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Social Innovation

Myth-busters: solar energy

There are lots of misconceptions about solar energy. Here we clear up the top 3 myths!

If energy resources were a family, oil and gas could be seen as the grandparents - aging and potentially not around for much longer.

Renewable energy would be the second generation of the family, the young, hip parents with enthusiasm for bright new ideas but sometimes misunderstood by the older generation.

Solar power is amongst these often maligned energy sources, with numerous misconceptions about how it works. Never fear, Hitachi myth-busters are here to help clear up three of the top myths about solar:

Myth 1: Solar only works when the sun is out

A common misconception about solar energy is that it only works when the sun is out. In fact, the sun’s ultraviolet light is all that solar power needs to create energy. Solar panels will create heaps of the stuff during foggy and overcast days too, as the UV light still manages to shine through. Perhaps surprisingly, solar panels are actually more efficient at cooler temperatures than hot ones. Take Germany for example:  not a traditional destination for sun-seekers. Yet back in June of 2014, more than 50% of Germany’s electricity demand was met by 23.1 gigawatts of solar power– which was half of the entire world’s production at the time. Germany is set to continue holding one of the top spots for solar production globally - it hasn’t let a cloudy day get in the way.

Myth 2: Solar panels can’t withstand extreme weather conditions

It snows, its rains, it hails; can solar panels withstand all of that? Solar panels are sturdy and made to last a long time in various weather conditions. American solar panel manufacturer Solar World conduct tough tests to make sure the panels are ready for the world. The company starts by dropping half a kilo, 2.54cm steel balls onto solar panels from a height of 4.2 metres. This process is repeated up to 20 times in the same place on at least 11 different points of impacts. They then drop heavy or hard objects on to the panel to ensure stability and break-resistance – including a 45kg lead-filled sack from a height of 1.2 metres right into the middle of the panel! After this, the solar panels are put into a climate room which emulate 25 years of weather changes. In the chamber, the panels manage to withstand temperatures as low as -40°c to as high as 85°c.  They may sound like torture from the middle ages but these tests are needed to make sure solar panels survive in various environments.

Myth 3: Using solar energy is too expensive, I’ll never get my investment back

Throughout Europe, there are misconceptions about how much solar panels cost and the return on investment. UK based solar power comparison site, The Eco Website, states that 2/3 of consumers don’t know how much solar panels cost. The cost of panels has actually been tumbling and is set to continue this downward spiral.  Oxford University researchers found that, since the 1980s, panels have gotten 10% cheaper each year and this is likely to continue. Falling solar power costs mean that in 2016 the typical return on investment for solar panels is 4.8% over 20 years. Not only are solar panels getting cheaper but they can also be a nice little earner, which means better summer holidays for all.