Top solar myths

It takes more energy to produce a solar panel than the solar panel produces in its lifetime.

Not true. Typical energy payback periods are about 3 or 4 years, and are quickly reducing as more energy efficient production methods are used. For the manufacture of the very earliest solar panels there was some truth in this myth as they used thick slices of pure silicon crystal, which are very energy intensive to grow. Modern panels use exceptionally thin slices of silicon crystal, which use correspondingly less energy in their production. 'Thin-film' solar panels - such as the Unisolar brand - are even less energy-intensive to produce.

Once solar panels have reached the end of their life they can (and should) be recycled. The process involves stripping the module down to its basic components - glass, ferrous and non ferrous metals, plastic and silicon. These products can then be re used - helping to preserve precious resources. As solar PV is relatively new in the UK, there is a limited market. However, countries such as Germany have been installing PV panels in reasonably high volumes since the early 1990s. Some off these panels are nearing the end of their life - so we can expect improvements in the PV recycling market over the coming years.

Amorphous solar panels degrade quickly - they only last about five years.

Not true - or at least, not true for all thin-film panels. Most modern thin-film panels have usable lifetimes which are almost as long as conventional crystalline panels. Unisolar guarantee the power output of their panels to be at least 80% of rated capacity after 20 years - they wouldn't be that daft to guarantee it if the panels had a usable lifetime of only 5 years!

Be aware though that some cheaper, thin-film panels out there are based on different chemistries, and these may have a significantly shorter lifespan than conventional silicon panels.

You would have to cover the entire country in solar panels to generate enough for the UK's electricity demand

UK annual energy consumption is around 350,000,000,000 kWh. An 85W solar panel measuring 1m x 0.65m produces just over 200 kWh per year in the UK climate - so you would need around 1,750,000,000 such solar panels to meet UK demand. They would cover an area of 1137500000 square metres, or 1137.5 square kilometers. That's a square 34 kilometers by 34 kilometers, or just over 20 miles by 20 miles.

If that still boggles your mind, how much do you think you personally need? Each person in the UK averages a little under 6000 kWh per year, which could be provided by 30 of our 85W solar panels. That's 19.5 square metres, or a square 4.4m by 4.4m - probably smaller than your roof.

The cost for the panels, incidentally, would be about £2K.