Are Solar Panels Really As Green As We Think?
As the solar industry heats up in the United States and around the world, solar panels are becoming more and more in demand. Solar is seen as the ultimate green energy because it only requires solar panels and sunlight to power an entire house or building. In fact, many houses that use solar power actually feed some of their electricity back into the public electrical grid. With no fossil fuels to burn, solar is seen as very friendly to the environment.
But how green are the solar panels? Do the panels themselves, from their manufacturing to their delivery and installation, actually leave a bigger carbon footprint than they save? The only safe answer to this question is: it depends. Since solar panels are produced all over the world, using different manufacturing and shipping methods, there is no easy way to determine if solar panels are truly a net positive for the environment.
Solar panels don’t just appear out of thin air, someone actually has to make them. Manufacturing solar panels require a lot of raw materials and energy to power the machinery that makes the panels. The source of the energy for these manufacturing plants can make a big difference in just how green solar energy really is. For example, many of the manufacturing plants in China still rely heavily on fossil fuels for energy.
The manufacturing process itself isn’t very green either. Solar panels require chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and hydrofluoric acid, two very caustic chemicals. Manufacturing solar panels also require a lot of water. The other problem is that the process creates a lot of greenhouse gases as well as toxic waste.
But the news isn’t all bad. Solar panel manufacturers recognize that for their products to be truly green, they need to be environmentally friendly from start to finish. For example, companies are relying less on fossil fuels to power their plants and more on renewable energy. The toxic waste produced during the manufacturing process is being disposed of in safe, eco-friendly ways.
Solar Panels Pay Off Over The Long Term
Despite the energy needed to create solar panels, they can usually make up for the manufacturing carbon footprint within two years. And with the lifespan of solar panels being produced today estimated at thirty years, solar panels are more environmentally friendly than ever. Even the high cost of purchasing and installing solar panels is an investment that consumers will get paid back over time.