Soar Power 

 Humanity has been making use of solar energy since our beginnings. Plants are essential to the food supply and without light photosynthesis couldn’t take place. Taking a hint from Nature we have started to tap solar energy for other uses like generating electricity, heating, and purifying water.

Advances in solar cell technology and materials are allowing us to reach increasingly higher efficiency when converting solar energy to electricity. Some of the latest solar cells to be tested in labs, like the three junction concentrators, can get as high as 42% efficiency.

Solar cells are constructed of various materials and in a variety of ways. Mono and polycrystalline silicone are the most popular. These are the silicone panels you likely imagine when thinking of solar panels. Although inflexible and inefficient when compared to emerging technology the abundance of silicone makes these popular, inexpensive, and more environmentally friendly.

Gallium Arsenide multijunction solar cells have the highest efficiency (42% as of 2011) of any solar cell but are quite expensive. Currently this technology and solar cell material is only used in specific situations like the Mars Rover where the cost is justified.

 Currently solar panels are among the most environmentally friendly power sources. Silicone is the most abundant resource on Earth behind Oxygen making it easy to obtain. It is also safe to work with (with the exception of silicone dust) and easy to dispose.

Manufacturing does make use of certain gases like nitrogen trifluoride which can be thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide as greenhouse gases. Luckily these gases are used and recaptured during production allowing only minuscule amounts to escape into the atmosphere when compared to coal and other atmospheric pollutants.

When solar cells reach their end of life proper disposal and recycling is key to ensuring that solar panels live up to their “green” reputation. More than just silicone is used to produce solar cells and this other electronic waste doesn’t sit so well in landfills. Many manufacturers are including extended producer responsibility with their products which means they’ll take the panels back at the end of their life and recycle them at no cost to the consumer.

Another potential pitfall towards solar panels being environmentally friendly is production in areas with lax environmental protection laws. There are many potentially hazardous chemicals used during manufacturing and in some countries proper disposal of those chemicals might be ignored in favor of dumping on the side of the road. In these situations “green” solar panels sold in environmentally conscious countries may be produced overseas using very “non-green” methods that alter the net environmental impact of the technology.

Article Provided Renewable energy index