Top 10 Solar Myths

Myth 1: Solar will get more efficient, so I should wait.

Fact: These days the media loves to hype emerging technologies, but the truth is we’re still using the same solar technology we were back in the 1960’s. Since then, solar has become only moderately more efficient (unlike computers or cellphones which experience dramatic improvements in short periods of time). Given this stable technology profile and the 30 percent federal solar tax credit (plus many state incentive programs) solar makes sense right now. Once installed, your panels will continue to work for decades. Here’s some more information on solar panel efficiency.

Myth 2: Solar doesn’t work in cool, cloudy, or foggy climates.

Fact: Solar panels work just fine in ambient light and will produce significant energy in the fog or on overcast days. In fact, solar panels are actually more efficient at cooler temperatures than hot ones. Although this might seem counter-intuitive, consider that solar panels on a rooftop in cool, foggy San Francisco produce only one percent less electricity than one in nearby Sacramento, where it’s sunny and hot. Consider too that Germany leads the world in residential solar right now, and doesn’t have a sunny climate. Here’s some more info on how solar works in fog.

Myth 3: I will store the excess energy I generate in batteries.

Fact: Nearly all modern solar panel systems are grid tied which means they’re connected to the conventional electricity grid. Your system generates power during the day and excess is fed back into the grid through a system called net metering. When this happens, your meter spins backwards and your utility company credits you for that power. At night or on overcast days, you’ll use grid power, but you don’t generally get charged for it because of all the credit you’ve generated. This grid tied method tends to be the most convenient for homeowners. Batteries are an option for those who really want them, but they’re expensive, bulky, and have to be replaced every five to ten years.

Myth 4: Solar panels require maintenance.

Fact: Solar panels have no moving parts and do not require regular maintenance. Typically the recommendation is to hose off the panels once a year or so, but many panel owners actually never clean the panels and instead rely on the rain to do the job for them. Typically this will cause only a very slight loss in efficiency (about 5 percent) over the lifetime of the panels. Of course, if any large debris falls onto the panels, it’s recommended you remove it. These days, solar systems come with monitoring software that allows you to spot any drops in power generation right away. Often your installer is linked into your monitoring system too, so sometimes they’ll even be aware of drops in a panel’s power output before you are! Pretty slick.

Myth 5 : Solar panels will cause my roof to leak, deteriorate, or collapse.

Fact: Solar panels actually protect and preserve the portion of the roof they cover, but don’t take our word for it. Check out this picture of solar panels that have been through a hurricane. If there’s ever a problem with the roof that needs to be repaired, panels can easily be removed. Most solar panels are not attached directly to the roof itself, but rather to a mounted railing system. Installers add sealants to fill in any gaps and often the mounts are surrounded by metal “flashing,” or coverings that act as an extra barrier from the elements. Note: if your roof already leaks or needs to be replaced, it makes sense to make roof repairs first before installing solar panels.

Myth 6: Solar is still so expensive that it will never be able to pay for itself (just like hybrid cars).

Fact: Perhaps one of the most unfortunate solar myths is that it’s only for rich people and/or environmentalists, when in reality many homeowners choose to go solar simply because it eliminates their big monthly electricity bill. In fact, solar is a very wise choice for people who could actually use the extra couple hundred bucks a month that they’re currently paying in power bills. Modern financing options have all but eliminated the barrier to entry for solar (big upfront costs), so many households are now able to go solar for little to no money down. Solar is one of the very few household purchases that will actually pay for itself. Studies show that on average, solar panels return two to four times their cost in saved electricity bills and typically pay for themselves completely within 7 to 15 years. If you live in a state with good incentives, the payback period can be as short as 2 to 4 years.

Myth 7: When the power goes out, my home is still powered.

Fact: When the power goes out, grid-tied systems go out too. That’s because it’s not safe to be pushing electricity back out onto the wires while workers may be trying to fix the problem, so your inverter (the big box near your meter that turns DC electricity created by the panels into usable AC current) recognizes that the grid is out and shuts your system off. The solution? Spend a couple hundred on a generator or don’t worry about it too much; the power doesn’t go off that often.

Myth 8: Solar will look ugly on my roof.

Fact: Haven’t you heard? Solar is the new black. In the last ten years there’s been a growing awareness of how smart renewable energy is from both environmental and economic perspective, so solar panels are finally coming into their own and being regarded as an enhancement instead of an eyesore. It’s about time! Homeowners’ associations that used to be steadfastly against solar have changed their policies and are now going solar in groups. For homeowners who don’t like the look of traditional solar panels, there are now many options and styles, including thin-film and non-reflective solar panel roofing shingles. These styles are discreet and lower-profile than the panels of the 1960′s. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (and the buck holder)!

Myth 9: Installing solar panels will increase my property tax.

Fact: In California and many other states, solar installations are property-tax exempt. From an investment perspective, this means that installing solar panels will increase the resale value of your house without costing you an extra dime in property taxes. The same cannot be said for other home investments such as swimming pools, a new deck, etc.

Myth 10: Solar panels require a tracking system to follow the angle of the sun.

Fact: Though tracking mechanisms can provide efficiency gains for your solar panel system, they typically do not increase efficiency enough to justify the additional expense and maintenance of moving parts in residential situations. More importantly, most homeowners don’t have the additional space required for these systems.

Feel like you know a thing or two about solar now?  Take the Solar Quiz and find out!

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