Solar vs. fossil fuels: Life Cycle Analysis - StraightUp Solar

Solar vs. fossil fuels: Life Cycle Analysis


Many of us think solar power is better for the environment than fossil fuels, but don’t know exactly in what way or how much. To help sort out the real environmental impact of solar photovoltaics (PV), StraightUp Solar looked at the life cycle analysis of solar systems compared to fossil fuels.

Once installed, solar panels produce energy without any emissions, but manufacturing the system parts still requires energy. Here is a summary:

  • The greenhouse gas emissions that result from solar PV is only a fraction of what is produced by coal-fired power: 45 grams/kWh compared to 900 grams/kWh.
  • Energy payback time for a complete solar system (the panels, inverter, and mounting system) is 3 – 6 years. A typically PV system produces clean energy for 25-plus years, meaning all clean power produced after that time has zero emissions.
  • Solar panel production is the most-energy intensive part of the process and therefore produces the majority of the greenhouses gases. However, the manufacturing process continues to improve and become less energy intensive, further improving the environmental benefits of solar.

Unfortunately, the Midwest is disproportionally reliant on coal for power. Missouri, for example, gets 85% of its power from coal compared to 50% nationally.


Using renewable sources of solar provides a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable option for electricity generation even considering the minimal amount of energy that is required to produce the panels and other system components.


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