production in the US is so heavily subsidized in so many ways it’s frightening.  I won’t go into it here, but spend a couple of minutes at Coal-is-Dirty.com, or even just do a google image search for “Mountain top removal mining

    Really, if you believe that this:
Mountaintop removal site near Blair

Mountain Top Removal Mine near Blair, West Virginia, original image found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nationalmemorialforthemountains/230179038/

and this:

are cheaper than this:

Solar Panels

Solar Panels, image licenced from Dreamstime Images.

You’re a sucker.

Ok, that’s it for now, I’ll follow up with another five later this week.

Peace.

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5 responses to “Five Common Misconceptions about Solar Power

  1. Pingback: Five Common Misconceptions about Solar Power

  2. I’ve been following the PV industry for almost 30 years now (living in Israel for 25 of those). PV is finally ready to explode. The oil cartel is shooting itself in all 10 feel and helping it along nicely.

    I thought your five points and the whole presentation was EXCELLENT and I really laughed at the end!

  3. Thanks for the comment.

    The rising price of oil certainly came at a good time for the alternative energy market, that’s for sure.

  4. interesting points, i agree with you, especially the second point, about the solar power storage. a lot of people are having trouble with the power storage. i think i am gonna check out your other post about power storage, thanks:)

  5. Oh my…more than half of your myths in this and your previous are actually true…please do some research before you post these kind of unsubstantiated posts that mislead people.

    Solar power IS expensive. It IS inefficient NOW. Its technology is FAR from mature. Do you actually know the conversion rate of solar panels? And the power loss in converting electricity generated from solar power into usable electricity? (The power electrical components)

    Solar power has huge potential. But research in this renewable source of energy has not being driven till recent years when everyone is suddenly concerned about climate change. On an average, it takes 50 years for a new resource to replace the former dominant resource, which is currently oil and natural gas. This is heavily driven by policy makers, and it would be save to say that NO ENERGY RESOURCE including coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, solar and hydro (the list goes on indefinitely…) is viable without having appropriate policies to drive the industrial market. You are correct in saying the technology does not drive the change. Its the policy makers. You may not know, but they have the power to even change human conceptions through effective government policies. Solar power can ONLY EXIST with tax subsidies and incentives. Unsubsidised solar power will NOT WORK. Please check out the current costs of other energies like NUCLEAR and HYDRO. Then you will understand how expensive unsubsidized solar power is. Both grid and off-grid utility costs are driven by the industry which is in turn driven by policies. That is the reason why energy sources differ in every country.

    And for your learning and understanding, firstly technologies from places like MIT or any other research facility does not come cheap and viable. They produce new and innovative technologies from the LABORATORY. The next step is to produce a viable PRODUCTION LINE before it can be deemed viable. So please check with industry prices before you say storage can be cheap. It may just be 10 years later before the hydrogen cell technology can be viable on a competitive basis.

    Also, the REAL reason why intense sunlight is actually NOT GOOD for solar power is because most of the time intense sunlight is associated with high ambient temperature, and the maximum power drawn decrease with increasing temperature. So please grab any renewable energy textbooks and learn more about the characteristics of a solar cell before you make such ignorant comments.