The Net Environmental Impact of Solar Power: Is it Helping or Hurting?

January 20, 2017

What is the environmental impact of solar power at a global level?At the individual installation level, it's rather obvious that commercial solar energy systems have positive impact on the environment—instead of using electricity generated by fossil fuels, your business can utilize clean, renewable energy from a limitless resource (the sun).

But, a recent article in The Atlantic takes a step back and evaluates solar as a whole. Does the effort and energy used to manufacture, distribute, and install solar panels across the globe truly have a net positive effect on the environment? How does solar measure up?

The Atlantic weighs in on the subject by presenting some intriguing research, and answering the question: “Has the solar industry on the whole really saved us any energy at all?”

The article reports on a study by the University of Groningen and the University of Utrecht. It’s a well-balanced body of research that presents the best and worst-case evaluations of the overall environmental impact of solar technology.

This research—including data spanning 40 years, multiple countries, and various industries—concludes that two possibilities exist:

  1. Worst-case scenario: solar power will soon have a carbon neutral environmental impact.
    The study projected that solar power will reach carbon neutrality (energy used in production matches overall energy savings) on net energy in 2017, and on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions the following year (2018).
  2. Best-case scenario: solar power already “broke even”—20 years ago.
    On the opposite side of the study’s projected data range exists the possibility that solar power has actually been carbon negative—or actually reducing our carbon footprint—for about 20 years!

But how can this research span such wide gap? The article explains that the ambiguity of data with this kind of analysis can lead to a range of highly-possible outcomes.

Want to dig a little deeper and learn more about the findings of this study? Read the article here.

If you are skeptical about whether or not your business can benefit from solar, this article will walk you through the pros and cons.

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