Nine solar power myths, debunked

Close up of a solar panels

Sue Hewitt

Posted September 29, 2020

RACV Solar’s Andy McCarthy busts the most common myths about rooftop solar power.

As working from home has more and more Victorians keeping a keen eye on mounting power bills, there’s never been a better time to consider solar power as a low-cost alternative. But although Australia has the highest per-capita uptake of domestic rooftop solar in the world, persistent myths and misunderstandings remain, says RACV Solar chief executive Andy McCarthy.

We asked Andy to debunk the most common myths about solar power.

Nine of the most common solar power myths, debunked

Myth: The bigger the system, the bigger the savings

When it comes to rooftop solar, bigger isn’t necessarily better. “A bigger system doesn’t automatically mean you’ll save more on power bills – you still have to pay a fixed daily connection fee as well as power used at night,” says Andy.

There’s no point spending up big on a higher-output system if you don’t need it or can’t afford it. However, Andy advises it’s important to consider not just your current power consumption, but also your future needs. A large system might help “future proof” your home, say for the day you get an electric vehicle or a solar battery.

Andy says every household is different and the most important consideration is to make sure your system is tailored to your individual home and needs, both current and future. “Discuss your needs, including future power usage, with your experienced installer before deciding what system size is right for you.”

Myth: Solar panels will power my home during a blackout

Andy says many people aren’t aware that solar systems automatically stop working when there’s a power blackout on the grid, essentially to stop power flowing back into the grid and risking the safety of electrical workers fixing the problem. Some solar battery-storage systems can provide backup power but not all of them do. “It’s important to check before you buy,” he says.

Myth: Solar panels don’t work when it’s cloudy or cold

High-quality solar panels do work in low-light conditions, such as cloudy days, although you will experience a reduction in power output on rainy days.

“In partly cloudy conditions you may commonly see panels still performing at anywhere between 40 per cent to 70 per cent of their normal output,” says Andy. “On severely overcast days you can see a performance drop to the point where almost no electricity is produced at all.”

Toy house on solar panels

There’s no point spending up big on a higher-output system if you don’t need it or can’t afford it.

Myth: A cheaper system will pay for itself faster

When crunching the numbers of your solar investment, a cheaper system may seem like sound economic sense. But low cost often means fewer panels and lower efficiency compared to a higher-priced, higher-quality system that will generate more power and ultimately save you more on your electricity bills.

“Over the past decade, we’ve seen so many consumers dazzled by offers that appeared ‘too good to be true’,” says Andy. “Time after time, those consumers find themselves with myriad problems, and a provider that won’t support them after they have paid for their system. We get SOS calls asking us to rectify problems on a system that we didn’t install, and often the repair bill is more than the cost of the entire system.”

The smartest solar investment is to pay a reasonable price for a quality system and, most importantly, have it installed by a reputable company with a long history in the industry.

Myth: You can’t use solar power at night

Solar panels don’t work at night but solar batteries do. Excess energy produced by solar panels during the day can be stored in a home battery and used when the sun goes down.

Even if you don’t have a battery, excess solar power can be fed into the electricity grid in return for a credit from your power retailer. This so-called feed-in tariff may help to offset night-time power costs, but check with your retailer as these rates have decreased significantly in recent years.

Myth: I don’t use power during the day, so solar won’t save me money

While it’s true that households with higher daytime consumption make the most of solar, all homes have a ‘baseload energy consumption’ used to run the fridge, hot-water system, appliances on standby, etc. Solar will offset the cost of this baseload use during the day.

Even if you’re out of the house all day, you can make the most of your solar system by setting a timer to run energy-greedy appliances such as dishwashers, washing machines or dryers during daylight hours.

Andy also recommends running heating or cooling systems during the day so your house is at a comfortable temperature when you get home. This way you’ll use less energy to bring the temperature up or down to comfortable levels at night.

Man carrying a solar panel to the roof

Solar panels shouldn’t damage your roof if they’re installed correctly using the right mounting system to suit your roofing material and type.

Myth: Installing solar panels will damage my roof

Solar panels shouldn’t damage your roof if they’re installed correctly using the right mounting system to suit your roofing material and type. However, Andy says while a quality installer will take great care to avoid causing any damage during installation, accidents can sometimes happen, especially on tiled roofs. “It’s a good idea to have some spare tiles on hand so they can replace a broken tile for you straight away.”

Myth: Solar panels don’t work if they’re dirty

They may not look pretty, but Andy says his research shows that dirty solar panels rarely make more than one per cent difference to the power produced.

Rain naturally cleans the panels, he says, but if the panels are on a flat roof dirt will build up and become a problem. “If your home has a flat roof, it’s worth having panels installed on a slight tilt to avoid dirt and debris building up.” And if they do need a clean, he recommends spraying with a hose in the early morning or evening when the panels are cool. Applying cold water to hot panels may cause cracking.

Myth: I’m a renter so I can’t have solar

If you’re a renter, it’s worth talking to your landlord about the benefits of installing rooftop solar on your home, especially as a new state government interest-free loan program has made it more affordable. The new loans, introduced in July, allow landlords to borrow $1850 interest-free to install solar on rental properties, in addition to the existing $1850 solar rebate. Not only will rooftop solar improve the resale value of a property, lower electricity bills will also help ensure good tenants stick around. And if your landlord still isn’t convinced, Andy suggests renters might offer to contribute half the cost of installation, at about $19 or $20 a month, in a win-win deal that boosts the property’s value for the landlord, and saves the tenant $50 to $60 a month off their energy bills.

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