How Much Carbon Do Solar Panels Save?

Solar energy is a clean, renewable and sustainable source of power that reduces dependence on fossil fuels. However, solar power does have a carbon footprint at different stages of its lifecycle. The most significant carbon emissions are produced during the extraction and manufacturing of raw materials such as silicon and aluminum. In addition, the transport and installation of solar panels can also contribute to carbon dioxide emissions. While these emissions are significantly lower than those of non-renewable energy sources, there are opportunities to reduce their impact even further.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take long for your do solar panels save you money system to become carbon neutral once operational. A typical rooftop system produces around 3,000 kWh of electricity each year, and that’s enough to offset the emissions from the production of that same amount of electricity in a conventional power plant. The initial carbon footprint of solar panels is then offset again when they generate more electricity than they use and are exported back to the grid.

In fact, the average residential solar PV system produces enough energy to offset its entire carbon footprint within just a few years. The precise figure will depend on your energy usage, energy costs, net metering and available tax incentives.

The solar energy industry is working hard to reduce the carbon footprint of solar PV systems by using cleaner sources for their production and manufacturing. The carbon footprint of solar panels is already 12 times less than that of electricity generated by gas plants and 20 times less than that produced by coal plants.

However, a large proportion of the emissions associated with solar panels are still caused by their extraction from the earth. Mining the raw materials used in solar panels requires a lot of heavy machinery and is often powered by fossil fuels. The rest of the carbon footprint comes from the actual solar panel production process, which is highly energy intensive. In particular, the production of polysilicon – an essential raw material in most solar panels – is a major source of carbon emissions.

The good news is that most of the other materials used in solar panels – such as aluminum, copper wire and the plastic junction box – are recyclable. Reusing these materials reduces the need to mine new materials, thus reducing carbon emissions from extraction. It’s also possible to recycle end-of-life solar modules, which reduces waste and potentially new CO2 emissions from their disposal.

There are many other ways that a person can cut their carbon footprint by going solar, including switching to electric cars or cycling or walking to work. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand the true impact of your energy choices before you make them.

In Massachusetts, every kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity generated by a PV system saves the equivalent of 0.846 lbs of CO2. This figure is calculated by taking into account the carbon emissions associated with the production of that same kW of electricity in conventional power plants. It’s a very impressive reduction in emissions, especially when compared to the 880 lbs of carbon per kWh of electricity generated by traditional fossil fuels in the state.