The solar panel industry has nearly paid its climate debt. The technology will break even in terms of energy usage by 2017 and greenhouse gas emissions by 2018 at the latest, if it hasn’t done so already, researchers calculate.
Building, assembling and installing solar panels consumes energy and produces climate-warming greenhouse gases. Once in use, though, the panels gradually reverse this imbalance by producing green energy.
The manufacturing process has also gotten greener over the last 40 years, environmental scientist Atse Louwen of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and colleagues report December 6 in Nature Communications. Each doubling of the combined energy-generating capacity of all solar panels has coincided with a 12 to 13 percent drop in the energy used during manufacturing and a 17 to 24 percent drop in their carbon footprint.