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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

China’s Solar Panel Production Comes at a Dirty Cost

          


Although China may be a cheaper place than Europe for producing solar panels, the savings come at a higher cost to the environment, a new study says.

Weaker environmental standards and the more highly polluting sources of energy used by Chinese manufacturers are the reasons for the discrepancy, according to research by Northwestern University and the United States Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.

Researchers from the Illinois-based institutions looked at the carbon footprint and energy usage of making solar panels.
Their analysis tallied the costs at every step of production, including the mining of raw materials, transportation and the factory’s power supply.

The environmental cost of Chinese- made solar panels is about twice that of those made in Europe, said Fengqi You, a corresponding author of the paper, which will be published in next month’s issue of the journal Solar Energy.

‘‘While it might be an economically attractive option to move solar panel manufacturing from Europe to China, it is actually less sustainable from the life cycle energy and environmental perspective — especially under the motivation of using solar panels for a more sustainable future,’’ Dr. You, an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern, said in a news release last week from the Argonne National Laboratory.

The authors proposed a tax on the energy consumption and carbon emissions caused by the manufacturing of solar panels to help encourage more sustainable production.

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