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Are Solar Panels Bad For The Environment?

Are solar panels bad for the environment? Here’s what you need to know about the use and benefits solar panels offer to the planet from SmartSolar.org.
Solar Panels
7 minutes
Written by:
Joey Cheek
Updated on:
December 2, 2022

SmartSolar.org is dedicated to helping consumers determine if solar is right for them. If you love the environment and want to do your part in supporting it, then you need to know what you’re buying and if things like solar panels will be a good investment overall. You may know that solar panels are great at helping people to use solar radiation to heat, cool, and power homes. Yet, the panels themselves may make you wonder if solar is the best option. SmartSolar.org encourages you to explore what solar panels are, how they work, and how solar panel manufacturing operates. Contact us directly to learn more about how we can help you with solar panel installation.

Are solar panels bad for the planet? Here’s what you need to know.

What Are Solar Panels?

Solar panels are a type of system placed in direct sunlight, such as on the roof of a home or in a large, open field. The panels themselves are designed to absorb the sun's rays as they hit them in direct sunlight. As this happens, it creates an electric current. This leads to an electric current running through the panels, generating energy. The panels work to collect this energy and funnel it into a home or business to be used as electricity.

The key to understanding how solar panels work, though, is to consider their overall benefit. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), solar panels can provide clean energy. The sun’s rays are a renewable and readily available energy source. That means that solar power is clean energy, an energy that is created without the creation of any fossil fuels like natural gas or oil. That means that solar panels do not lead to the onset of hazardous waste and toxins.

What About Solar Panel Waste?

Solar panels are like any other type of material that is manufactured. If it is not produced in a safe way, there are negative consequences to the environment. More so, solar panel recycling is available, but if solar panels are not recycled, they could end up in the landfills themselves, leading to increased waste and environmental damage.

The waste from solar panel production and manufacturing must be recycled appropriately and then disposed of in order for solar panels to continue to support the environment. When solar panels reach the end of their life, what happens to them after that is really dependent on how owners use them.

What Are the Negative Effects of Solar Panels?

The solar industry is critical in producing new, clean energy. No matter what type is used, including silicon solar panels or thin film solar panels, there are negative environmental impacts if old solar panels are not properly disposed of. That is the same as all other renewable energy technologies.

There are also concerns with the manufacturing process. If solar facilities do not produce solar cells in an environmentally friendly way, that could offset any benefits of using solar panels as renewable energy.

It is also essential to learn the quality of any of the solar panels used. As an IEEE.org research study found, the quality of the product matters. For those that use extremely low-value materials, there is a higher risk that these materials will not be able to be recycled, leading to the buildup of landfill waste. It is important to consider the manufacturing process and the panel manufacturer itself to determine whether or not the product is being made with clean energy in mind.

Is Solar Really Environmentally Friendly?

To learn if solar really is environmentally friendly, it is critical to consider the actual products being used and the overall process. There are several areas to focus on.

The material in solar panels

The highest quality solar panels are typically made with tempered glass, wire, and silica. These are not harmful substances, making them a safe product for the environment. Silica, also called silicon, is a type of naturally occurring compound. This is the component of the solar panel capable of absorbing the sun’s rays. That means that most high-quality solar panels are not made with toxic materials.

The energy produced

The key benefit of solar panels is that they do not create carbon emissions like natural gas and other fossil fuels do, which means that they are not harming the planet when they are functioning. Greenhouse gas emissions occur, but their level is very low, much lower than that of natural gas or coal. In this way, then, solar power is very much a renewable energy source that should be used.

Solar panel recycling

The biggest problem with solar panels is what happens at the end of their lifespan. The solar industry’s most significant weak point is what happens when these panels are no longer usable. For example, broken panels may not be able to be repaired, leading to the need to replace them. Discarded panels that are not recycled are dangerous to the planet, like any other waste product. Suppose a panel manufacturer does not have a recycling process in place. In that case, that could mean that the old solar panels add to the landfill instead of reusing valuable materials in a positive way.

Joey Cheek

What Does This Mean for the Homeowner?

If you plan to invest in solar panels and want to use solar energy to power your home, be sure to learn as much as possible about the solar companies available to you. What you will find is that many of the best companies are working to create solar panel systems that can be reused and recycled, minimizing the negative impact that solar energy may have on the environment and still providing exceptional energy generation.

What Does This Mean for Commercial and Industrial Panels?

Often larger, some solar companies are creating new ways for solar panels to be reused and recycled, even from larger solar projects like these. With industrial panels added, manufacturing and other facilities can generate the energy they need without negatively impacting the environment and increasing climate change risk. Like all other systems, recycling will be key in protecting the environment over the long term.

What Can You Do to Do Your Part?

When it comes to the environmental benefits, you’ll want to invest in solar. Installing solar panels is the right move to reduce your environmental impact. There are several things to consider:

Choose the right company

In the residential market, you can play a role by choosing companies working to reduce electronic waste products. Work with solar companies with recycling programs in place.

Choose the right system

Choose a high-quality system that is the best energy-producing asset possible. That way, you will get the most extended lifespan out of those products and not worry about an early replacement curve.

Pay attention to the chemicals used

Don’t invest in systems that use toxic chemicals and heavy metals in them. Make sure you know what goes into the panel you are using.

Reduce carbon footprint

Work hard to support the reduction of your carbon footprint and encourage others to do the same. As electric cars continue to grow and the use of wind power and other solutions increases, there's no doubt you'll want to be a part of it all.

Dispose of solar panels correctly

When you need to replace your solar panels, do your part to make sure they do not end up in the landfill. Seek out companies that provide recycling and processing capability.

Are Solar Panels Better or Worse for the Environment?  

How do you know if solar panels are good for the environment? The more you know about the company you invest in, the better. When you convert sunlight to energy, you reduce your dependence on fossil fuels and improve the environment. When you work to encourage others to use solar panels and support future installations through government incentives and programs, you're helping further to reduce your carbon footprint and that of others.

Let Our Team Help You Succeed

The more you know about your options for solar panels, the better. Start with our SmartSolar.org quiz and get to know a few key things about using solar panels on your home. Then, work with us for residential installations or solutions for your business. We do not use hazardous chemicals or toxic materials, and we always work hard to ensure raw materials are properly sourced and recycled. There is a looming waste problem in the industry, but we are doing our part in working to reduce that.

Contact us today to learn more about how you can invest in solar panels and reduce your environmental impact. Contact SmartSolar.org today to get started.

Meet the author:

Joey Cheek

Joey Cheek spent 10 years on the US National Speedskating Team where he competed in two Olympic Games, winning gold, silver, and bronze medals. He attended Princeton before diving into the startup and tech world. In 2011 he launched a livestreaming platform for sports before leading a team of engineers building next-gen news and content apps for Fortune 100 companies. He is the CEO and co-founder of SmartSolar.org, whose mission is to move the earth to cheap, abundant, carbon-free energy.

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