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How clean is solar energy?

Solar panels are a zero-emission energy source during their usable life

Once installed, solar panels emit no greenhouse gas emissions or other harmful toxins while producing electricity. The sun provides more solar energy than we will ever need, so electricity from solar power is an excellent alternative to ‘dirty’ energy production methods such as the burning of fossil fuels.

Solar energy’s long-term environmental impact

Producing solar panels requires energy. If the electricity used to make the panels is sourced from a grid predominantly powered by fossil fuels, the carbon footprint of a panel can double. So, solar panels built in Europe, for example, are ‘cleaner' than those built in China. Despite the costs of producing solar panels, after roughly 5 years of generating electricity, they will make up for the energy used to produce the system itself. Good quality solar panels, like LG, generally last more than 25 years, so a single solar panel can generate at least four times the energy used to produce it. So, when considering greenhouse gas emissions, solar energy is definitely still the ‘clean’ option.

Some materials needed for solar panels are not renewable, however, alternative manufacturing processes are currently in development. Several projects are underway to find methods that avoid silicon tetrachloride, cadmium and lead altogether, and solar technology is rapidly evolving to become cleaner every day.

Another issue the solar energy industry is working to improve is the waste produced by the incorrect disposal of solar panels. As the solar industry grows, so will the number and efficiency of panel recycling facilities. The good news here is that most minerals require much less energy to be recycled when compared to primary extraction.

While some aspects of the solar energy industry have improvements to make in future, even now the pros still significantly exceed the cons. When taking into account everything from sourcing raw materials all the way to end-of-life disposal, solar power is still overall a ‘clean’ source of energy, and the carbon footprint of solar panels reaches zero after a few years of use. The future of solar panels will include a shift to more sustainable materials and more responsible disposal methods, so solar energy will only become cleaner going forward!

Learn more about solar power and whether it would suit the needs of your home by getting in touch with the Harrisons Solar experts.

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