The Environmental Cost of Solar Panel Manufacturing

Fossil Fuels Get 12x More Subsidies than Renewable EnergyMany people wonder if the manufacturing processes for photovoltaic solar modules and other PV equipment are harmful to the environment orparticularly carbon intensive.  There has also been a lot of negativepress that photovoltaic solar panels can be toxic to the environment.  Do the benefits of the energy generated from solar panels outweigh the harmful effects of the manufacturing process?

According to NREL (the National Renewable Energy Laboratory), thetruth is a PV polycrystalline module will produce enough clean power inabout four years to offset the energy required to manufacture it.  Youunfortunately have to consume a little energy to save a lot more.  After a module is manufactured and installed, it will be a zero emissionsenergy source for the rest of its life.  Over a 30 year life expectancy, almost 90% of the energy generated from the solar panel will be pollution free. 

The major manufacturing input of PV modules is silicon, one of the most abundant elements on earth.  It is easilygathered from the top of the earth’s crust and is available all over the world, eliminating the need to transport heavy raw materials. Purifying and crystallizing silicon is the most energy intensive process ofmanufacturing PV panels.  Energy is also expelled when cutting siliconwafers, processing wafers into cells, and assembling cells into panels.  The industry is moving towards recycling PV modules which will saveenergy in the reuse of silicon cells and metals.

In regards to the toxicity of solar panels, experts have been discussing the use of chemicals in the manufacturingprocess.  As a result, the EPA has cited certain panels as toxic and has imposed regulations on employee safety when handling chemicals and thedisposal of toxic materials.  This has, in turn, made PV manufacturersmore aware of risks and they have implemented standards to make theproduction safer.

A lot of the negative news you hear about solar is generated fromincumbent energy producers.  They want us to believe that our currentenergy infrastructure is the only logical answer when it is clearlynot.  From the first day a PV installation is turned on, it will createclean, green electricity.  And, whatever the system generates willreduce its owner’s need to purchase “dirty” electricity.  An average 5kW solar electric installation in Massachusetts or Connecticut will produce an equivalent of 10 to 12 barrels of oil each year.  Thiswould save about 10,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, which wouldbe similar to planting 20 mature trees annually or driving your car7,000 miles less a year.

Brightstar Solar enables our customers to make their own sustainable solar power safely, dependably, and with an attractive return on investment.  Please contact us if you’re interested in a free solar evaluation of your home or business in Massachusetts or Connecticut.

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