Inspenet, August 13, 2023.
A study conducted in Italy has exposed a fundamental error in the calculations related to pollution from solar panels . What is the reason behind the accessibility of solar photovoltaics and what is its manufacturing process?
In Spain, photovoltaic solar energy production has increased from 6,423 GWh in 2010 to 27,865 GWh in 2022, according to Statista statistics.
However, China leads the world in solar energy in terms of utilization with more than 400 solar companies and in the production and sale of panels, it is excluded from this data. The Asian country is responsible for generating 80% of the world’s solar panels , according to the DailyMail.
A study by Italian researcher Enrico Mariutti has called into question the previously estimated amount of pollution associated with the use of solar panels. It has been revealed that they could release up to five times more carbon dioxide than previously believed, due to factors such as manufacturing and other elements that had not previously been considered. Amazingly, this represents 62.5% of the carbon dioxide emissions generated by the production of electricity from natural gas.
The discrepancy in these figures is due, according to Mariutti, to the fact that Chinese manufacturing of solar panels, which involves burning coal, has not been taken into account. These Chinese figures are excluded even though they account for almost all of the world’s solar panel production.
A few years ago, Japan, the United States and Germany led the industry, but abandoned it due to their reliance on coal. Despite this, manufacturing pollution data is still based on those countries, which have stricter weather restrictions than China.
Additionally, aspects such as the extraction of minerals such as silicon, silver, copper , tellurium and lithium for batteries are omitted, as well as toxic waste derived from solar panels. The albedo effect is also neglected, which occurs with dark-toned panels and can intensify the greenhouse effect. In addition to this, upgrades to electrical infrastructure, storage, and transportation are not considered.
In short, the low cost of solar energy is due to the very pollution it tries to reduce. The hasty construction of macro solar plants in Spain by environmental groups has also been pointed out, who criticize that speed is prioritized over the choice of more suitable environments.
Manufacture of solar panels: highly polluting?
The study concludes that if the production of solar panels were delegated to China, by 2040 carbon emissions could increase by 18,000 million tons, even exceeding the pollution generated by the aluminum industry.
Although it is true that in a longer term, a solar panel installed on a roof could reduce the emission of 100 tons of carbon dioxide throughout its useful life, it must be considered that the efficiency of a solar panel remains around 90% during the first 25 years of use. However, by then it may already be too late to adequately address the challenges associated with production and emissions from manufacturing solar panels.