Environmental considerations: The productions of PV panels

In the UK, PV (photovoltaic panels/cells) are all the rage.  This is because of the government subsidy called the Feed in Tariff (FITs), whereby you can receive an on-going grant to the tune of about £3000 per year for a certain capacity of PV panels installed.  This is in addition to the savings made against the normal electricity bill.  So, in effective it makes the panels very attractive to install.  In fact in many corners of the media, it has been condemned as too attractive.

This has led to a vast number of  “solar farms” schemes sent in for planning applications and you may have seen numerous companies setting-up to sell panels, with many offering to install free panels providing they keep the feed in tariff money.  (more on this later).

Are PV panels a green option or not?

There has been much speculation over the years about whether PV panels should be installed, this generally relates to the overall efficiencies of the panels, the life expectancy and the production of the panels themselves.

How efficient are PV panels?

This is dependent on the actual type of panel and these come in three main types, monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin film.  The most popular type sold around the world is the polycrystalline.  These have an assumed efficiency of circa 15-20%, but some companies are suggesting that “theirs” are up to 30%.

Life expectancy of the PV panels

It is generally accepted for working out performance and paybacks that the panels should last for at least 30 years.  But again it has been reported that companies own testing, are suggesting it is more like 40-50 years.

Toxic chemicals in the production of the PV panels

Without question there are certain nasty chemicals used in the production of the panels, but the question that really needs to be address is where these are a significant hazard?  Chemicals such as arsenic, cadmium telluride, hexafluoroethane, lead, and polyvinyl fluoride are used.  These chemicals already have very tight controls placed on their use.

Flipside of electricity production

So above we have considered just some of the angles for solar power (PV panels) and the potential for a less than clean alternative.  But in the interests of fairness, we must also consider the fact that around 80% of the electricity we use is generated from non-sustainable, dirty sources.  With coal and oil being the two major sources used.  It has also been suggested that wind power often does provide enough power, compared to the initial energy input in building and installing turbines.  So, should solar PV be promoted with the use of the governments feed in tariffs? (FITs).

Summary

It would appear from my limited research and non-technical view point, that the panels are getting better and better all the time.   I don’t except the toxic chemicals in the production of the panels as especially valid.  Certainly in most developed countries, the use of the fore-mentioned chemicals are very tightly controlled and I guess some countries might have less controls, but still these factories create “point sources”, unlike the literally thousands of traditional power plants around the world.  Many of which are using very old technologies developed fifty plus years ago.  I would say, the feed in tariffs are an excellent way forward and from the outside it appears to have sparked the industry and supply-chain into action.  Looking at the amount of competition around, this can only be good for the development of the technology.  Money being made and companies finding ways to compete in the face of such fierce competition.

Solar PV panels, a definite thumbs up.