Photovoltaic Assessment with Consumers in Mind

Dear Reader,

This is the first in the series of contributions to our blog by Anna Medina, Daniel Silvernail Architect- UCSC Green Building Intern. We welcome Anna to our team!

PhotovoltaicsWhen considering going solar, it is important to understand the financial costs and varying scales of environmental benefits associated with different systems. Navigating through the myriad of options for solar panel types, sizes and installers, it is difficult to assess the degree to which you are making an environmental difference for the finances you are supplying. Finding a system that is right for you is influenced by several factors such as scale, efficiency, life span and the installation company you choose to use. These decisions most directly affect the cost of your solar system, however, the purpose of this article is to better inform your decision in which panel technology you invest in, and to reassure your transition to solar power.

The difference in photovoltaic cells is characterized by the elements they use. The two most prominent materials used in photovoltaic’s are silicon and cadmium telluride (CdTe). Silicon is the second most abundant element in the world, after oxygen, which eliminates issues of resource scarcity and the extensive mining patterns associated to retrieving rare earth minerals. The consequences of silicon mining are minimal in comparison to coal and petroleum, since there are zero carbon emissions and it is not an environmentally hazardous substance. On the other hand, CdTe is known to be ecologically toxic, but is most commonly acquired as a byproduct of zinc winning. Thus, employing CdTe in solar panel production is an effective way in diverting toxic waste from landfills. CdTe remains in the solar market behind silicon panels because it tends to be more cost effective, although less energy efficient. Overall, both silicon and CdTe models are sustainably comparable, however, the production and manufacturing of silicon panels poses less risks because it is a non-toxic substance.

The environmental analysis of solar energy extraction, production and waste disposal operations make evident the significant environmental advantages over traditional coal and petroleum. While there is no perfect solution to meeting our energy demands with zero environmental impact, solar energy is the best option available. Operations with preferable extractive techniques and relying on abundant materials, solar energy is the most viable alternative to coal and petroleum. Going solar ensures the availability of energy with minimal impact on the environment while also alleviating energy dependence on fossil fuels.

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