Challenging Common Energy Misconceptions- Part 2

There’s a bunch of misconceptions and mistaken assumptions about energy that often mislead people into doing things that wind up either causing more problems or costing them more money. The vexing thing about these misconceptions is that at first glance, they seem to make sense. Let’s take a closer look to find out why these misconceptions don’t really work in the real physical world.

Solar panels don’t work when there’s no sun.

Most commercially produced solar panels (photovoltaics) do rely on light in the visible spectrum to generate electricity. On cloudy or rainy days, photovoltaic panels can generate electricity, though not as efficiently as on a sunny day. However, using different kinds of substrates and coatings can tune-in different light wavelengths, letting you can expand the panel’s performance. New photovoltaics are being developed that generate electricity from the invisible wavelengths, infrared and ultraviolet. A group of MIT researchers has created a transparent photovoltaic panel that lets visible light pass through, but captures invisible light to make electricity. Used on windows, the panel’s inventors suggest that skyscrapers could make a third of their own electricity. Meanwhile, Harvard researchers are working on a device that will convert the infrared thermal radiation given off at night into electricity.

The nameplate capacity is how much power a generator will generate.

The tricky word here is “capacity.” It means that the hardware could safely generate its rated amount of power under optimal conditions. Of course, “optimal conditions” rarely occur in nature. Power plants are rated in terms of their “capacity factor” or their actual output over time versus their nameplate capacity. Powerplants can’t always run at 100% of their nameplate capacity due to maintenance schedules, mishaps, transmission constraints, and fuel availability. How do renewables compare? At the Open Energy Information site, wind power’s maximum capacity factor rose from 44.5% in 2009 52% in 2014. Meanwhile, natural gas combined cycle was 93% for both years.

Crawl spaces under houses should be left open and vented to encourage airflow, reduce humidity, and help cool the home.

From the 1970s through the 1990s, crawlspaces were built with venting to provide air circulation that helped keep them dry. It’s now been proven that venting actually increases the moisture level in the crawlspace because circulating outside air through it brings in more humidity and moisture. Consequently, houses with vented crawl spaces often have humidity problems involving mildew, mold, and wood rot.

The fix is to seal or “encapsulate” the crawlspace.

One of the first things (also easiest) you can do is put down 6-mil polyethylene plastic sheetiing across the crawlspace floor. This prevents soil moisture from rising into the crawlspace and eventually rising into your living space. Overlap and tape all seams by 12 inches, and seal the sheet 6 inches up the crawlspace walls. The better you seal your crawlspace, the more comfortable your family will be, and the more energy you’ll save.

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Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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