The Carbon Footprint of Solar Panel Manufacturing
Solar carbon footprints are a hot topic in the world of renewable energy as we strive to create a greener planet. Although solar energy helps thousands of households reduce their carbon emissions every day, the carbon footprint of solar panels can be quite significant due to their manufacturing process.
In this article, we’ll compare how much CO2 is saved with solar energy with solar panel carbon footprints. We’ll discuss solar emissions and their alternatives, solar footprints, and discuss some up-to-date carbon footprint solutions.
How are Solar Panels Manufactured?
There are two types of solar panels being manufactured today:
Both types have different carbon footprints.
Monocrystalline solar panels are probably what you picture when you think of solar energy. Their cells have a distinct black color and are associated with the shiny, sleek look of premium solar panels. The manufacturing process involves molding a huge silicon block. Then, you slice small wafers from the block and affix them onto a solar panel.
Polycrystalline solar cells are also made from silicon. However, the manufacturing process is different. Instead of coming from a silicon block, polycrystalline cells are created by melting silicon crystals together. This process uses a lot of electricity. So, when we consider the solar carbon footprint, we must consider the emissions created during this process.
Solar Energy Carbon Footprint
Around 50g of CO2 per kilowatt-hour is produced during the first years of operating a solar energy system. The solar panel’s carbon footprint is roughly 20 times less than the carbon output of coal-powered electricity sources. As a result, your carbon footprint will decrease as soon as you install solar power in your home.
However, you’ll need to have solar panels in operation for three years to become carbon neutral, paying off their carbon debt. Then, after three years of use, your overall carbon footprint will reduce further, as the system will remain carbon neutral for the rest of its lifespan.
In general, solar panels last over 20 years, keeping a significant amount of carbon out of the atmosphere.
Solar Energy Emissions and Carbon Debt
Some people argue that wind, solar, and nuclear power have ‘hidden’ carbon footprints associated with their construction and manufacture. This carbon debt and the related energy debt have to be ‘paid off’ so that these types of alternative energy can be viable and advantageous for the environment.
The solar carbon footprint is significant, but only during the manufacturing process. Factories that produce solar panels use large amounts of electricity, frequently sourced from coal-powered Chinese power stations.
Nuclear plants and wind turbines need a lot of concrete and steel for construction. Plus, the centrifuges that are used to separate nuclear fuel can hike up an electricity bill. That said, non-renewable energy sources also have an indirect carbon footprint.
For gas and coal, emissions and lifecycle energy use come from fuel transport and extraction machinery. We can also factor in methane leaks at wellheads, pipelines, or coal mines.
These lifecycle emissions persist, even if gas or coal plants implement carbon capture and storage (CSS), which doesn’t always capture 100% of a power plant’s emissions.
Additionally, emissions and indirect energy usage associated with technology will change over time due to advances in manufacturing, changing fuel sources, and the evolution of our global electricity supplies.
Carbon Footprint Solutions
There are a variety of things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. These include:
Every mile that you carpool, cycle, walk, or use public transport saves around a pound in carbon emissions.
Calculate Your Carbon Footprint
You can use a free carbon footprint calculator to estimate your annual greenhouse gas emissions. Once you know your greenhouse gas emissions, you can make sustainable changes in your life to reduce them.
Use a Hybrid or Electric Car
An improvement of as little as three miles per gallon in fuel efficiency can save up to 3,000 pounds of CO2 every year.
Jet fuel is a massive contributor to global carbon emissions. If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, consider traveling closer to home. Every time you avoid 1,600 miles of air travel, you save up to 720 pounds of carbon emissions.
Switch to Renewable Energy
Now that you know all about the solar carbon footprint, perhaps it’s time you switched to solar power? Burning fossil fuels, especially coal, is the largest source of greenhouse gases in the world. When you choose a green energy provider, you immediately start to offset some of your carbon footprints.
Support one of Cool Effect’s ‘Carbon Offset’ Projects
We support various planet-saving carbon offset projects worldwide, each of which is ethically validated and scientifically validated. Projects include forest regeneration and protection activities specifically designed to reduce carbon emissions.