Understanding the Carbon Footprint of Solar Panels

When can you expect your solar panels to become carbon neutral and generate more clean energy than it took to produce them?

We’ve all heard about the benefits of solar panels. They offer freedom from utility companies with ever-increasing prices. They provide clean renewable energy, and they can even increase your home value! But just how environmentally friendly are they once when you factor in the complete carbon footprint of solar panels over their productive lifecycle? A lot of consumers like you might wonder, “how long do my solar panels need to run before they begin to make additional positive contributions to the environment?” 

To answer these questions and more, we have put together this resource that details key terms like carbon positivity, provides some helpful context, and outlines what this all means for you. Continue reading to find out what makes solar panels such a worthwhile investment for your home or commercial space and how they will continue to pay financial and eco-friendly dividends well into the future. 

Table of Contents

What is a Carbon Footprint?

According to The Nature Conservatory “A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by our actions.”

Regarding the carbon footprint of solar then, we are referring to the greenhouse gas emissions and waste generated by solar panel manufacturing, distribution, and installation.

What Does Carbon Neutral Mean?

To understand the term carbon positive, we must first discuss carbon neutrality. Carbon neutrality occurs when the overall carbon dioxide emissions generated by a product or service, i.e., a solar power system, become equal to zero. Essentially, it is the point when the solar panels have generated enough clean energy to offset emissions released into the atmosphere during production and installation. 

The total carbon emissions generated during manufacturing and installation are calculated in line with several factors. These include:

-the mining of raw materials used to create the panels

-construction and assembly of the product using these raw materials

-transportation between manufacturer and distributor

-installation of the panels on your home by a reputable supplier

Basically, by the time the solar panel has been built, shipped to Australia, packed by the supplier, and installed on the roof, the panels have caused a certain amount of emissions to be released into the atmosphere and it will take a variable amount of time generating electricity free of any environmental cost to “payback” this CO2 “debt.”

Another factor to consider is the total productive lifespan of the product. Essentially, how long your solar panels produce energy before needing to be replaced. Markus Lambert, General Manager of Solar and Energy at LG Energy describes this succinctly when he states 

“the true carbon neutralness [is dependent} on the solar panel. Now, if a solar panel is of very poor quality… [it will likely fail] within two or three years…”  

What Markus is underlining in this statement is that the point at which a solar system achieves carbon neutrality depends on its quality.

 If on average it takes at least 2 years for a system to reach a CO2 positive position and the panels need replacing at year 3, then very little difference has been made in reducing the overall carbon footprint of the solar panel product. Purchasing a first-rate solar system through a supplier such as HCBU will ensure the system reaches carbon neutrality quickly with a lower footprint. For example, if a panel produces 320 watts instead of 250 watts for the same amount of aluminium and production process, the carbon footprint of the solar panel will be considerably lower.

What Does Carbon Positive Mean?

Now you know about carbon neutrality. Next comes carbon positivity. 

 To become ‘carbon positive’ is to move beyond offsetting emissions released during production and instead produce a surplus of clean energy that can be fed back into the grid. For your solar system to become carbon positive, it must generate emissions-free energy beyond carbon neutrality and contribute towards offsetting emissions from other sources. A high-quality system installed by professionals lasts an average of 25 to 30 years, meaning that the potential for the supply of efficient green energy spans decades. This means that solar users enjoy the financial benefits of reduced electricity bills whilst helping to reconcile the damaging environmental impacts of past practices and lifestyles.

Why is Carbon Positivity Important?

Carbon positivity is important as it means a system fulfils its primary requirement, in this case, electricity, with the added benefit of reducing the impact of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by other sources. Our historical reliance on fossil fuels and non-renewable energy sources has caused devasting environmental damage. Carbon positivity works to support our transition towards greener energies while also compensating for areas that need more work.  Carbon-positive solar systems generate more power than is required by the household and then export this excess energy back into the electrical grid for use elsewhere. This is not only a bonus for the environment but potentially for you as well!

The state of NSW currently offers feed-in tariffs under a Voluntary Retailer Contribution. However many electricity companies will actually compensate you for the excess energy you put back into the grid. The rate per kilowatt of energy varies from supplier to supplier though, so do be sure to research your options. To benefit, your system will require a net or smart meter. A bonus of smart meters is added control. They allow you to see how much energy you have used and where. This can help you to identify ways to make your system more efficient.  

Carbon positivity means good things, for both your wallet and the environment.

When Will My Solar Power Panels Offset Their Carbon Footprint?

Solar panels must be carbon neutral before they can be carbon positive and offset their carbon footprint. This process takes between 1 to 3 years on average, depending on the quality and condition of your solar system, as well as the amount of electricity generated. But how is it calculated? Mark Lambert from LG suggests:

“So, the calculation, for example, for the LG NeON2 is that you’re looking at about a 1.4-year payback in CO2 in a place like Perth or Brisbane in Australia. In Sydney, because it generates a little bit less electricity…, you’re probably looking at 1.5 to 1.6 years. After that, the panel is generating genuine carbon-positive electricity.”

In the case of solar panels, there really is no fixed timeframe for becoming carbon positive.  However,  provided you invest in high-quality panels and maintain them appropriately, you can rest assured that your system will reach net zero within the average 1 to 3-year period and become carbon positive for many decades beyond.

How Long Does It Take for Solar Panels to Be Carbon Positive?

Solar panel systems take 1 – 3 years to become carbon positive on average. 

There are of course many factors that will impact this timeline including the quality and installation, position on the roof, and the amount of sunlight received on a typical day. Choosing a trusted installer, like HCB will go a long way towards ensuring that your solar system is designed to be the best approach for the situation. HCB Solar Newcastle will take the time to understand your needs and explain the best way to move forward whilst only recommending the highest quality solar panels, so you know your system will last to carbon positivity and beyond. 

To read more on NSW solar panel government rebates, click here.

Final Thoughts

There are so many reasons to choose solar. Solar panel systems are one of the most popular sources of clean, renewable energy available today. While they do have a limited carbon footprint for a short period of time, they offer significant benefits in comparison to conventional energy sources. Solar panels can offset and then continue to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions generated by non-renewable energies and in doing so reduce the total impact on climate change. Solar panel systems offer a legitimate pathway towards achieving net-zero emissions as a nation whilst also reducing your household expenses substantially.

Seeking carbon positivity for your home or commercial property? Got questions about whether a solar panel system is right for you? 

Why not ask HCB Solar? 

Family-owned and operated for over 15 years, we are the experts in designing solar solutions that are suited to your needs, meaning you get the most out of your investment!

Taking advantage of solar has never been easier, and we use some of the best quality solar panels, inverters, and solar batteries on the market, working with trained and licensed Newcastle technicians and solar power installers. Enjoy excellent customer service from start to finish from Newcastle’s most trusted solar power installers.

Find out how HCB Solar can help you benefit from installing a solar power system in your home or business today. Contact us and make the switch today!

Related Articles