Solar panels are often marketed as a clean, sustainable way to take advantage of sunlight. While solar power production produces zero emissions, the manufacturing process of solar panels can impact the environment, which concerns many environmentally conscious people interested in going solar.
If this resonates with you, keep reading to get a full scope of the actual impact solar panel manufacturing has.
The Real Impact of Solar Panels Manufacturing
The good news is, solar panels are 90% recyclable. However, solar panel manufacturing does have positive and negative impacts on the environment. Here are some key points to consider:
Solar panels are made of glass, silicon, plastic/polymers, and metals like silver, cadmium, aluminum, and copper. While glass and silicon are vastly available and easy to extract, mining metals produce greenhouse gas emissions that can cause water, soil, and air pollution and habitat destruction.
Solar panel manufacturing requires energy-consuming processes such as refining the raw materials, producing semiconductor wafers, and assembling the panels. If the energy used in manufacturing comes from non-renewable sources, it can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. However, solar panel technology advances have permitted the use of more renewable energy sources, and it is becoming the standard used in manufacturing.
Solar panel production uses solvents and acids at different stages. Improper handling and disposal of these chemicals, especially toxic ones such as Cadmium Telluride (CdTe), can pose environmental risks if not managed carefully. However, many manufacturers are implementing sustainable practices and reducing the use of harmful substances.
Some stages of solar panel manufacturing require significant water usage, particularly for cooling and cleaning processes. In areas where water scarcity is a concern, this could affect local water resources.
Solar panel production generates silicon scraps, small amounts of metal, and chemical byproducts. Proper waste management and recycling practices are crucial to minimize the environmental impact. Recycling efforts have improved in recent years, allowing for the recovery of valuable materials and reducing waste sent to landfills. This includes used solar panels that ended their life cycle since, as we mentioned, solar panels are 90% recyclable.
How Solar Panels Offset Their Manufacturing Emissions
Solar panels can offset these emissions within 3 to 6 years, despite having a potentially polluting manufacturing process. Considering that solar panels can last 30 to 40 years, the power a solar system will generate during its lifetime offsets the carbon footprint it produces during manufacturing, something that other energy sources like coal, oil, and natural gas can’t do, as they’re responsible for over 40% of CO2 emissions from electricity and heat generation globally.
Governments worldwide are shifting towards renewable energy sources like solar for various uses, including residential, to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and mitigate their environmental impacts. This has given rise to offering financial incentives and tax benefits to support solar adoption and other renewable energy sources in several countries.
The Future of Energy Production
Although solar panel manufacturing impacts the environment, the benefits in energy production and the reduction of greenhouse emissions compensate for the solar panels’ manufacture.
Solar technology has been improving consistently over the years, and manufacturers continually strive to improve their processes and develop alternatives that minimize environmental impact and reduce the use of hazardous substances.
Undoubtedly, solar energy will play a significant role in our energy production to achieve a more sustainable future. With constant improvement and innovation, zero-emission manufacturing is not far away. If you are ready to be part of the (still) early adoption of solar energy, contact us for a free estimate of how much you can save with solar.