Photovoltaic systems: 7 misconceptions
Today, solar power is the centre of a transformation that will bring added value, in terms of environment, new jobs, economy and sustainability. However, there are still some misconceptions that should be debunked, through the right information and education. Let’s go over the most recurring false myths.
PV is no longer a minor, alternative technology. It has now become an edge technology. A whole series of misconceptions surrounds this field, and the risk is that they divert the attention from the benefits and advantages of solar power. Here is a list of the most recurring one, we want to debunk.
1. PV is a pollutant
The energy produced by the sun is unlimited, and, since it comes from a renewable source, it is not pollutant. The first myth to debunk is related to how photovoltaic components are produced.
The power required to produce one module is compensated by it within one or two years of operation. After that, the module will produce renewable energy during its life span (approx. 30 years) with very small maintenance costs. Environmental impact analyses show that the PV’s emissions during its life cycle, in terms of gCO2/kWh, are just 10-15% compared to a combined cycle system powered by natural gas.
Here at 3SUN, we abide by the highest environmental sustainability standards to produce our modules, and, thanks to our 3SUN CORE-H technology, we can reduce initial energy consumption down to 20%.
2. Solar power robs vital farming space and spoil the landscape
Agriculture and PV can coexist. According to Elettricità Futura, the new renewable solar and wind power installed, required to reach the REPowerEU 2030 objectives (+85 GW), would occupy a mere 0.3% of the surface available in Italy. Those are very low values, if we consider the space taken up by parking lots (1%) and roads (3%). At the same time, solar power does not rob land to farming or animal husbandry, and, through innovative technologies such as those linked to agrivoltaic systems, agro-pastoral activities and renewable energy production can happily coexist. Even better. These two aspects combined would provide significant benefits to the agro-pastoral activity, and positive effects to the territory and to local communities.
3. Photovoltaic cannot be programmable
How can we be certain of the power supply, if solar power source cannot be programmed? Isn’t there the risk of being left in the dark, on cloudy days? Another false myth. Thanks to the accuracy reached by weather forecasts, and even more performing monitoring systems, photovoltaic energy production can be predicted in detail. Also, the development of storage systems both for residential, industrial and utility scales, allows programming solar production even more accurately, offering the certainty of having the required power when you need it, and also mains services that can ensure a better stability. A positive example of this can be found in Enel Green Power, committed to searching for solutions to reduce the discontinuity of renewable sources, by creating hybrid solar farms, combining solar power production and battery storage in the same space.
4. Photovoltaic systems are too expensive
Renewable energy costs less than the energy produced by coal-fired power stations. According to a recent study conducted by the financial company Lazard, photovoltaic and wind power continue to be the two most reliable and cost-effective power sources. According to Lazard, without considering incentives and carbon or fuel prices, utility-sized solar plants have the lowest levellized cost of energy (LCOE) compared to all other power sources, with values between 24 and 96 dollars/MWh. In detail, between 2009 and 2013 the cost of this market segment dropped by 84%. While the LCOE of coal-fired plants ranges between 68 and 166 dollars/MWh. In a future prevision, the levellized cost of solar power could further decrease, thanks to the drop in price of components and raw materials.
5. Solar power harms the economy and the job industry
Quite the contrary. Energy transition means change, new opportunities, rapid transformation. According to the new Renewable Energy Report by the Politecnico di Milano, achieving the 2030 decarbonization objectives would create investments for new installations in Italy for a value between 43 and 68 billion euros, and would generate employment opportunities for 350,000 units. If we consider global previsions, according to a study by Italy for Climate - an initiative of the Fondazione per lo Sviluppo Sostenibile, promoted by a group of enterprises and associations sensitive to the topic of climate change - there will be 14 new billion jobs in the renewable power sector before 2030, compared to the 5 billion jobs lost in the Oil & Gas field. A concrete example of positive job opportunities in the Italian territory is our Gigafactory based in Catania. By expanding our factory, which will go from a production of 200 MW to 3 GW per year in 2024, we are creating about 900 new direct jobs and 1,000 indirect positions.
6. The modules cannot be recycled
Where will the panels go once they reach the end of their useful life? Will they be disposed of? Is disposal possible and does it ensure full recycling of its components? These and other questions arouse doubts and perplexity on solar power. However, they can instantly be answered by data. Today, the recycling rate of photovoltaic modules is one of the highest, if we consider electric and electronic equipment. Also, this aspect is well regulated by law in Italy, with the latest updated of the “Istruzioni Operative per la gestione del fine vita dei pannelli fotovoltaici degli impianti incentivati in Conto Energia” (Operative Instructions to manage the end of life of photovoltaic panels belonging to plants incentivised by the Conto Energia) dating back to a little less than one year ago. Currently, photovoltaic module recycling rates are around 80-90% of their total weight, giving new life to elements such as glass, aluminium and copper.
7. Photovoltaic plants require a lot of water
In a period during which the topic of water resources has become crucial (due to drought and water availability crises), the misconceptions also include the allegations that a photovoltaic plant requires a high water consumption during its life cycle. It doesn't. Photovoltaic plants use water only to correctly clean the modules.