Do Solar Panels Use Fossil Fuels? (6 Questions)

Solar power is without a doubt the most popular renewable energy today. After all, it is clean and sustainable.

Rather than use fossil fuel for energy, solar systems convert energy from the sun into electricity.

And with the cost of solar going down drastically in recent times, many property owners are now installing solar panels in their homes and commercial premises.

However, questions are now emerging on whether solar energy is really sustainable.

In any case, the process of making solar panels entails the use of fossil fuels yet solar energy is intended to replace the use of fossil fuels in the first place.

This brings us to the matter at hand – do solar panels use fossil fuels? Let’s find out. 

Do solar panels use fossil fuels?

solar panels

No. Solar panels do not use fossil fuels to generate electricity. Instead, solar power uses natural energy from the sun.

Solar systems work by absorbing radiant light from the sun before converting it to electrical energy.

The panels contain multiple photovoltaic cells that are linked together to form an entire unit. The photovoltaic cells in the solar panel absorb heat and light from the sun known as photons before converting them into electricity without requiring fossil fuel energy.

The electricity produced by a solar panel cannot be used in its current form. It has to pass through an inverter to become usable.

The inverter will convert the electricity generated from Direct Current (DC) to Alternating Current (AC), making it usable in our homes and businesses. This entire process does not use fossil fuels at any point.

The only time solar panels might require fossil fuels is during the manufacturing of the solar system itself.

The production of solar panels relies on fossil fuels and non-renewable fossil energy.

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Are fossil fuels used to make solar panels?

fossil fuels

As much as solar panels do not use fossil fuels to generate electricity, the process of manufacturing them requires the use of fossil fuel energy sources. Besides, some of the components that are used to make solar panels are all fossil-fuel-derived.

Nearly every step in the manufacturing of solar panels requires fossil fuels. First, manufacturing requires heat and power, which can be obtained from fossil fuels like coal, petroleum, and natural gas. 

Moreover, most types of solar panels consist of components made from crystalline silicon.

The process of smelting crystalline silicon from ore is reliant on fossil fuel energy. The protective backing and back-sheets around solar panels are also made from plastic polymers which are derived a non-renewable fossil fuel (petroleum).

Aside from the production process, solar systems may use fossil fuels indirectly through the transportation of materials and the onsite deployment of solar panels.

Maintaining solar panels also somewhat relies on non-renewable fossil fuel energy albeit indirectly.

The good news is that the amount of fossil fuels used to produce solar panels is not enough to discredit the efficiency of a solar system.

Fossil fuels are only used during the production of solar panels and not during the generation of electricity.

The whole point is to reduce the over-reliance on fossil fuels for energy and going solar is the first step to addressing the world’s energy woes.

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Is solar energy cleaner than fossil fuels?

Yes. Solar energy is far much cleaner than fossil fuels. Solar power remains one of the cleanest and most sustainable types of renewable energy.

Moreover, the environmental footprint of solar energy is just a small fraction of the carbon footprint of traditional technologies that use fossil fuels. 

In contrast, fossil fuels are the main culprits when it comes to carbon emissions. They produce carbon dioxide and other pollutants that are harmful to the environment and the ozone layer. As the ozone layer depletes, the earth retains more heat, leading to global warming.

Solar energy does not produce air pollutants compared to fossil fuels like coal and gas. With reduced greenhouse gasses, solar also helps to prevent global warming and climate.

With that said, switching to solar is a reasonable choice as far as reducing carbon emissions and conserving the environment and natural resources are concerned.

What is the lifespan of a solar panel?

The lifespan of a solar panel depends on several factors, but on average, you should expect your solar panel to last for at least 25 years or even more.

Many manufacturers back their solar systems with a warranty of 25 years, meaning they expect the solar panels to last for at least this period.

Interestingly, the solar panels will continue to generate electricity even after the 25 years have elapsed.

However, they won’t be as effective and as efficient as they were when they were new. The efficiency of solar panels decreases with age and the panels may degrade because of temperature changes, increased humidity, and bad weather.

What are the negatives of solar energy?

Solar energy might be the preferred source of renewable energy. However, it has its fair share of downsides. These include:

  1. High upfront costs

The upfront cost of installing a solar system can be somewhat expensive. You have to purchase the solar system and pay for the installation costs separately. Homeowners also have to pay a monthly or annual fee for maintenance.

  1. Weather dependent

Solar is an intermittent source of energy since it relies on sunlight, meaning it won’t work at night. Besides, bad weather like heavy snow and rain may affect the amount of electricity generated.

  1. Takes up space

Before installing solar in your home or business, you have to consider the available space. Solar systems require a lot of space either on your roof or compound. If the space available is not big enough, you may have to downsize your solar system.

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How to overcome these negatives?

  1. Lease instead of buying

Many solar companies offer various financial options to offset the high cost of installing solar. Besides, you have the option to choose between buying using a loan or leasing the solar system. Various government schemes can also help reduce the high upfront costs.

  1. Consider battery storage

Today’s solar systems are capable of storing enough electricity to power a home throughout the night. They come with special battery storage systems that help preserve energy even during bad weather days.

  1. Install solar roof tiles

If you are short on space, you should consider installing solar roof tiles. These tiles replace your entire roof with special panels without the need to downsize your solar system.

Final thoughts

As you can see, solar panels do not use fossil fuels. Even though the process of manufacturing solar panels might indirectly use fossil fuels, the carbon footprint is just a small fraction of what other technologies emit.

Solar power remains the cleanest and most sustainable source of energy you should consider for your home or business.

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