This is a common question. It’s easy to understand why some don’t consider solar panels truly green. For although photovoltaic (PV) technology creates clean electricity once installed, it takes a lot of energy to manufacture today’s solar panels and that energy usually comes from dirtier forms of power like oil, gas, and coal.

You already know that solar panels pay for themselves financially.  Whatever money you spend upfront, you’re guaranteed to make back many times over with the help of the Feed-in Tariff and lower utility bills. 

But how long does it take for clean energy generated from your solar panels to exceed the dirty energy used to create them?

What Is the Energy Payback Period of Solar?

The answer might surprise you.  According to the US Department of Energy, standard multi-crystalline silicon solar PV panels have payback periods of roughly 4 years. 

That is phenomenally short.  But of course, this is under ideal, optimal weather conditions – which the United Kingdom very rarely offers.

In our cloudy climate, the energy payback period may be a little bit longer. Then again, maybe not. The above US Department of Energy study is several years old. Solar panel efficiencies have gone up, and manufacturing practices have also improved. According to the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, countries in Northern Europe can expect energy payback periods of about 2.5 years. 

Not too shabby.

But this isn’t the whole picture. Solar panel manufacturing represents just one component of a much larger industry. It only describes the extraction and production processes. 

What about other energy-intensive activities like transporting, storing, and physically installing solar panels?  When you factor these additional steps in, is solar energy net-positive or net-negative for the environment?

Surprising new research out of Stanford University suggests that the entire solar industry is a net producer of clean electricity – despite all of the upstream and downstream activities required to get panels on your rooftop.  After an exhaustive study of the global solar market, researchers Michael Dale and Sally Benson concluded that: 

  • Best case scenario – the solar industry is already a net positive producer of clean electricity.  The entire sector, as a whole, has already paid for itself.
  • Worst case scenario – the global solar industry will break even by 2020 (maybe sooner).  The clean energy produced from all of the world’s solar panels will finally exceed the dirty energy used to create them.

So Is Solar Power Truly a Green Technology?

Strictly speaking, solar energy isn’t 100% clean. There is pollution and waste at various stages of the value chain. So it’s not a myth. 

However, solar energy offers net positives – unlike its counterpart – fossil fuel.  The more panels we install, the less pollution our society emits into the atmosphere.

As an added benefit, you can also save and make money by installing PV panels on your property. 

To learn how, request a free solar inspection today.