Solar panels make energy, but they take energy to make, too. And, until about 2010 or so, the solar panel industry used more electricity than it produced, according to a new analysis. Now, the industry is set to "pay back" the energy it used by 2020.
The study looked at what went into building and installing solar panels all over the world, including everything from home installations to solar farms, says Michael Dale, a climate and energy researcher at Stanford University, in a Stanford-produced video. He and a senior scientist, Sally Benson, thought that because the solar panel industry was growing so quickly, it might actually be using more electricity than it produced. Instead, they found an industry at a crux.
"I think that this paper shows that actually the industry is making positive strides and it's even in spite of its fantastically fast growth rates, it's still producing, or it's just about to start producing, a net energy benefit to society," Dale said.
Most solar panels manufacturers now consume lots of electricity, usually pulled from coal or other fossil fuel-burning plants. Stanford News pointed to the example of melting silica rock to obtain the silicon used in most panels. The melting requires electricity to fire ovens to a temperature of about 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Solar panels' energy balance is now tipping, however, because newer technologies reduce that electricity consumption. For example, some newer panels require less silicon, or waste less material in the manufacturing process. Researchers are also looking to replace silicon with more
abundant affordable elements, such as copper, zinc, tin and carbon.
Dale and Benson published their full analysis in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
That is great news.
It's weird that it works like that.
A lot of businesses work that way too. The first three years, they are only breaking even or may be making below what they need to, then they make a profit later on.
This is lovely good news in deed!
Now if each home and business could be solar energy producing independent, would bring more freedom to all and a cleaner environment and yes create more jobs to maintain the solar producing equipment.
@aerosphere, learning curce, and economy of scale! Capatlism at its finest......
Call me crazy but why dont they crank out a bunch of solar panels to power the solar panel factory?
I do approve of course for solar power, and at the same time wish to protect the environment.
Here is an old article, (interesting enough using the same solar panel picture above ), writing about the effect of solar power on the environment:
use the sun as long as it shins ^^
No facts, No response...
I thought Nellis AFB was in Nevada, not Arizona.
Nellis AFB is 8 miles from Las Vegas.
Nellis Air Force Base
4475 England Ave, Nellis AFB, NV
So... this is basically an admission that most solar panels made up until this point have been detrimental for the environment and a waste of money? Okay then.
Don't get me wrong. Solar power is abundant, and if we can efficiently tap it then there are areas like the US South West that get lots of sun and can make use of solar power. But to improve solar panels, you need research; not volume of production. Volume of production is just to increase profit for research investment money. If you're not actually making a profit... you're just scaling up the pace of wasting money.
If solar panels weren't yet efficient enough to - forget being competitive - but actually being energy-positive at all... then why the hell were companies being encouraged to make them, and us to buy them? Utter waste of money and resources.
Why not refuse to subsidize solar panels that are net-negative, and instead use the money that they wasted encouraging others to fund more material science research?
A lot of us were screaming "Stop subsidizing solar panel production. It's bad for the planet by your own standards, and bad for the economy and tax payers by ours." And now the admission is that we were right.
Thanks for letting us know. Hope you guys learn something. I doubt it though.
You thoughts might apply to the support of batteries and electric cars or hybrid cars, perhaps subsidizing other companies as well. Yes, this point of view is food for thought.
Still, I think for all the money that is dumped into 'fusion-money pit' was put into more hopeful solar panels is still the way to go!
your post confuses me. Everyone knew that solar panels were not gernerating more power than was used to create them. And yes, it was bad for the planet. This was all common knowledge.
But now, as the article states, all the "dirty" energy used to create the panels is about to break even. Very soon, solar panals will be producing more energy than all of the dirty energy used to create them.
This is how all technology works. The first computers were massive, used too much energy, were extremely expensive, and could only do simple calculations that you could do faster in your head.
I'm sure you wish someone was smart enough to stop computers before they wasted too much energy and money on them!
Didn't have time to read the full report. Is the point to show net energy payback within one year as other reports I have read indicate PV recoups its energy costs within at most 4 years.
armymustang_67, you're right! I've fixed the photo name. Thanks for the comment.
Is this a science magazine? How about getting some simple facts straight. I particularly liked:
"Researchers are also looking to replace silicon with more abundant elements, such as copper, zinc, tin and carbon."
Excuse me, but if you add up all the copper, zinc, tin, and carbon in the earth's crust you will find that there is about 450 times MORE silicon (by weight) than those four other elements combined!
Lets looks at the facts. Here are the percentages for the earth's crust and the percentages of those elements by mass:
You might be able to make solar panels cheaper with those four other elements but they are NOT more abundant!
Ya correct me if I am wrong but upon skimming the report as well as a couple other reports I think this article is somewhat misleading. First, according the all three sources I reviewed I think the title is flat out wrong as on an individual basis panels have been producing more electricity than they needed to be made for years. What I think the study was saying was that the industry as a whole was a net consumer for years and now it is close to breaking even from all of the past years with negative net energy.
Since we have not one shred of any claimed facts, we can only assume that the panels may at some near time produce more electricity than it took to create them. That still has not addressed true life cycles of the products, effects of rain, hail and such. Still has no mention of storage and inverters used. Not one note of effect of total installed costs or side benefits of panels placed on roofs. Pretty sure replacing a roof would consume more money if one had to remove the panels. The so called claim of 20 year shingles are only in some very limited regions and under steep roofs. Most homes in warm climates won't have roofs lasting much more than 15 years. Unlikely you'd have a new roof and panels at the same time. More roofs would have leaks, more interior leaks and mold.
Guess the authors are trying to get a government grant.
Anyone pay attention to the last few solar companies that took tax dollars and went bankrupt?
I've heard it said that it takes more energy to make solar cells than they make. That's a lie. In theory, a solar cell could last forever. That's an infinite amount of time to collect energy. Infinity times any amount of energy the cell produces, is more than it took to make. Certainly, they would not last forever, but they can last a long time.
Another thought. The energy it took to make and install the solar cells is not free. It's built into the cost of the cells. So, once the cells has made enough energy to equal it's cost, then obviously the cell has produced more energy than it took to make. Otherwise, everyone involved would be going broke.
Yes they can last a very long time many panels have a 25 year warrenty and some panels that are over 35 years old still produce 80% of their originalout put.
The part that ages is not the cells themselves but the ecapsulation material.
PV solar cells may last for 25 years, but their performance starts to degrade in just a couple years. Commercial PV solar cells will lose 50% of their performance within a decade.
If you leave your solar panel running in your garage, no one will die. Some benefits to health and the environment are just a better trade off. We need to do a lot more development towards solar power.
Besides another product produces on the side, is JOBS. It takes more people to maintain solar panels, associated power supply systems and power storage systems. These type of jobs are technical in nature and pay better, thereby giving more people a higher level of money and yes medical benefits. And these benefits also apply to wind and hydroelectric power as well.
Solar, wind and hydroelectric systems do not pollute and are not cancer causing and create jobs with medical benefits!
Should I understand from this story that up to now manufacturing a solar panel (plus the relevant equipment) was taking more energy (in all its forms) than the energy produced along the working life of the panel? It doesn't sound very probable.
I don't think making a one sq mt panel --which generates, conservatively, 100kw during daylight, or about 8200 kWh during its 25 years of useful life-- would require so much energy.
On a purely economic basis, in 99% of applications there is no form of solar (solar thermal, PV solar, etc.) that is currently cost competitive with conventional sources. In most of the world, solar installations must still be subsidized to be economically acceptable to the public.
The most efficient devices, such as silicon PV solar cells, require huge amounts of energy to manufacture. The numbers I've seen for payback on the typical subsidized US residential PV solar installation is currently around 6-8 years. I would also dispute some of the above claims posted regarding service life of PV solar systems. The typical warranty provided is usually 15 years or less. And the warranties I have seen also provide for a significant loss in performance during this period, starting with a couple percent degradation just 5 years after installation and ending with a 25% drop in efficiency after 15 years.
Much in coincidence with riff_raff's observations, an engineer friend of mine --long specialized in heat transfer and biomass combustion-- pointed out the following:
A digression: Conceptually, with the exception of nuclear or geothermal energy (and tidal power, which also depends on the moon) almost all forms of energy are solar in nature. Fuel oil, natural gas and coal are solar energy accumulated over millenia: animals and plants grew (and grow) by virtue of solar energy (hence biomass). Wind power and hydropower are also indirect forms of solar energy.
It goes without saying that what we could call Direct Solar Energy is very suitable so far for Low-temperature thermal power generation (hot water) and even cooling (by means of absorption cycles). Tests are being conducted to generate High temperature with solar thermal energy using concentrating mirrors and sun tracking systems (a mechanism “invented” by the sunflower eons ago...) ending up in a turbo-steam cycle. These cycles typically use molten salts, to accumulate high level heat by the heat of fusion, and then they indirectly produce steam.
This technology is often supplemented --for night time or low insolation periods-- with other renewable energies, such as biomass.
However, it is dubious whether solar cells are (or when they will be) economically and energy convenient to generate electricity or mechanical energy --except where energy is needed in locations away from the network or in particular situations, such as the electrification of wire fences. Solar technology is still very expensive, and solar cells are not yet the most efficient and most economical way to convert solar energy into electricity.
I think the first thing to point out is that Solar Energy is not close to breaking even or paying back what it has used. It will take nearly a decade for it to pay back all the energy it has used.
Second, on degradation of cells, a 25% decrease in efficiency is awful for an energy source that is not even over 30% efficient at its peak. Unless I'm not up to date the last few numbers I've seen for solar panel efficiency were somewhere between 21-28% efficient and the most somewhere in the 50s for the ones NASA uses on satellites and rovers.
Last, I think the main issue as someone pointed out earlier is that we've been pushing a technology that did not help the environment, is costly and did not provide any redeemable qualities. For the last 15 years or so we've been using a product that is essentially a waste. This is my entire issue with 'Green Technology'. Why are we forcing them into use before they're actually useful? They should do studies on all of these technologies to see if they really do provide any sort of serious benefit at the moment. I have nothing against going green but I do not approve of forcing inefficient useless technology on people.
Will they survive the solar storm. I recommend storing underground.
When I see solar panel factories running on PV cells alone, I'll start to be impressed.
Places where these panels are made always have very cheap grid power.
I am fully aware that one might go to some of the hottest deserts and use both heat and PV to create panels that would return more energy. As to the actual green use, I couldn't guess. PV panels still have a large environmental impact to make and use. We can't easily use low power DC and we can't depend on the sun day and night.
I just don't understand people who say solar panels can not generate more than the used to manufacture them. just do some basic simple math to see that is not that difficult to achieve:
A 240W panel cost $255 (assuming USA made SolarWorld panels as an example)
Assuming a cost of $.10 per kwh for electricity (which is below the national average), the total kwh it could possibly take to build (assuming no other costs for materials, manufacturing, labor or a profit margin!) is 2550 kwh.
Using and average of 5 peak sun hours per day (which is lower then the average here in San Diego) and a loss of 15% due to inverter loss, etc., the panel will produce 372.3 kwh a year. Even with the 1% degradation in production per year (as warrantied for 20 years) that easily generates enough power to cover the initial 2550 kwh.
In reality the electricity does not even come close to 100% of the $255 cost. So the energy to produce the panels has to be substantially less than 2550khw, etc.
Ah, the predictable solar hate begins. Are there paid trolls who do this, or are people just that naive?
Most of the "problems" associated with solar power relate more to the difficulty of turning solar into a centralized energy production solution where a large company can reap billion-dollar profits.
Solar is more appropriate as distributed power generation that conveniently connects people to their own power needs. Ultimately, the absurd overuse associated with and encouraged by an industry that benefits from higher consumption rates has to end.
Distributed power production incentivizes people to be efficient. That can be done without any pain whatsoever, just better choices.
And solar is far and away the best distributed power generation solution to slot into existing urbanized environments: it is not noisy; the shade on structures reduces cooling requirements; it produces no emissions.
It's easy to equivocate about the lifespan of panels, but improvements in the control electronics are far exceeding any drop-off in productivity of panels over a couple decades. I personally gained a 30% improvement by replacing my 15-year-old charge controller, and I had not noticed any perceptible reduction of output due to panel degradation.
But by all means, keep quibbling over it and paying your fossil-fuel electric bill while the poles melt, people.