One of the biggest challenges the solar industry faces is overcoming the numerous myths surrounding solar, and renewables as a whole. Here are some of the misconceptions the industry hears most frequently, and how we can refute them.
1. Solar can't do much to combat climate change.
We're used to fossil fuels, having used them almost exclusively over the last 150 years. But the reality is, renewables--wind and solar energy--are the only things that can be built at scale that we have working for us for our long-term energy needs. Climate change is real, and transitioning to a system where our energy is split between solar, wind is our best solution to overcoming this threat.
2. Solar alone can produce enough energy to power the entire planet--without us having to change our way of living.
Solar is powerful, but it is not a silver bullet. We must reduce energy use and be more efficient--we can't simply swap out all of our fossil fuels for renewables and expect the world to run as it always has. People have a pie-in-the-sky idea that if we just cover a certain area of the globe with solar panels--some studies say under 200,000 square miles--we can power the whole world. In reality, that represents a huge footprint that might not be feasible. You also have to consider the material cost of building that much solar. We live in a world of limited resources, and we need to think about the most efficient use of the ones we most need, like aluminum and steel.
3. For solar to work, we need massive amounts of storage.
Storage is not the solution to a renewable future. Solar storage requires significant resources and money, and isn't the most efficient or effective means of backup. The key to making solar our primary source of energy is creating an integrated, smart electric grid system. In our current world, where we're operating on an outdated, non-integrated grid, storage is our only option; however, we need to make a shift in how we collect and move energy if we want solar to work on a larger scale.
4. Fossil fuels are primarily liquid, and solar is an electric technology, so we can't replace one with the other.
We are heading toward a future where everything will be electrified, including our transportation and our heating and cooling systems. Electricity is the most efficient way of powering our world, but we need to upgrade our everyday technologies to take advantage of it. When we live in a world of electric trains and busses, where houses are heated by cold climate heat pumps, we will only need electricity, which is readily and plentifully supplied by the sun.
5. Solar is too expensive, and can't compete against cheaper fossil fuels.
When you take this statement at face value, it seems like you can't dispute it, until you take into consideration the fact that the fossil fuel industry is heavily subsidized, far more so than the solar and other renewable industries. In the long run, when considering the life of a solar installation, renewables are clearly the more economical option. Fossil fuels are only cheap because they don't pay for the pollution they create, and grid parity, the point when solar is competitive with other fossil fuels, isn't that many years away.
6. Solar cells are not long-lasting, and systems must be replaced or decommissioned after 25 years.
This is a very common misconception when it comes to solar. In reality, most solar systems are built to last, and will do so for much longer than a 25-year warranty might suggest. (Remember, our industry's 25-year warranties are that panels will be producing 80% of their original production in 25 years!) Like any technology, they will require some maintenance and system upgrades (like new inverters), and performance will degrade slightly each year (on the order of about half a percent), but they will certainly continue to produce at a high level for many years. Consider hydropower systems: we don't remove dams after 25 years when the generator fails; we fix what's needed and keep upgrading them over time, and so we have hydro facilities over 100 years old that are still operating without any problems. Solar operates in a similar way.
7. We don't need solar, because we'll discover another alternative fuel that will solve our problems.
People tend to be in denial that we are dealing with a very real, very serious problem in climate change and our limited fossil fuel energy resources. While it may be clear that we need to find a permanent replacement for fossil fuels in our society, there seems to be a pervading mentality that it's not that big of an issue, because some other form of fuel will show up, or scientists will discover something we can use instead that will save us. But this is nothing more than wishful thinking. We need to act now, and today, our only truly viable energy alternatives lie in renewables.
8. The Northern U.S. doesn't have enough sun to make solar viable.
We all know that the sun comes up every day in the Northern states, just like it does virtually everywhere else in the world. In Vermont, we get more sun than Germany, the early leader in solar. Solar is even used effectively in Alaska, where they get little sun for half of the year. Solar is a technology that can work almost everywhere.
That being said, you do need other sources to make sure that energy production is consistent and reliable. Solar can't save the world on its own--it needs to work hand in hand with wind and other renewables to make a complete energy system. This actually works quite well: for example, in Northern climates, winters have less sun, but tend to be windy; summers, when sun is plentiful, have little wind. One technology alone will never solve our energy problems.
9. The world can't change enough to accept renewables.
Yes, we can change, and we will change. We have to.