Chinese solar panels less greener than European ones: Study

Washington, Are you going to order solar panels made in China? Scan European players too as solar panels made in China have a higher overall carbon footprint and are likely to use substantially more energy during manufacturing than those made in Europe, a study shows.

The report from Northwestern University and the US Department of Energy’s Argonne national laboratory compared energy and greenhouse gas emissions that go into the manufacturing process of solar panels in Europe and China.

“We estimated that a solar panel’s carbon footprint is about twice as high when made in China and used in Europe, compared to those locally made and used in Europe,” said Fengqi You, an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University.

A solar panel made in China would take about 20 to 30 percent longer to produce enough energy to cancel out the energy used to make it.

“While it might be an economically attractive option to move solar panel manufacturing from Europe to China, it is actually less sustainable from the life cycle energy and environmental perspective - especially under the motivation of using solar panels for a more sustainable future,” You suggested.

To reach this conclusion, the team performed a type of systematic evaluation called life cycle analysis to come up with these hard data.

Life cycle analysis tallies up all the energy used to make a product - energy to mine raw materials, fuel to transport the materials and products, electricity to power the processing factory, and so forth.

“The biggest reason is that China has fewer environmental and efficiency standards for its factories and plants and generates more electricity from coal and other non-renewable sources,” the authors noted.

To encourage more sustainable production of solar cells, the authors suggested a break-even carbon tariff.

The paper is available online and is scheduled to be printed in the journal Solar Energy.

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