What Solar Panels Mean for the Environment: Pros and Cons

The potential of using solar energy as an alternative to replace traditional sources is undeniable and important for the future. Its popularity is due to its purity and ability to recover.

With solar panels, it is possible to get energy for our needs. The demand for purchasing panels is growing every year. They do not create harmful carbon emissions during the production of electricity, unlike combustible minerals. But as with other sources, there are solar energy environmental disadvantages. They are much smaller but still worth considering. Today we will discuss all the nuances of using the panel and learn more about the positive and negative impacts of solar energy. But how much are those solar panels environmentally friendly?

Benefits and Drawbacks of Solar Power: Detailed

All consumers face the most important question – how clean is solar energy? Like all new technologies, alternative energy sources have pros and cons. But it is with solar systems that the situation looks much more attractive than with any other analogs of systems.

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Source:  palmetto.com/learning-center

What are the positive aspects of using solar energy?

  • An endlessly renewable source – neither the use of fuel energy sources nor even wind energy has such potential as solar energy;
  • Positive environmental impact of solar energy – the absence of waste and emissions of harmful substances into the atmosphere. Namely the carbon footprint, which is one of the main causes of global warming; 
  • Saving fossil fuels – due to the consumption of free solar energy, it will be possible to significantly save on the extraction and supply of natural fuel;
  • The possibility of organizing autonomous power supply – everyone who wants to install the system on their roof or adjacent territory can refuse to receive energy from a fuel power plant and manage all the conditions for a solar system;
  • Solar panel sustainability – they can work in any weather conditions, generating energy even under snowy debris or on a cloudy day;
  • Low costs associated with exploitation – yes, to minimize the downside risk, you will have to carry out maintenance of the system, but it will only increase the chances that the batteries will last you more than 25 years and will not require you to pay large bills;
  • Resistance to damage – despite its design, the system is quite resistant to wear, but just in case, it does not hurt to check your insurance for the possibility of extending it to solar panels;
  • Durability, the possibility of replacing individual structural elements – the average service life is 25 years. At the same time, you can always replace any part or a separate panel when worn out, thereby ensuring the long-term effects of solar energy.

Disadvantages of using panels:

  • the amount of energy produced depends on seasonal and daily cycles, and weather conditions – the less sun, the less efficiency;
  • the high cost of installing the structure, which can reach 30,000 dollars;
  • difficulties related to the storage of the excess amount of generated electricity, but they can be solved with a battery or reselling excess energy to utilities, but a battery or reselling extra energy to utilities can solve them;
  • installing the structure requires a lot of space, certain conditions, and solutions to issues related to the overall design of the house;
  • environmental disadvantages of solar energy – although the process of solar energy production is completely safe, in the process of manufacturing and disposal of solar cells, toxic chemicals are used and released, which can harm the environment.

A Solar Panel’s Environmental Impact

The use of photovoltaic elements has advantages and disadvantages, but solar energy has more positive effects, of course.

Solar panels harness inexhaustible, clean electrical energy sources, do not harm the environment during operation, and are economically profitable in the long run.

Consider the negative effects of solar panels on the environment. They are resource-intensive, and solar energy production requires a lot of energy which is a problem.

Extraction of combustible minerals, production, and transportation require a significant amount of energy. Raw materials, mainly quartz, are processed into silicon to make a photovoltaic panel. Processing, cleaning, and heating quartz, combined with other materials (aluminum, copper, or silver), requires a very high temperature, which, in turn, requires a large amount of initial energy.

In addition to the above, you must use many fossil fuels. The materials and the process of creating solar panels lead to significant greenhouse gas emissions into the environment.

PV systems do not use water to produce electricity.  However, as in all manufacturing processes, water is necessary to make solar cells. This also indicates that the solar panel’s environmental impact could be better.

Using large volumes of groundwater and surface water to clean solar collectors and cool turbine generators in arid areas can affect ecosystems dependent on these water resources. Also, solar installations are huge and take up a lot of space. Clearing land for the construction and location of power plants impacts the habitat of plants and wild animals.

But everything is okay if you look at how solar energy affects the earth from the other side. The damage caused to the installation site of solar system farms, the gas emissions generated during the manufacturing period, and the fuel required cannot be compared with those of fuel power plants.

Therefore, solar energy and the environment are two comrades that treat each other with care. Over time, technology improves, and solar systems are among them. In a few years, it will be necessary to have a very meager amount of fuel and other components to produce and dispose of panels. This means that the question “is solar bad for the environment?” will not be opened at all in the future.

Reusing and Repurposing Solar Panels Is a Bigger Problem

There is no established system for recycling old photovoltaic systems, which may indicate that solar panels are bad for the environment. The average service life is 25 years. Processing plants exist, but there needs to be more of them. Waste is a potential threat to the environment.

As technologies improve, the panels become obsolete faster, starting a “production-waste” cycle. Solar cells are mostly made of glass but contain hazardous materials such as cadmium, lead, and arsenic and require proper disposal. The toxic chemical elements in the panels pose a serious threat to the environment and require an assessment of the environmental cost of solar panels. Solar batteries also contain precious, rare metals – silver, tellurium, and indium. 

Processing would eliminate the need for their constant extraction and reduce the carbon footprint. Due to limited recycling, these metals are thrown away, which creates more e-waste, increases the carbon footprint, and threatens resource shortages in the future. This is also a detrimental solar panel environmental impact. But many countries are already developing strategies to solve this problem, so that annoying question, “why are solar panels bad?” goes out of our lives forever.

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Source: www.grandviewresearch.com

When Compared to Conventional Energy Sources, How Much Better is Solar?

Despite the considered negative impacts of solar energy, alternative energy remains a much better option.

A study compares the carbon footprint when using coal, natural gas, and solar energy to generate electricity. The results were as follows: coal produces 18 times more greenhouse gas emissions, and natural gas – has 13 times more than panels production.

It is worth noting once again that solar panels create zero emissions during operation.

These studies showed how solar energy affects the environment positively and prevents climate change.

How Mining for Solar Panel Materials Affects the Environment

Why are solar panels bad for the environment? Simply put, they consist mainly of glass, silicon semiconductors, and metals – copper, silver, aluminum, indium, tellurium, and lithium. Extraction of raw materials requires a significant share of energy, leading to greenhouse gas emissions and air, soil, and water pollution.

How Solar Power Plants Affect the Environment

Solar power plants use solar radiation to generate heat, which is then transformed into electricity. This makes solar energy one of the most environmentally friendly, renewable sources. 

Solar power plants require a lot of, and they must be designed and operated in such a way as to minimize the negative impact on wild flora, fauna, soil, and water resources. 

Does Producing Solar Panels Harm the Environment?

Let’s consider how does solar energy affect the environment negatively?

  1. Production requires a lot of energy.
  2. To produce the main component, a silicon semiconductor, toxic chemicals have been used that need to be disposed of.
  3. Does solar power cause pollution? Yes. The extraction of raw materials to manufacture panels increases the carbon footprint.
  4. There needs to be a valid system for recycling old photovoltaic systems, which cause environmental pollution and threaten a shortage of resources.

The Effects of Shipping Solar Panels on the Environment

The issue of emissions due to the transportation of photovoltaic cells is relevant. After all, they can be produced in one country and parts for in another. This is another solar panel negative effect. Scientists are still determining what the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is associated with the extraction, production, and transportation of panels. But it is evident – less than the production of traditional energy sources (oil, gas, coal).

Create Monocrystalline Panels

This is the most common type of panel with the highest efficiency – 19-22% made of single-component silicon crystals. Silicon is formed into a block and cut into small plates attached to a solar battery.

This technology is energy-intensive, so it creates the largest emissions compared to other production methods. And this means it brings more harmful solar energy impacts on the environment.

Creating a Panel from Polycrystalline Crystals

This panel type is also made of silicon, but instead of forming a block, the crystals are fused together, then attached to the panel. The technology requires electricity consumption, but less than for monocrystalline. In this case, solar panel sustainability is much higher.

Creating a Product Using Thin-film Technology

Thin-film panels contain layers of semiconductor material – cadmium telluride or copper-indium-gallium diselenide, deposited on glass, metal, or plastic. This technology is less expensive than silicon manufacturing, but its efficiency is also lower.

Stanislav Bilenkyi

Stanislav Bilenkyi

Stanislav is an experienced copywriter touching on many different areas of renewable energy and solar power. He covers a wide range of topics, including energy efficiency, equipment applications, and renewable technologies.

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