12 photovoltaic myths explained: What is actually true?
Alongside wind energy, photovoltaics is one of the most promising and feasable forms of renewable energy. This is why electricity generation from PV systems has increased in recent years, not only in the residential but also in the commercial and industrial sector (C&I). Politicians have also firmly anchored photovoltaics in their climate targets and are relying on solar energy for the energy transition: according to the Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur), in 2023 alone, the share of renewable energies in overall electricity consumption rose to over 55 % for the first time1, and solar energy boasted a record growth of around 85 % compared to 20222.
Large corporate rooftops are the beacons of hope for the energy transition, as they harbor essential and often untapped potential for green energy production. Nevertheless, solar power plants on company roofs are a rarity in Germany, despite their many benefits for companies. The reasons for the skepticism? On the one hand, the widespread media reporting and, on the other, many prevailing photovoltaic myths.
What to expect in this article
There are many photovoltaic myths and misconceptions, which have a deterrent effect and put the complex topic of solar energy in a negative light. Yet photovoltaics offer many advantages, especially for companies with high electricity consumption on site - just consider the stable energy costs alone, for example.
Due to the prevalence of the topic in the media and the high availability of sources on the Internet, it is difficult to gain an overview of the various advantages and disadvantages of photovoltaics – especially if you are new to the topic. In this article, we would like to explain the common myths from an expert's point of view and reveal what is actually behind them.
PV myths uncovered: What's behind the common assumptions?
1. Myth: Photovoltaics are expensive
The myth that photovoltaics are expensive persists. However, the reality is different. Prices for PV systems have dropped considerably in recent years, and solar modules are currently cheaper than ever before.3 There are also various options that make it much easier for companies to get started with solar energy:
Subsidy programs: It is always a good idea to consult regional advice centers and enquire about funding opportunities in your area. Alternatively, various online platforms and portals (government websites such as those of the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA), energy portals or industry associations) are a reliable source of information.
Financing options: other than taking out a loan from your house bank, there are external PV service providers who can put you in touch with specialized banks or take over the financing completely.
Different solutions by external partners: besides a classic model of purchasing and operating your own system, you can instead lease a PV system or rent out your roof for the installation of solar modules to an external service provider.
2. Myth Statics: Roofs cannot bear the additional load of the photovoltaic system
Modern PV systems are much lighter than they were a few years ago and easier to install than ever before. Most roofs can support the additional load without any problems. However, it is highly recommended to check the condition of your roof and have a professional structural analysis report prepared before the installation – for safety reasons alone. If such risks are discovered by an expert, unsuitable roofs can be upgraded and secured under certain conditions by additional stabilization or roof renovation.
3. Myth: PV systems only produce electricity when the sun is shining
PV modules also generate electricity in diffuse light conditions or on cloudy days: the technology has developed in such a way that it also works efficiently in less-than-ideal weather conditions. If you are thinking about using photovoltaics, you should have experts calculate how much energy you can produce at your location. They will not only take weather data into consideration (e.g. the prevailing sunny days in your region), but also the conditions of your roof and how densely it can be covered.
You can also store energy for less sunny days by using an electricity storage system. Your optimum PV set-up depends on the amount of electricity you consume on site. Once you have determined this, there is a customized solution: you can either feed surplus electricity into the public grid at a profit or purchase additional green electricity from an external service provider via an electricity supply contract (a so-called "PPA" - Power Purchase Agreement).
4. Myth: The roof must face south for efficiency reasons
Off to the south? Hardly. The myth that photovoltaics are only efficient when facing south is outdated. Modern technologies and intelligent inverters enable profitable results when facing east or west as well. Holistic planning of the photovoltaic system, taking into account local conditions and economic aspects, increases efficiency. Therefore, roofs that are not perfectly south-facing are still profitable.
5. Myth Photovoltaics as a fire safety risk: Modules cannot be extinguished by conventional means
Without exception, modern PV modules fulfill the strictest fire protection standards. In the event of a fire, professionals can safely extinguish them using conventional means: And yes, solar modules can also be extinguished with water. Fire-fighting specialists use officially tested and proven strategies. Safety technologies have continuously evolved to ensure effective firefighting in the event of an emergency.
6. Myth Lightning protection: Photovoltaics attract lightning during storms
PV as a lightning magnet? The probability of lightning striking a PV system is actually not higher than that of other buildings. But you should still be on the safe side: lightning conductors offer additional protection. Modern photovoltaic systems take current lightning protection standards into account in their design in order to minimize potential risks. Concerns about lightning are therefore completely unfounded.
7. Myth Longevity of photovoltaics: PV modules lose a lot of power over time and have a short operational lifespan
Modern PV modules are characterized by an impressive operational lifespan, often over 25 years. They also guarantee a consistently high output, as the efficiency of the modules has increased significantly over the years. The minimal power loss that can occur over the years is further reduced by regular maintenance.
Manufacturers place foremost importance on durability and reliability, and many offer long-term warranties. Thanks to constant technological advances and high-quality materials, companies can rely on stable energy production over the long term. So sit back and relax: investments in modern photovoltaic technologies will pay off for decades to come.
8. Myth Environmental balance: Photovoltaics devour vast amounts of resources and are harmful to the environment
As with all manufacturing processes, the production of PV modules naturally consumes a certain amount of resources. However, the ecological benefits over the lifetime of the systems are simply enormous and much more important. Photovoltaics make a significant contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gases. Advances in technology and materials are constantly improving the environmental balance.
9. Myth: PV modules dazzle due to their shiny surface
Modern modules are designed to absorb sunlight optimally. Glare effects are minimal, if any, and can be avoided through intelligent planning and alignment by experts.
10. Myth “Caution! Toxic”: PV modules contain toxic substances
Modern PV modules are made of environmentally friendly materials and do not release any hazardous substances if they are disposed of correctly. What is particularly important here, is to know under what circumstances and in what quantities critical substances are released. This is because almost every technical device contains substances such as heavy metals4, at least in small quantities. The industry has come a long way in terms of environmental sustainability. Constant innovations in materials, research and production technology enable better processes in manufacturing.
11. Myth: Photovoltaic modules can’t be recycled
Wrong, photovoltaic modules are mostly recyclable. Thanks to continuous advances in recycling technology, valuable materials such as silicon, aluminum and glass can be recovered from the modules. The industry is strongly committed to establishing efficient recycling processes to further minimize the environmental impact: PV modules in the EU, for example, have been subject to the so-called “take-back obligation” for some time now. PV system operators must officially document and prove the correct disposal of solar modules. Retailers, importers, and producers have joined forces in the "PV-Cycle" to organize the recycling of modules in a comprehensive and compliant manner.5
12. Myth Photovoltaic monitoring and maintenance: PV systems require a lot of effort to operate
Modern PV systems are almost maintenance-free, which enables companies to operate them reliably and cost-effectively. Experts recommend inspections and cleaning at regular intervals, supported by automatic monitoring systems to ensure the functionality of the PV system on a day-to-day basis. If these aspects are fulfilled, companies benefit from low operating costs, high system availability and, of course, more favorable electricity prices - regardless of the fluctuating market.
Many photovoltaic myths require close scrutiny to recognize the current facts. Due to its high social and political relevance, PV technology has made huge progress over the last few decades. Research is also constantly advancing. The resulting improvements minimize obstacles and risks for companies immensely. The use of photovoltaics - especially on large commercial roofs - offers many cost and image advantages. PV also contributes to the fulfilment of legal requirements, (keyword: commercial solar obligation) as well as CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and ESG (Environmental Social Governance) criteria.
Would you like to take the first step towards a more sustainable future? ENVIRIA will support you on the way.
The journey towards utilizing photovoltaics for your company is complex and requires many individual steps that can quickly lead to a great deal of internal effort. With the support of a strong partner, the project can be carried out safely, from customized planning to commissioning and maintenance - in the meantime, you can fully concentrate on your core business.
Arrange a consultation with ENVIRIA experts now!
1https://www.bundesnetzagentur.de/SharedDocs/Pressemitteilungen/DE/2024/20240103_SMARD.html (Source: Status 11.01.2024)
2https://www.solarwirtschaft.de/2024/01/03/2023-mehr-als-eine-million-neue-solaranlagen/ (Source: Status 11.01.2024)
3 https://www.pv-magazine.de/2023/11/03/preise-fuer-solarzellen-fallen-auf-ein-allzeittief/ (Source: Status 11.01.2024)
4 https://www.solaranlage.eu/pv-anlage/gefahren/giftige-substanzen (Source: Status 11.01.2024)
5 https://www.solaranlage.eu/pv-anlage/gefahren/giftige-substanzen (Source: Status 11.01.2024)
Content Manager Jan Brendel creates versatile content on the topics of renewable energies, solar and photovoltaics at ENVIRIA. He has worked as a copywriter and author in various industries and has gained a deep understanding of the needs and requirements of companies over the years. Among other things, he has written scientific papers in the industrial and manufacturing sectors (mechanical and plant engineering, logistics, etc.). His passion for music is at least as great as his passion for the energy transition of companies.