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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
are cheaper than this:
You’re a sucker.
Ok, that’s it for now, I’ll follow up with another five later this week.