Made-in-China May be Costly for the Planet: The Case of Solar Panels
by Panos Prevedouros PhD, Fix Oahu, December 8, 2014
A team from Northwestern University led by prof. Fengqi You performed a comprehensive evaluation called life cycle analysis on solar panels. Life Cycle Analysis accounts for the energy used to make a product including the energy to mine raw materials, the fuel to transport the materials and products, the electricity to power the processing factory, and the cost and impacts of most resources required. This yields a more complete picture of costs environmental impacts for making and using solar panels.
The primary differences, the researchers found, are the less stringent enforcement of environmental regulations in China coupled with the country’s more coal-dependent power sector. “It takes a lot of energy to extract and process solar-grade silicon,” says co-author Seth Darling. “And in China, that energy tends to come from dirtier and less efficient energy sources than it does in Europe.”