Are Fossil Fuels Used to Make Solar Panels?

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Are Fossil Fuels Used to Make Solar Panels?

Solar panels are an important part of humanity’s progress in renewable energy, but a major challenge in the modern age is that it’s currently not possible for solar panels 

Fossil fuels are used to make solar panels, and they’re also used in the process of mining and transporting the materials needed to manufacture solar panels. Solar panel makers are now making changes to their factories so that they use as little fossil fuel as possible when making solar panels. 

The role of fossil fuels in the manufacture of solar panels is complicated, but it’s an important part of learning how to leave fossil fuels behind in the future. 

Keep reading to learn more about how fossil fuels are used to make solar panels and how the solar panel industry is trying to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. 

Does Solar Panel Manufacturing Use Fossil Fuels?

Fossil fuels are used to make solar panels. The solar panel industry isn’t at the point of manufacturing solar panels with sustainable energy. 

Solar panel manufacturers use fossil fuels to build solar panels, form solar panel materials, mine for rare metals used in solar panels, and transport solar panels. 

The necessity of using fossil fuels in the manufacture of solar panels is used as a criticism against the sustainable energy industry by detractors who try to push dependence on coal and oil.

However, the renewable energy sector has made and continues to make large strides towards making solar panels a fully renewable and sustainable energy source. 

Do Solar Panels Use Fossil Fuels to Generate Electricity?

Solar panels may use fossil fuels when they are being made and moved, but they don’t use fossil fuels when they are actually being used. Another advantage of solar panels is that, within a few years of being installed, they can generate far more electricity than fossil fuels could generate in the same amount of time. 

Currently, fossil fuels are used only in the manufacture, transport, and mining of fossil fuels. 

But as renewable energy is retrofitted to these industries, the carbon footprint of solar panels becomes smaller and smaller. 

Can Solar Panels Replace Fossil Fuels?

Fossil fuels are currently used in some areas of solar panel production, but that doesn’t mean that solar panels aren’t an integral part of the world’s renewable energy plan. 

According to a study put out by the UK-based energy think tank Carbon Tracker, energy experts predict that solar panels could entirely replace the use of fossil fuels as early as 2035. (Source: Forbes)

How quickly this transition happens depends on how much priority industries place on implementing solar panels in manufacturing and transport.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of a Solar Panel?

When it comes to carbon emissions, solar panels are a lot better for the environment than traditional fossil fuels.

  • Solar panels: The carbon footprint of a solar panel is only 50 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt of energy produced. (Source: RevoluSun)
  • Fossil fuels: The carbon footprint of fossil fuels is 820 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt of energy produced. (Source: HydroPower)

Can You Make Solar Panels Without Coal?

With modern manufacturing processes, it is difficult to make solar panels without coal. Most factories that build solar panels are powered with fossil fuels. 

Fossil fuels aren’t necessary as materials for solar panels because they aren’t used in construction of solar panel parts. 

Solar panels are created primarily from silicon, a common and plentiful material. Other materials used include aluminum, glass, cable, and bus wire. 

The current problem with manufacturing solar panels is that the process of producing photovoltaic cells is energy intensive, causing the industry to rely on fossil fuels for efficiency.

Other Methods for Producing Solar Cells

Other than silicon, there are a few alternative materials that can be used for manufacturing solar cells. (Source: Mission New Energy)

Cadmium Telluride and Copper Indium Selenide

Cadmium telluride and copper indium selenide are two materials that can be used to generate solar cells other than silicon. 

The major drawback to these solar cells is that they are not as efficient as solar cells made from traditional silicon. The rare metals used in these solar panels are also a finite resource. 

Some advantages of these materials are that they have a much smaller carbon footprint than traditional silicon-based solar cells, and are less energy-intensive to produce. 

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

PVC can be used to create solar cells that are comparable to silicon solar cells in their efficiency. 

The major disadvantage of PVC solar cells is that they require fossil fuels for construction. 

In general, the pollution caused by making PVC solar cells goes against the goal of making renewable energy better. 

Alternative Solar Cell Technologies Still Require Fossil Fuels

Even though there are some advantages to using materials other than silicon in the production of solar panels, these alternative methods still consume fossil fuels. 

In cadmium and selenide solar cells, these fossil fuels are used in manufacturing and transport. In PVC solar cells, fossil fuels are directly used to create the ethylene that makes up PVC. (Source: Building Green)

Is Solar Energy Sustainable?

Unfortunately, as it stands now, solar energy is not a completely sustainable way to make energy. 

Solar energy itself is renewable. However, the manufacturing processes used to create solar cells, no matter what type, consume fossil fuels, a finite resource in the environment. 

While solar energy is not currently a self-sustaining energy source, modern technology is pushing it in that direction. 

The Solar Panel Industry vs. Fossil Fuels

Once the majority of solar panel processing plants “go green” by backstocking solar panels for their own use in manufacturing, solar energy will be used to create solar energy. 

Many solar panel companies are ethically invested in reducing climate damage and advocating solar energy. 

As a result, more of these companies invest in their own solar energy sources every day.

When this goal is achieved and the transportation used for solar panels swaps from gas-powered vehicles to electric ones, solar energy will be a sustainable and renewable energy source.

Solar Panels Reliance on Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels may still play a part in the creation and transport of solar panels, but many futurologists and leaders in green energy regard this as a stopgap measure. 

In the future, it’s easy to see how the solar panel industry will eventually phase out the inclusion of fossil fuels altogether in solar panel manufacturing. 

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