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Community and Q&A

Are solar panels today carbon footprint break-even during (and after) lifetime?

Davor Radman | Posted in Green Products and Materials on

I know this is ever changing, and big effort is being made to find new ways to produce PV panels from cheaper/more environmentally friendly materials, but if I were to buy PV panels today, will they ever reach carbon footprint break-even point, when we take into account their production AND waste management?

On some soruces, I’ve found that getting rid of these panels is a big problem, because of the toxic materials used. How big a problem is this?

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Replies

  1. User avatar GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    Davor,
    It only takes a few years for photovoltaic panels to produce more electricity than required to manufacture them. Needless to say, the electricity that the panels produce (once they are manufactured) is free of any carbon releases.

    Here are links to articles on this topic:

    http://solarcraft.com/solar-energy-myths-facts/

    https://phys.org/news/2016-12-solar-panels-repay-energy-debt.html

    https://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-04/solar-panels-now-make-more-electricity-they-use

    There are questions surrounding PV module disposal and recycling, but the same can be said for many building materials, including carpeting.

    If you are comparing electricity generated by burning fossil fuels to electricity generated by PV panels, and if your analysis considers externalities like the effects of climate change, some of these external costs for fossil fuel burning are extremely high and almost incalculable. Since fossil fuel burning may make vast areas of our planet uninhabitable for humans, PV modules start with a big leg up.

    One final point: next Tuesday (April 24), GBA will be publishing an article about the ongoing efforts of PV module manufacturers to develop better ways to recycle PV modules at the end of their useful lives.

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