Debunking Common Solar Power Misperceptions

It seems that everywhere you go, there are examples of solar power being used, specifically in South Africa. A key driver of this technology has been load shedding, leading to many roofs sporting an array of solar panels.

But, because the technology is relatively new, many people have been given conflicting information on how solar panels work, how to maintain them properly, and whether they are detrimental to the environment. So, let’s debunk some common misperceptions about solar power.


Perception One: Solar Panels Don’t Generate Power on Cloudy Days

The first incorrect perception is that solar panels will not generate power on cloudy days or in cold weather. We all can recognise that the best environment for solar panels to produce energy is a sunny day.

In perfect conditions, the average (550-watt) panel will generate 3.0kWh of power per day, depending on location and time of the year. That being said, they can still produce 10-25% of their rated power on a completely overcast day. Temperature does have a major impact on solar panels, all panels have an ideal operating temperature, and any variation above or below this ideal temperature will have an impact on the production of the panel.

With the improvements in technology and efficiency, using panels to generate electricity is now a viable option all over the world. There are many ways to improve energy production such as the orientation and positioning of the panels to suit the angle of the sun, as well as careful placement to ensure air flow (natural cooling of the panel) and to avoid shading.

In the Southern hemisphere, panels should be oriented north, and vice versa in the North. The positioning differs from household to household, but professionals will be able to advise on your individual conditions.  Panels will also produce a significant amount of power when placed in a west or east orientation.


Perception Two: Solar Panels are Very Expensive

The second perception many people have is that solar panels are very expensive. This was true in the early days, but recently, prices have dropped to an all-time low thanks to improvements in technology and production.

Many places around the world have solar panels competing with traditional energy sources as the cheapest electricity provider. It’s also useful to think about how much going solar will save you in the long run.

Traditional energy prices will continue to rise going forward, while the rays from the sun will always be free. The initial costs can be confronting at first, but when calculated over the medium- to long-term, the savings add up.

In addition, many South African organisations are now offering financing options to go with the various incentives and rebates available from the government. Banks offer solar energy asset finance, with up to 72-month payment periods.


Perception Three: Solar Panels Need Loads of Maintenance

A third perception is that solar panels need enormous amounts of maintenance. This simply isn’t true. They have no moving parts, so there’s limited opportunity for any mechanical failures to occur, and generally, they just need regular cleaning to keep them working efficiently. You can read more about how to clean your panels here.

Good-quality panels will come with a warranty for maintenance and repairs, too. Most will come with a 10-12 year product warranty and a 25-30 year performance warranty.


Perception Four: Solar Panels Are Unreliable

The fourth misperception is that solar is an unreliable energy source. This myth comes from outdated ideas about how solar systems work. Nowadays, solar technology allows for very efficient energy production and storage, making solar energy systems reliable even when the sun isn’t shining.

There is also the issue of unreliable traditional power sources to consider. More and more countries across the world are experiencing some version of South African load shedding. Even the USA has regions with extremely variable electricity provision. And when the grid is affected, it can extend to thousands of households. Solar power is generally individual to homes, so if your neighbour or the next suburb has a problem, it won’t affect you, depending on your system type and design.


Perception Five: It’s Complicated

The fifth perception about solar is that it’s complicated to install and manage, this is both true and false at the same time. You need a professional to design, explain, and hook up your system. On the surface a solar system is a simple operation, the solar panels generate power, and the inverter allocates that power to where it is needed.

The actual operation of a solar system is quite complex, your solar panels are generating DC power and feeding it to an inverter, which must manage what to do with the power generation. Should it charge the batteries (also DC power) or should it convert the power from DC to AC and feed the electrical load?

This is where it is critical to engage with a professional at the start, they need to understand how you consume power when you use your power, and what you wish to achieve with your system.


Perception Six: Bad for the Environment

Finally, the last perception is that solar panels are bad for the environment. All large-scale production has environmental impacts, particularly during manufacturing and disposal.

Solar panels at the end of their life must be disposed of in a responsible environmental manner, this is not just a trip to a landfill.  You will need to contact a specialist company to dispose of them in the proper manner, that complies with local regulations.

Despite the manufacturing and the disposal process being detrimental, the 25 to 30-year life span of solar panels, their contribution to the generation of clean power, and their reduction in greenhouse gases far offset these two issues.


We hope you have had all your solar power misperceptions debunked. If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.