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The Great Solar Debate - Is Solar Panel Production Bad for the Environment?


There is a complaint about solar power that goes something like this, “Generating solar energy might not pollute the environment, but the manufacturing of solar panels does.” Indeed, solar panel production currently requires the use of some hazardous chemicals plus an abundance of energy, the source of which is often fossil fuels, and these both have a negative impact on the environment. However, steps to mitigate solar energy’s impact are going in the right direction.
 

The Great Solar Debate
By Gabriel Toth
 
Is Solar Panel Production Bad for the Environment?
There is a complaint about solar power that goes something like this, “Generating solar energy might not pollute the environment, but the manufacturing of solar panels does.” Indeed, solar panel production currently requires the use of some hazardous chemicals plus an abundance of energy, the source of which is often fossil fuels, and these both have a negative impact on the environment. However, steps to mitigate solar energy’s impact are going in the right direction.
 
The hazardous chemicals used for solar panel production are being mitigated by a financial incentive that encourages manufacturers to safely recycle chemicals, as opposed to throwing them away. So while it would certainly be ideal if the materials used for solar panel manufacturing were not environmentally harmful, it’s possible that in the future it will no longer be a concern.  As for the present, manufacturers can ensure that the chemicals used are handled in a safe, responsible, manner to have the smallest possible impact on the environment.
 
Currently, solar panel production is energized by fossil fuels, which produce greenhouse gas emissions. The potential impact of solar energy (0.08 to 0.2 lbs. of CO2/kWh) on altering the planet’s climate pales in comparison to the impact of natural gas (0.6-2 lbs. of CO2/kWh) and coal (1.4-3.6 lbs. of CO2/kWh).
Solar energy is not perfect, but from an environmental standpoint, it is better than the alternatives by a mile. This is made especially clear when you consider that as solar panel technology advances, ideally they will be able to power their own production, paving the way for a future where solar power has no carbon footprint. The same cannot be said for fossil fuels, whose very existence involves contributing to carbon emissions. While one energy source works to move away from fossil fuels and towards a net-zero environmental impact, the other is inextricably linked.
 
Hopefully you have found this to be another informative edition of The Great Solar Debate and as always, I thank you for reading. In the next debate, I will discuss concerns over land use requirements for solar energy.
 

 

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