Solar panels more climate damaging than coal

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Surprise, surprise! A comparison of the entire production process for both solar and coal power has found that solar power is more damaging to the environment and the climate.

Not only does the production, transport, and use of solar panels dump more total CO2 into the atmosphere than coal power plants, the manufacture of the solar panels adds many more toxic chemicals to the environment than coal.

According to Ferroni, the other huge drawback presented by PV systems are the nasty chemicals and industrial gases used for their manufacture. The production of solar panels in China entails nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), which are extremely potent heat-trapping gases that leak out during the process. NF3 has a greenhouse gas potency that is 16,600 times greater than CO2; SF6 is 23,900 times more potent. Reports show that these gases emitted annually into the atmosphere from the manufacture of solar panels is equivalent to over 70 million tonnes of CO2 in terms of greenhouse effect. In 2010 over 17.5 GW of rated capacity of solar cells were installed. Thus the emissions per square meter of solar panels comes out to be 513 kg CO2 – a huge amount!

The manufacture of solar cells also uses other chemicals like (HCl), silizium carbide, and silver among others. The total alleged warming potential of these chemicals comes out to be an estimated 30 kg CO2 per square meter of PV module. Oddly (likely to avoid embarrassment) the solar industry has yet to release any detailed data on the warming potential and impacts of the chemicals used in their manufacture.

But President Obama tells us solar power is good! It must be true!


  • Nick P

    Here is an interesting paper from Oak Ridge National Laboratories. It describes the enormous amount of radioactive material dumped into the atmosphere from the burning of coal. 1,000,000s of tons of Uranium and Thorium worldwide.

  • Desmond Murphy

    Does the article do a fair comparison, does it account for the greenhouse gases generated by the construction of the coal power stations and it’s components, and the transport of the components to the site, and the concrete used in the construction? How about the co2 generated extracting the coal and transporting it to the power station. The original article is in German so I can’t check it.

  • Garry

    The article raises a lot of questions to me.

    I tried to figure out when that paper was written, and it seems mid 90s; the latest reference it gives in 1993, and when I clicked on “Next Article” it took me to a speech talking about how much Russia has changed in the past 50 years, and goes on to say that Russians from the mid 40s would be surprised if they saw Russia today.

    I wonder what pollution controls have been improved since this paper was written. In the late 90s, I edited a 300-page environmental impact statement for a project to update a massive steel mill in China in order to cut pollutants (mostly NOx and SOx) by a whopping 99%, and I suspect that in the past 20 years other pollutants have been cut dramatically as well. I know that China in particular doesn’t seem to do much in the way of pollution controls, but I would think there has been some progress.

    Also, the author seems to emphasize that regulations on nuclear are too stringent, and he comes across as a lobbyist for nuclear power.

    Technically you accurately reflect the article’s content when you mention millions of tons of uranium and thorium, but, according to the article, the figures below are the total estimated release worldwide from 1937 to 2037:

    Uranium: 828,632 (metric) tons

    Thorium: 2,039,709 (metric) tons

    When I read your comment, I took “millions of tons” to mean that amount for each of uranium and thorium, over a much shorter period than a century. The figures from the article are still huge, but your wording is a little sloppy.

    I’d be interested in reading more on this topic, especially if, as I suspect, this paper is 20 years old. I wonder if China in particular is exceeding the paper’s forecasts of burning coal.

  • Garry

    I meant the article that Nick P linked to

  • Nick P

    Gary, Sorry that I was unclear. You are right, those are total numbers over quite an extended period of time.

    There are many additional links available on this topic but I don’t want to start a new thread that Bob hasn’t started. Just wanted to draw some perspective. A lot of people say coal is an absolute disaster for the environment and radioactive waste is just one factor. I’d like to see a real debate based on the science.

    Nick P.

  • Phill O

    All these arguments seem to have the basis that CO2 is the culprit in the global warming we have seen over the last 200 years. I, on the other hand, am a proponent that the warming (and now cooling)can attributed (related to) to the solar cycles. The current evaluation of the sun’s output, as we head for a period of more quiet sun activity, will provide data to support this concept. There is not money promoting this idea and no money to be had from it so the “environmentalists” like Gore and Suzuki will never argue for it. If we place carbon accounts and taxes on something not real; well that is not science but reflects the current situation.

    By arguments of costing both in economic as well as use of a non-renewable resource (Petrol), recycling paper bottle and can (to name only a few) does not make sense for small centers or rural areas. It makes sense for densely populated area like LA. However, the feel good mood achieved by recyclers in rural areas—-

    Lets think outside the box constructed by the current trend in the religion of environmentalism.

  • Nick P

    Phil O

    “I, on the other hand, am a proponent that the warming (and now cooling)can attributed (related to) to the solar cycles”

    I’m not qualified to debate this topic, but that’s an interesting view. I hope you share more with us about this in the future.

  • Phill O

    Rather than end on a negative, what I propose is constructive.

    1 Slow down the driving habits! My Harley and my 3/4 tom diesel truck both consume about 7-8% more fuel for every ten km/hr over 100 km/hr. This relates to a savings of about 25% by slowing from 80mph to 60mph. There is no plan by the “environmentalists” that can reduce the use of a non-renewable resource like this. If it takes a day more to travel from LA to Miami, just think of the boost to the economies. I would rather pay to a small business than big oil.

    2 Reuse! We used to get a lot of stuff from the dump before restrictions were put on. Mind you, we had to beat the Huterites to the good stuff as they are very good at the re-purposing.

    3 Turn out lights! Great from an astronomers viewpoint, but it can save $$$$$$

    4 Put in place plans that work for the big urban centers but give sense for rural folk to have a differing plan. One size does not fit all.

    5 Generate electricity from nuclear stockpiles and recycle fissile material. This requires removing the lowest bidding way of contracting as quite often, the highest bid has the best safety. The cost of one accident really outweighs cheaping it out. Regulate where nuclear reactors can be built. Japan is obviously out!

    6 Get big money out of politics—OK that is not possible! Scrap this idea.

  • Garry

    Thanks, NIck; I’d also like to see a debate based on science.

    There are many technologies that make coal cleaner, but, as always, the devil lies in the details. It’s very hard to find info that I can say with confidence is unbiased.

  • Cotour

    I think you have to decide what the definition of progress is, and if progress is the goal then we have arrived! So who is against progress? The progressives?

  • tps

    CO2 is NOT, I repeat, is NOT a pollutant. It is mandatory for life on earth. It comprises a minuscule percentage of a percent of the atmosphere, and nothing we can do can even control that, because we can’t control volcanoes, etc. nor can we control that ball of hot gas 93 million miles away. Nor can we control China, or India, or . . .

    Funny how the solution to Global Cooling (70s and 80s, which turned out to be crap), Global Warming (90s and 2000s, which turned out to be crap), and not “Climate Change” (which of course can’t be debated because the climate is always changing) is always the same: Centralized power, more regulations, higher taxes, less liberty. Surprise. Surprise. Surprise.

    Can anyone tell me when the climate was perfect and our “goal”? Seems to me it is different around the world, all the time. So . . . what is the specific goal? When was it wonderful for mankind?

    RACIST: This whole anti-coal and fossil fuel movement hurts who the most? The poorest around the world, who happened mostly to be brown and black people. We have ours, but let’s not let them have theirs. They can burn manure to stay warm, but my God–no coal!!

    We have had the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Age of Enlightenment, etc. This is the Age of Stupidity.

  • tps

    I will start believing “Climate Change” (excuse my laughter) is a crisis for Mother Earth when the people telling me this, over and over, start changing their lifestyles like it really is a crisis.

    Until then, I am going to light my grill outside, turn up my air conditioning, let my car idle 24 hours a day, and burn some wood in my chimney.

    Oh yeah, and light my cigar with a burning newspaper.

  • Steve

    I agree, but I’m not sure why Japan would be “obviously out”? Every review of the Fukishima incident that I have seen concludes that if the backup generators had been positioned better (above the reactors instead of below where they were flooded) then there wouldn’t have been an issue and we never would have heard anything about it.

    In fact it appears as though, apart from the aux power issue, the plant actually withstood both an earthquake and a tsunami that were well above what it was designed for. Couple that with Zero deaths from the plant failure versus the 6K plus deaths from the Tsunami and Fukishima is actually an engineering success story……

  • Nick P

    Steve –

    What I find most appalling about the Fukushima “nuclear disaster” is the extreme over reaction to the danger posed by radiation leaks. The “No man’s land” evacuated around the plant is in fact much less radioactive than Denver and I don’t see anyone calling for the evacuation of Denver. A recent report of radiation off the west coast of Canada caused a stir but an analysis of the data showed one could drink over 1,600 cubic meters of seawater a day and still be under the safety limits set by the Canadian government. I don’t think I could choke down a single shotglass…

  • Steve

    I know, it is irritating when the internet spreads the multi-colored graphics showing the impending radiation doom coming our way across the Pacific…..

    Even Chernobyl, the worst case scenario come to life, “only” caused the deaths of 28 fireman and 15 deaths from thyroid cancer afterwards. All of those deaths were unnecessary and, like the meltdown itself, caused by incompetence and delay. The deaths are awful, but as a Professor interviewed on a recent PBS show stated: “More people are killed in the UK each year by falling out of bed”

    There was a time when we would learn from our mistakes and improve practices rather than abandon them. It is the victory of emotional manipulation over logic and common sense…..

  • Steve

    And two of my favorite examples of the dangers of radioactivity are the abandoned cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. oh, wait……. ;-)

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