Research On Environmental Cost of Solar Panel Production Featured in the New York Times and Businessweek
China’s cheaper solar panels come at a higher cost to the environment, according to new study
New research from Fengqi You comparing the environmental cost of solar panels manufactured in China and Europe has been featured on the New York Times and Bloomberg Businessweek websites.
You, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, along with graduate student Dajun Yue and Argonne National Laboratory’s Seth Darling, determined that while Chinese solar panels cost less money to produce, they leave behind a greater carbon footprint than European alternatives.
To compare each panel’s true environmental impact, the researchers performed a life-cycle analysis, which calculated the total energy used during every stage of production. The analysis included the energy output needed to mine the raw materials, transportation fuel costs, and the electricity needed to power the production factories.
Based on the results, You estimated that silicon solar panels made in China leave a carbon footprint that is twice as high as similar models produced in Europe. The study also found Chinese panels take up to 30 percent longer to produce enough energy to offset the energy used to manufacture them.
‘‘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 said.