Most people won’t debate the cost benefits of using free, clean solar power for electricity in their homes. But if eco-consciousness is tops on your list of reasons to consider a solar PV installation, then you’re also concerned about reducing your home and family’s carbon footprint.
If that’s the case, you may want to know that all solar panels are not created equal in regard to their impact on the environment. Of course, solar panels reduce the coal or other fossil fuels your family may use for electricity or to heat your home, but solar panels also have their own carbon footprint that impacts the environment.
Some of the factors that contribute to a solar panel’s carbon footprint include:
- The materials used in the manufacture of the panels – The form of energy used to power the plants that manufacture the panels. Yes, it starts right at the beginning, with the energy used to produce the panels. Of course, a solar panel plant that, itself, runs on solar power, is going to produce “greener” panels than one that uses conventional electricity
- Transportation of solar panels – If your solar PV installer buys from a local manufacturer or supplier, this will naturally reduce the carbon footprint. Other ways to reduce the carbon footprint of transporting solar panels include using fleets of hybrid vehicles or vehicles that run on bio-diesel. Similarly, the materials used to create the panels should arrive at manufacturing plants in the greenest way possible.
- How the manufacturer deals with waste disposal – Flourine cleaning systems reduce the amount of toxic waste produced in the manufacturing of solar panels. An article published in 2009 stated that the average amount of time it takes for solar panels to offset their own carbon footprint is approximately two years. But as manufacturing processes advance and solar panels have become even more efficient, this number continues to drop.
- Recycling practices of the manufacturer – Just like waste disposal, whether or not the manufacturer recycles as much material as possible affects the carbon footprint of solar panels. This extends back to the manufacturers of the equipment used in solar panel plants, too.
It’s clear that tracing the true carbon footprint of any technology is a serpentine path. Solar panel manufacturers First Solar and Genersys both boast about the low carbon footprints of their products. First Solar was ranked in the top quarter for a low carbon footprint in the recently published Carbon Disclosure Project CDP, which included 339 Standard & Poors 500 respondents.
If you’re especially concerned about reducing your carbon footprint, it pays to research not just solar installers, but the products they use in their installations.