You’ve probably heard the saying, ‘Never discuss religion or politics in polite company.’
Well, depending on who’s in the room, you may as well add solar energy to that list.
Even though solar energy has proved itself to be the most inexpensive way to produce power, and the most widespread form of renewable energy, the solar industry is still surrounded by myth.
And these myths have plenty of people fooled, hook, line, and sinker.
If you’ve ever met a solar denier who tried to convince you that solar energy is ‘ineffective’ and ‘expensive’, you’ve probably noticed how hard it is to convince them otherwise.
And we’re not even suggesting that it’s always worth trying, as some people are beyond convincing.
But if you found someone worth saving, we’ve got you covered.
We’ve prepared a cheat sheet that contains the most useful and interesting facts to help you dispel the myths that surround this new and exciting industry.
It will not only help you debate your opponent, but also give you an understanding of the real benefits of solar energy.
Always remember these simple rules of a civil debate:
- Know your facts;
- See opponent’s perspective;
- Be open-minded;
- Control your emotions;
- Show respect.
Argument: Commercial Solar Plants Cause Damage to the Land and Local Habitats
The Argument Explained:
The primary issue is concerning large-scale solar plants, which require large swathes of land to be cleared.
Environmentalists are concerned that clearing land for solar panels interferes with the natural habitat of native wildlife.
Also, this land can’t be shared with local farms and animals (unlike wind farms) which may lead to a reduction in productive, arable land.
Here is an example to give you an understanding of the numbers we’re talking about: Australian solar facility Nyngan Solar Plant occupies approximately 250 hectares.
The new solar farm Sunraysia that will appear in NSW later this year is expected to be more than twice as big.
And the Wandoan South Solar Project, a 1000 megawatt solar farm that is about to be built near Wandoan, north-west of Brisbane, will cover 1424 hectares of land.
Quite a lot, isn’t it?
Counter Argument: Solar Farms Use ‘Low-Quality’ Locations
For the most part, large-scale solar farms are designed and built with environmental impact in mind. Most commercial solar farms require large amounts of land therefore large-scale facilities are usually located in rural areas (luckily, in Australia we’ve got plenty of those).
Low-quality locations are considered: old mining fields, deserts or abandoned industrial areas, overused farmland.
That being said, solar farms have relatively little impact on the surrounding land. This is because they often do not disturb the topsoil, nor prevent wildlife from passing through.
Unlike the mining industry, which leaves the land practically destroyed, solar farms can be easily rehabilitated at the end of the project.
While mining operations are required by law to engage in some form of land rehabilitation, the impact of mining is far more disastrous to the environment.
This means that the time it takes before the land is ‘fully rehabilitated’ far surpasses the time it takes for a solar plant to achieve a similar result.
There is also a term ‘agrivoltaics’ that describes the practice of sharing land between solar plants and agriculture.
Native wildflower and bird seed mixes can be sown between and around the rows of modules, providing food and a habitat for local birds, small mammals, and invertebrates.
Cheers to biodiversity!
P.s. Residential solar PV arrays are mainly placed on the roofs and have no land impact at all.
Argument: Solar Panel Manufacturing Is Not ‘Green’
The Argument Explained:
Sadly, it’s true.
Solar doesn’t create the greenhouse gases and carbon emissions when in use, but the PV manufacturing process does require small amounts of toxic chemicals, as well as producing CO2 emissions.
Solar panels require too much energy, and don’t offset carbon emissions in their lifetime.
The process of making crystalline silicon produces a byproduct called silicon tetrachloride which is highly toxic, killing plants and animals.
The process also includes the use of such chemicals as hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, hydrogen fluoride, and acetone.
These chemicals are considered hazardous. Their role in the process mainly is to purify and clean the semiconductor surface.
Workers also face risks associated with inhaling silicon dust.
Not only do solar panels create ‘problems’ at the beginning of their life cycle, but in the end too. Solar panels are considered as electronic waste, or e-waste, and its disposal (if not done right) is toxic and hazardous.
Counter Argument: Companies Follow Safety Regulations
The chemicals that are used for PV cells are not exclusive to the solar industry.
Most chemicals are used in all industries requiring semiconductors—think of microchips and other microelectronics.
The amount used in production depends on the type of cell and the amount of cleaning that is needed.
All PV manufacturers must follow specific industry laws to ensure workers’ safety and proper disposal or recycling of waste products. A few companies are already establishing take-back and recycling programs.
Scientists are always on the lookout for new solar cell technologies that will increase their efficiency. New-generation panels aim for 44.5% efficiency.
This breakthrough will reduce the number of panels needed for an efficient solar system and will reduce emissions and the use of toxic chemicals.
Argument: Solar Is Expensive
The Argument Explained:
The cost of a solar system may vary from a couple of thousand dollars to more than $30,000. Prices depend on the size of the solar system, the quality of the components, the experience of the installation team and current rebates.
Here is a recommended spending guide, provided by Clean Energy Council:
1.5 kW system may range from $2500 to $6500
2 kW system – $3 000 to $7 500
3 kW system – $4 500 to $8 000
4 kW system – $6 000 to $9 500
5 kW system – $7 000 to $11 500
Counterargument: Buying a House Is Expensive Too
The cost of a solar system may look high, no doubt. But think of it like buying your own house instead of renting property all your life.
Yes, the upfront cost may seem unaffordable, but you can break it into smaller payments and consider it as an investment.
Solar will put you in a situation of owning your electricity rather than renting it, all for around the same cost per quarter.
By the way, the average Australian electricity bill has risen by around 63 percent over the past decade.
Solar systems can be paid off in 3-5 years and reduce your power bill by at least 70-80%.
Argument: Solar Panels Cause Roof Fires
The Argument Explained: Government incentives for solar PV installations, in addition to cheaper production costs of module panels, have produced growth in the number of low-cost manufacturers.
Recently, there has been an increase in the number of solar-related fires in Australia.
Here are some numbers:
Victoria’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade said it has attended more than 40 fires caused by solar panels in the past five years and Fire Rescue NSW responded to seven fires caused by solar panels last year.
Queensland firefighters have attended at least 64 fires caused by solar panels since 2015.
Counter Argument: Buy Cheap, Buy Twice
In most cases, the fires caused by solar panels were in fact sparked by faulty imported parts, e.g. isolators. Other reasons for such unfortunate consequences are:
- Poor workmanship;
- Failing systems due to poor design;
- Dangerously installed components;
- Lack of post-sale service due to company closure;
- Empty warranties in case of damage or fault.
Don’t go with the cheap product and dodgy sugar-coated offers. Investing in premium quality CEC-accredited products and choosing a solar installer with years of experience and a faultless ACCC reputation will save you money in the long run—and keep you and your family safe.
Argument: Solar Panels Don’t Last Long
The Argument Explained: This assumption is based mainly on the fact that the rated power output of solar panels typically degrades at about 0.5%/year.
Solar panels typically degrade faster in the first couple of years of their life. But that doesn’t mean they will not last long.
This argument has no real basis.
Counter Argument: We Don’t Really Know
Yes it’s true. We don’t really know how long PV-panels are going to last.
The reason for that is that the majority (85%!) of the 234 GW of installed global PV capacity have been in the field for less than five years.
Most of the reports on panels lifespan are based on test labs where particular panels are exposed to extreme temperatures, UV exposure, humidity, freezing, etc.
It will take more than twenty years before actual lifetime field data for the majority of today’s capacity can be gathered.
However, for the most commonly used solar panels, the degradation rate is less than 0.5% per year for panels made before 2000, and less than 0.4% for panels made after 2000.
That means that a panel manufactured today should produce 92% of its original power after 20 years.
This is why the majority of reputable manufacturers will offer a 25-year performance warranty, guaranteeing a certain level of production for the lifetime of the panel.
Which is not bad at all, right?
Solar energy is not “bad”.
It’s a clean energy that doesn’t create greenhouse gases and carbon emissions.
By going solar, we can slow down or even stop global warming while reducing our quarterly expenses while we’re at it.
Manufacturing of PV panels and batteries includes working with toxic chemicals that can be dangerous for the environment and workers involved.
However, modern recycling and waste reduction practices mean that most companies follow strict guidelines to reduce their environmental impact.
Yes, solar panels may look expensive upfront, but over time, the savings from solar far outweigh the costs.
In short, we can benefit from clean energy and save up to 80% on our electricity bills. It’s a win-win!
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