Lv 5
arther asked in EnvironmentGreen Living · 6 months ago

Are solar cells a good idea? What is the world going to do in 30 or 40 years when we have huge numbers of end life solar cells?

If we add up the total carbon foot print of such cells wouldn't it be simpler and end up creating less total pollution by running coal fired generators? Include all the pollution created mining these rare earth metals that are in the cells the energy used to make the cell . How do we recycle a monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar cell and how much energy will that use?


silicon Tetrachloride are we including the chemical waste manufacturing creates? What currently happens to the smashed cells from flying debris and building fires?How do we control base load when a 5 kw system is generating 3kw then 5 minutes later it clouds over and its generating 500 watts?

5 Answers

  • Luke
    Lv 7
    5 months ago

    Do you think that coal power plants last forever? They get decommisioned after 50 or 60 years. 

    Of course the eviromental impact of coal power plants will seem rosy if you ignore the energy requirements of contruction and mining and assume coal power plants last forever. 

  • 6 months ago

    The carbon footprint of a modern solar photovoltaic cell over its lifetime is estimated at about 10 to 20 grams of CO2 per kWh.

    The carbon footprint for coal-fired generating plants is about 1 KILOGRAM of CO2 per kWh.

    No, just using coal wouldn't "create less pollution."

    And no, no amount of recycling cost would remotely make up the difference.


    Even if we simply landfilled all those end-of-life solar panels it would produce less pollution (of all types, not just CO2) than burning coal for thirty years would.

    But it doesn't really matter, as silicon is just about as easily recyclable as glass.

    And the rare earth metals in the cells are cheaper and easier to get from them than from ores dug out of the ground.

  • Nicey8
    Lv 5
    6 months ago

    In places where there is insufficient sunlight, solar cells may not be so effective.

    The technology for solar cells are still evolving so I hope the materials used to make the panels will be greener.

    Are solar cells carbon neutral? Probably not.

  • 6 months ago

    Hey Arther, solar panels are quite recyclable, that’s why when the rare panel fails before it’s 30 year warranty has expired, the manufacturers want them back. The silicone wafers inside can be recycled into new ingots that new wafers are sliced from, using less energy than mining for fresh silicon. 

    There have been lots of studies on the, “embodied energy,” in solar panels and wind turbines, this refers to the energy required in mining, shipping and manufacturing any device. It’s hard to quantify accurately because of all the variables, but a range of 1.75 to 6.5 years is how long it takes a solar panel to earn back it’s embodied energy. Here’s the part that misleads everybody. Suppose you built a 1MW solar plant and put it along side a 1MW coal plant, which earns back its embodied energy faster? The answer is the coal plant never does. We forget that once you build a coal plant, or even an oil or gas fired one, it then needs to be fed coal, oil or natural gas which it converts to electricity at some rate less than 100%, so it keeps digging itself a total energy hole it can never crawl out of. At least a renewable source can one day get even.

    Kyocera even went so far years ago to build a solar powered panel factory in Japan. I don’t have any data on it, my guess is it probably isn’t entirely carbon neutral, but it’s a start. Burning coal to run your air conditioning is a bad idea environmentally no matter how you look at it.

    We had two panels fail prematurely on our 1.4 kw array a few years ago. Kyocera paid shipping for the new panels coming out, and return shipping for my failed ones back because they wanted the materials. That should answer your question for you. Take care Arther, Rudydoo

    Source(s): Home AWEA.ORG
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  • Mr. P
    Lv 7
    6 months ago

    True they loose output over time and are not as efficient - but they will still produce something, and that may be enough to provide lighting along with a suitable battery in less developed areas of the world.

    Mostly they are in large frames - and could be a substitute for building materials if assembled together.

     Just because they have finished their former use does not mean they all have to be melted down to be re-used. They can be re-used in other ways. Maybe as roof tiles.

    They are mostly made from Silicon - which we have a lot of on this planet, and a very thin layer of other metals - thinner than aluminium foil, and we continue to make miles of that. (mostly using renewable electricity)

    Burning coal is not a long term solution to energy needs. However our Sun provides more than enough if used properly. In areas where there is little cloud cover it would be possible to use a mirror array to heat water to steam for a conventional power station.

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