Solar PV

What Is the Environmental Impact of Solar Panels?

Solar panels are becoming an increasingly popular way to reduce your carbon footprint and help the environment. That being said, we should be aware of some adverse environmental impacts of solar panels: the environmental impact of manufacturing solar panels, for example. So with the positives weighed against the negatives, which side comes out on top? In this blog...

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Last updates on 31st of July 2023

Solar panels are becoming an increasingly popular way to reduce your carbon footprint and help the environment. That being said, we should be aware of some adverse environmental impacts of solar panels: the environmental impact of manufacturing solar panels, for example. So with the positives weighed against the negatives, which side comes out on top?

In this blog post, we will look at the positive and negative effects of solar panels on the environment, balance the pros and cons, and help you decide what's best for you.

Do Solar Panels Have a Positive Environmental Impact?

As you might imagine, solar panels have a number of positive impacts on the environment. Let's take a look at what those are.

Solar Panels Lower Your Grid Dependence

Solar panels help reduce our reliance on the grid. When you produce your own energy with solar panels, you're not as reliant on the grid, which means there's less demand for energy from traditional sources like coal and natural gas plants. This is good news for the environment because it means we're using less ‘dirty’ energy, and as an added bonus, it also helps reduce your energy bills.

The future of green energy production is in helping people produce their own energy and making their homes more sustainable. Whether installing solar panels, solar water heaters, insulation, or one of many other methods, reducing grid dependence is the way to go.

electricity pylon

Solar Panels Don't Produce Pollution

Solar panels don't produce greenhouse gases, which is one of the main ways they help the environment. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are released into the atmosphere when we use fossil fuels like coal and natural gas to produce energy. These gases trap heat in the atmosphere and cause global warming. So, when you replace the fossil fuels powering your home with clean solar energy, you reduce the amount of greenhouse gas you're responsible for.

Besides the greenhouse effect, fossil fuel use creates smog, which is most notable in large cities. This is a mixture of particulates from fossil fuels, normal dust, dirt and heavy metals. Even if you can’t see it, this smog reduces both quality of life and lifespan by damaging the lungs.

Solar Panels Don't Require Water

This might sound a little odd, but this environmental impact is something we'll all have to consider in a few decades' time. Solar panels don't require water to operate. With traditional energy sources like coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants, a lot of water is required for cooling. This means that solar panels can be used anywhere in the world, even where there's limited access to water, and that they won't put as much strain on a shrinking supply of freshwater. Solar panels don’t even need much water for cleaning or maintenance.

Solar Panels Can Be Recycled

Last but not least, solar panels can be broken down into individual materials and almost entirely recycled. Silicon-based solar panels can be broken down into:

  • Glass, of which 95% can be recycled
  • Aluminium, of which 100% can be recycled
  • Cell modules, of which 80% can be reused
  • Silicon wafers, of which 85% can be reused

Thin-film solar panels can similarly be broken down into semiconductor material and glass. This means that when a panel approaches the end of its useful life, its valuable materials and components can be used to make the next generation of green energy. Not only that, but as technology improves, this level of reusability is likely to be improved upon too.

Why Are Solar Panels Bad for the Environment?

Now let's take a look at some of the negative impacts solar panels can have on the environment. It's important to note that these effects are typically much smaller than the positive impacts we just talked about.

Production of Solar Panels Environmental Impact

The materials used in solar panels, like silicon, cadmium, copper and more, are typically mined. This can sometimes lead to environmental problems if the mining is done in an unsustainable way. For example, if a company doesn't properly reclaim the land after they've finished mining, it can cause water pollution.

That being said, the mining of these materials is necessary for many different industries, not just solar panels. As solar energy becomes more popular the green demand for these materials will likely increase. This means that companies will have an incentive to mine them in a sustainable way. That’s in contrast to the demand for fossil fuels, which by definition can’t be used in a sustainable way.

There’s also the fact that these materials can be recycled and reused, whether that’s from old solar panels, or from things like smartphones and laptops. Solar panel technology is improving year on year not just in terms of efficiency, but in terms of lifespan and recyclability, too.

Solar Panels Often Come with Batteries

Batteries are often used to store the energy solar panels produce so they can be used at night or during a power outage. Batteries can contain harmful chemicals like lead, cadmium, and sulphuric acid. These batteries have a natural lifespan, and at the end of that lifespan, they have to be disposed of. If these batteries aren't disposed of properly, they can leak these chemicals into the environment and cause pollution.

Again, though, solar technology is constantly improving. Whereas older batteries contained chemicals like these, today’s solar panel batteries are typically lithium-ion instead. If you opt for a new panel from a reputable supplier you won’t encounter this problem. So, fossil fuel consumption still releases heavy metals into the environment and atmosphere, whereas today’s solar systems don’t.

Solar panels have a lot of great environmental benefits, but there are also some potentially negative impacts to consider. Overall, though, the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to solar panels and their impact on the environment. So, if you're looking for a way to do your part for the planet, solar panels are definitely a good option!

Contact Solar Together Today

If you're interested in having solar panels installed, Solar Together can help. We offer group-buying discounts on solar panels and batteries. Our scheme works by aggregating the demand for solar panels and batteries from households in a local area. By pooling this demand, we're able to negotiate group-buying discounts with suppliers, making solar panels and batteries more affordable for everyone.

Even better, we vet suppliers for the quality of their service so that you don't have to. Beyond that, we even offer optional add-ons like battery storage and EV charge point installation and insurance-backed guarantees for customer protection.

We understand why that might sound too good to be true. So, why not learn more through our Blog?

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