Obviously solar panels produce “net zero” energy with no harmful emissions, but what about the impact of manufacturing the panels themselves? With this in mind, is solar energy really a sustainable choice?
Solar energy has long been hailed as a “clean and green” energy source, but how environmentally friendly is it, after all?
Detractors of solar power have claimed that since solar panels are made (and of course transported) using fossil fuels, they have a larger environmental impact that needs to be considered.
So what is the truth? Is solar energy really a green choice, or not? This helpful article sheds some light on the topic:
Many researchers frame the environmental impact of solar energy with the concept of energy payback time, or EPBT. The EPBT tells us how long it will take for solar panels to produce enough clean electricity to “pay back” the energy that was used to produce them. This calculation varies depending on a few different factors, including:
1. The productivity of your solar panels. If you live in an area that has lots of sunlight, and your solar panels are very efficient, then your system will generate more electricity and have a shorter EPBT.
2. How your solar panels are produced. Some solar panels require more energy to produce than others. For example, thin-film modules have a smaller footprint than silicon modules, because less energy is needed to manufacture them.
3. Where your solar panels are made. Solar panels have to be transported from where they were made to where they will be installed. If your solar panels were manufactured in Europe or Asia but installed in the U.S. then they had to be transported further, requiring more energy usage and thus increasing their EPBT.
The good news is that, while the EPBT of a solar panel is dependent on many factors, the market is moving in the right direction. In 1970, the average energy payback time for solar panels was 40 years. By 2010, that number had dropped to just six months.
As the solar industry matures, manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to make solar panels more efficiently, which means that solar’s EPBT will continue to decrease. For example, in the past 10 years, there has been a 62 percent decrease in the amount of material used for silicon cells, thanks to increased efficiency and thinner designs….
On top of that, it’s important to remember that solar panels can generate energy for 25 to 35 years…. So while the environmental impact of solar energy is greater than zero, its overall benefits far outweigh its costs.
Read the full article at MotherEarthNews.com….