What is black or blue, but always green?
A solar panel, of course!
Jokes and riddles aside, many people wonder what makes solar energy “green” and why solar panels have always been associated with clean electricity generation.
In this article, we will attempt to explain how green solar panels are by illustrating the technology’s impact on the environment for individuals and society.
What does it mean to be green?
When Kermit the Frog sang, “It’s not easy being green,” he was probably not alluding to his carbon footprint.
Although “green” is a term that can be used to describe several different things (including as a color or in reference to someone new or naive to something), today, most people relate “green,” “going green,” and “green living” with anything that has a positive environmental impact.
While naturalists throughout history have explored the benefits of environmentally-conscious living, the idea of “going green” gained significant momentum in the US during the 1970s and 80s in response to the negative human impact on air, water, and land contamination.
Today, individuals have opportunities to go green in many different aspects of life, from reducing food waste to lowering electricity consumption, conserving water, and supporting businesses with sustainable operations.
Green Energy and Greenhouse Gases - Key Terms
Before we can illustrate precisely how green solar panels are, let’s first define a few related key terms to help put solar's health and environmental benefits into context.
|Carbon footprint||The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and other greenhouse gasses emitted as a result of the activities and choices of a person, group, or business|
|Greenhouse gasses (GHG)||Gasses that trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming|
|Green energy||Any form of energy that comes from natural sources, such as wind, sunlight, or water|
|Clean energy||Any energy source that emits negligible pollution, greenhouse gasses, or chemical contaminants|
|Renewable energy||Any energy source that constantly replenishes itself over a relatively short time frame (i.e., wind, hydropower, or sunlight)|
|Fossil Fuels||Non-renewable resources found beneath the surface of the earth, including coal, oil, and natural gas|
So while the differences between green, clean, and renewable energy may be subtle, the impact of adopting such resources is highly significant. Compared to fossil fuels, renewable resources like solar power are not limited in total fuel supply, nor do they emit nearly as many harmful greenhouse gasses (GHG) into the atmosphere.
So… how green are solar panels?
What makes solar energy green is a combination of a few different things. Compared to fossil fuels and other energy resources, the green powers of solar panels can be found in the sustainability of their materials, operation, and integration with new technologies.
Unlimited, zero-cost energy source - Unless a vengeful, money-motivated energy mogul finds a way to block out the sun, à la Mr. Burns in the Simpsons, solar power will always be “free” to generate. Although solar panels and related equipment obviously cost money to install, the almost unlimited green energy potential of daily sunlight allows users to generate power with no additional fuel costs for 25 years or more.
Silent and emission-free power - In operation, solar panels are much more kind to the environment than most electricity production facilities, in terms of noise and carbon emissions. Operating in silence, solar panels do not release any of the consequential greenhouse gasses produced in other forms of energy generation, such as traditional power plants, with decades of emission-free power being created by every solar installation.
Abundant and recyclable materials - Solar panels are made from some of the most abundant materials on the planet, including parts that can be recycled and used in future equipment. While solar recycling programs are emerging and developing worldwide, many opportunities are being created to repurpose aluminum frames, glass, wiring, plastic, and other panel components used in the manufacturing process.
Easy integration and endless innovation potential - When looking at solar technology as a whole, one must consider how it can relate to the world of tomorrow. Generating electricity anywhere the sun shines, solar is a perfectly green candidate to support locally growing electricity demands, power EV charging stations, integrate into building materials, assist in emergency relief efforts, and more.
The Impact of One Solar Energy System
If you wonder how much switching to solar could reduce your carbon footprint… it may be more significant than you think! Although US greenhouse gas emissions from electricity production have decreased by about 15% since 1990, the American power grid is still far from “green,” but solar can help.
In 2021, one-fourth of US greenhouse emissions were caused by electric power production. This is mainly because coal and natural gas made up 60% of the electricity produced that year. So although some parts of the country run entirely on renewables (like hydropower, wind, and solar) and others purely on coal-fired power, let’s assume that the average American household’s grid-supplied electricity is about 60% fossil-fuel based.
A national average of 10,632 kilowatt-hours (kWh) consumed per year equates to a typical American home consuming about 6,380 kWh (60% of 10,632) of electricity generated by coal or natural gas annually. Using the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator, 6,380 kWh of electricity avoided translates to offset approximately 4.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) every year after going solar.
In other words, by installing solar panels, you can essentially prevent the environmental equivalent of 5,000 lbs of coal-fired electricity production and offset the approximate annual emissions of a gas-powered vehicle every year for multiple decades, thanks to the long-term effects of solar energy.
Even better, solar panels can also help you save significant money on your electricity bills, while producing that green electricity!
Capture your solar savings by going green with Palmetto.
When you go solar with Palmetto, we work with you to minimize your environmental impact and maximize your electricity cost savings.