When we talk about a carbon footprint and solar panels we are literally talking about the manufacturing process of the panel and installing it.

No matter what you manufacture for mass use, there is bound to be a carbon footprint that will contribute to greenhouse (GHG) gases.

Therefore, the answer to how much of a carbon footprint solar panels have is directly proportional to the manufacturing process.

Unfortunately, the process of mining and refining the materials used to make solar panels, as well as their transportation to the factory, creates emissions.

In this article, we will explore the carbon footprint of a solar panel, how it is calculated, and what are some ways to reduce your solar panel’s carbon footprint.

How are Solar Panels Manufactured?

There are two types of solar panels being produced today:

  • Monocrystalline
  • Polycrystalline

Both of these panels produce a carbon footprint during their manufacturing process.

Monocrystalline

Monocrystalline solar panels are made from a single silicon crystal.

This type of panel is considered the most efficient on the market, and they have a slightly higher carbon footprint to match.

The process of growing a large silicon crystal can take up to four weeks and requires a furnace that can reach very high temperatures.

Once the silicon crystal is grown, it is then cut into thin wafers.

These wafers are then cleaned and coated with an anti-reflective material before they are sent to be assembled into a solar panel.

The process of manufacturing monocrystalline solar panels creates approximately ¾ of a ton of carbon dioxide for every 1 megawatt of solar power produced.

Related: How To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Polycrystalline

Polycrystalline solar panels are made from multiple silicon crystals.

The process of manufacturing these panels is similar to monocrystalline panels, with a few key differences.

The silicon used to make polycrystalline solar panels is not as pure as the silicon used to make monocrystalline panels.

This means that polycrystalline solar panels are not as efficient as monocrystalline panels.

The process of manufacturing polycrystalline solar panels creates approximately ½ a ton of carbon dioxide for every 1 megawatt of solar power produced.

Related: Is Carbon Footprint The Same As Ecological Footprint?

Solar Energy Carbon Footprint

During the first years of operation, a solar energy system generates approximately 50g of CO2 each kilowatt-hour.

A solar panel has a carbon footprint that is about 20 times smaller than that of conventional power sources like coal.

When you install solar panels at your home or business, your carbon footprint instantly shrinks.

Related: Solar Advantages and Disadvantages

Solar Energy Emissions and Carbon Debt

Some critics argue that wind, solar, and nuclear power have “hidden” carbon footprints due to their construction and manufacture.

To ensure that these types of alternative energy are viable and beneficial for the environment in the long term, these carbon debts and energy debts must be “paid off.”

The payback period is the amount of time it takes for the energy produced by a solar panel to equal the amount of energy used to manufacture it.

For example, if it takes 1 year of operation to ‘pay back’ the manufacturing emissions, that panel will have avoided emitting greenhouse gases for its remaining lifespan of 19 years.

The average payback period for solar panels in the United States is between 3 and 4 years.

This means that, on average, a solar panel will avoid emitting greenhouse gases for the remaining 20-25 years of its lifespan.

Carbon Footprint Solutions

Here are a few things you can do to help reduce the carbon footprint:

  • Switch to renewable energy.
  • Buy recycled clothing.
  • Switch off electricity when you don’t need it.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • Use alternate modes of transport instead of your car.
  • Contribute to carbon offset schemes when you travel by air.
  • Reduce your consumption of meat.
  • Use an electric car.

Related: Charging Your Electric Car With Solar Panels (POSSIBLE?)

Switch to renewable energy

Obvious, right?

But seriously, the best way to reduce your carbon footprint is to switch to renewable energy.

You can do this by installing solar panels or wind turbines, or by simply using less energy overall.

Turn off lights when you leave a room, unplug appliances when you’re not using them, and insulate your home to keep heat in (or out, depending on the season).

The world’s most common source of greenhouse gases is the combustion of fossil fuels, particularly coal.

So, by switching to renewable energy, you can make a big difference in the fight against climate change.

Every little bit helps!

Buy recycled clothing

The textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world.

It takes a lot of energy and resources to grow cotton, spins it into thread, and weave it into the fabric.

Not to mention the dyes and chemicals used in the process.

But you can help reduce the carbon footprint of the textile industry by buying recycled clothing.

There are a lot of great brands out there that use recycled materials, so it’s easy to find stylish and sustainable clothing.

Switch off electricity when you don’t need it

You’d be surprised how much energy you use when you’re not even using it.

Leaving lights on in empty rooms, leaving your computer on overnight, or charging your phone when it’s already fully charged all add up.

So next time you leave a room, make sure to turn off the lights.

And when you’re finished using an appliance, unplug it from the outlet.

It may not seem like much, but it really does make a difference.

Take shorter showers

Showering is one of the biggest uses of water in the home, so cutting back can really help reduce your carbon footprint.

If you’re used to taking long showers, start by cutting back by a minute or two.

You may not even notice the difference, but your water bill will!

Use alternate modes of transport instead of your car

Whenever possible, try to use alternate modes of transport instead of your car.

This includes walking, biking, taking public transportation, or carpooling.

Not only will you reduce your carbon footprint, but you’ll also get some exercise in the process.

Contribute to carbon offset schemes when you travel by air

Flying produces a lot of greenhouse gases, so if you can avoid it, that’s great.

But sometimes flying is necessary, and that’s OK.

You can offset the carbon emissions of your flight by contributing to a carbon offset scheme.

There are a lot of great schemes out there, so you can choose one that aligns with your values.

Reduce your consumption of meat

Meat production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, so reducing your consumption can really make a difference.

You don’t have to go completely vegetarian or vegan, but even cutting back on meat a few days a week can help.

There are a lot of delicious meat-free recipes out there, so you’re sure to find something you’ll love.

Use an electric car

If you’re in the market for a new car, consider an electric car.

Electric cars have a much smaller carbon footprint than gas-powered cars, so you’ll be doing your part to reduce emissions.

Plus, they’re really fun to drive!

Don’t opt for a hybrid, though.

While hybrids are more fuel-efficient than gas-powered cars, they still produce emissions.

Electric cars are the way to go if you’re looking to reduce your carbon footprint.

How Long Does It Take For A Solar Panel To Become Carbon Neutral?

Solar panels, on average, save over 900kg of CO2 each year, resulting in a carbon payback period of roughly 1.6 years.

This means that the solar panel will have “paid” for the carbon dioxide emitted during its production within 1.6 years.

From that point onwards, it will continue to save carbon dioxide emissions every year for as long as it continues to produce electricity.

So, if a solar panel has an expected lifespan of 25 years, it will save over 22 tonnes of CO2 over its lifetime.

To put that into perspective, that’s the equivalent of planting 575 trees!

Related: What’s the difference between Carbon Neutral and Net Zero?

FAQs

Does solar energy produce carbon emissions?

Solar power does not produce any emissions while it is being generated, and life-cycle analyses demonstrate that it has a lower carbon footprint throughout the “cradle to grave” process than fossil fuels. The embodied emissions of solar are dominated by the manufacturing process, which is approximately 70% of the total. These emissions can be avoided or reduced through a variety of methods.

What is embodied carbon?

Embodied carbon is the carbon dioxide emitted during the production of a product.
For solar panels, this includes the emissions from mining and manufacturing the materials used in the panel, as well as the emissions from shipping and installing the panel.

What do we mean by carbon offset?

A carbon offset is a way to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions that you can’t avoid.
There are many different ways to offset your emissions, but one of the most popular is to contribute to a carbon offset scheme.
This compensates for your emissions by investing in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere, such as planting trees or investing in renewable energy.

Do solar panels produce emissions when they generate electricity?

No, solar panels do not produce emissions when they generate electricity.
The only emissions come from the production of the panel itself, as well as shipping and installing the panel.
Once the panel is installed and generates electricity, there are no emissions.

What is energy payback?

The term EPBT refers to the time it takes for a solar PV system to produce the same amount of power (transformed into primary energy) as the energy supplied throughout its life cycle.

Which energy source emits the most CO2?

Natural gas and coal are the two biggest emitters of carbon dioxide. Natural gas emits 0.185 kg / kWh of CO2, while coal emits 0.335 pounds of CO2 per kWh. In comparison, solar panels only emit around 0.07-0.2 pounds of CO2 per kWh. This means that solar panels are much cleaner than both natural gas and coal.

In Summary

Global warming is a huge problem, and we all need to do our part to reduce our carbon footprints.

One way to do this is to switch to solar power.

Solar panels have a very small carbon footprint, and they continue to save emissions for as long as they produce electricity.

So, if you’re looking for a way to reduce your carbon footprint, solar power is a great option.

About the Author

Passionate about helping households transition to sustainable energy with helpful information and resources.

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