solar solar When the sun hits solar cells, the photons are converted to electrical power. (Photo: Vaclav Volrab / Shutterstock)

5 myths about solar power

Our expert identifies criticisms that don't hold up anymore.

With the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference happening this week, the environment is sure to be a trending topic. Alternative energies will be one of the major discussions at the conference, so we talked to solar power expert Raina Russo, who started a think tank about solar energy on Twitter and founded the organization Women for Solar that helps consumers install solar panels.

Russo says a lot of her passion for solar energy came from growing up in Israel, where she experienced a strong emphasis on environmentalism and conservation. She believes that many people don't adopt solar power because there are misconceptions on the subject floating around, and she debunked some for us.

Myth: Solar panels won't hold up to rough weather

lightning strikeMany solar panels from the '70s are still providing energy. (Photo: Piotr Krzeslak/Shutterstock)

They look delicate, but solar panels are actually quite resilient. Some hurricanes have even ripped away parts of roofs while leaving solar panels untouched.

Solar panels covered in acrylic can withstand simulated hailstones of up to two inches in diameter traveling 50 mph, as observed in tests at Arizona State University, which has one of the largest solar panel testing facilities in the world.

"In fact, solar panels are a protective measure that protect your home and roof during heavy storms and hurricanes," Russo said.

Myth: Solar panels don't generate much energy

house with solar panelsSolar panels typically convert anywhere from 10% to 25% of the energy that hits them into power. (Photo: sculpies/Shutterstock)

Solar wasn't that efficient in the past, but technology has improved rapidly. In some places, such as sunny Hawaii, solar is significantly more efficient than fossil fuels, Russo explained.

According to SolarCity, a solar power company, a typical solar panel produces about 200 watts of energy, though that depends on solar cell efficiency, solar panel size and the amount of sunlight directly hitting the panel.

Myth: Solar is expensive

How will you get money overseas?Some government programs offer financial incentives for solar. (Photo: Rrraum/Shutterstock)

As solar technology has improved, its costs have gone down. In 2012, a typical solar system in Hawaii paid for itself in only four years and returned a profit of over four times its cost over its life.

In fact, solar can save a household hundreds of dollars a month, Russo says. Many companies will even install solar panels on your roof for free in order to harvest the sun's energy and sell it back to your local power grid. You and the company split the profit, lowering your energy bill and making them money.

Some such businesses include Sunrun, which operates across the U.S.; Isis Solar, available in the U.K.; and Yeloha, an Israeli company that plans on expanding throughout the U.S.

Myth: Solar panels are hard to maintain

solarMany solar companies offer cleaning services. (Photo: zstock/Shutterstock)

Solar is "virtually maintenance free," Russo explains. "There are no moving parts."

The panels do need to be inspected for dirt or debris that may collect on them a few times a year, though, which basically means spraying them with a garden hose in the early morning or evening (it's best not to spray them while they're hot so they don't crack). They can also be cleaned with automated sprinklers.

Myth: Solar is a backup

the gridSolar can provide energy during blackouts. (Photo: freedomnaruk/Shutterstock)

Some people imagine that solar power is stored in a generator somewhere and only used during emergencies. In reality, solar is usually tied to the grid. Solar users can access energy from both their panels and the grid, and extra solar energy can be sent to the grid, usually earning owners money in the process.

"It works, it saves money, it offers freedom, it saves our environment, it's easy," says Russo.


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