News Bite

Solar panels have a carbon emissions problem

It takes them much longer than reported to become carbon neutral

Solar panels could take three times as long as previously reported to become carbon neutral, according to a July 2 report from Environmental Progress, a pro-nuclear activist group.

Per the July 2 report, titled “Solar Panels Are Three Times More Carbon-Intensive Than International Panel on Climate Change Claims”:

The IEA (International Energy Agency) has admitted to Environmental Progress that its carbon footprint calculations do not account for three important factors in (global solar photovoltaic) production: silicon mining; toxic panel waste, which promises to overwhelm recycling infrastructure; and something known as the albedo effect. This is when the highly reflective properties of dark-coloured solar panels lead to an increase in the greenhouse effect.

According to the IEA, when taken into proper account, the first two factors alone could more than triple the “payback period” for panels, i.e. the length of time before they become carbon neutral after installation.

Meanwhile in Michigan, Senate Bill 271 would require the state to operate on 100% renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, by 2035. The bill is currently in the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment. But even without a legal mandate, Michigan’s energy suppliers are accelerating plans to dismantle today’s approach to generating energy.

Despite the recent warning to lawmakers from DTE Energy CEO Jerry Norcia that “sometimes you can’t count on” wind and solar, the energy monopoly announced this month that it would retire its final coal-fired plant in 2032, three years ahead of schedule.

“There’s no obvious recognition from the governor’s office that wind and solar are wholly dependent on the weather,” Jason Hayes, the Mackinac Center’s director of energy and environmental policy, wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2022. “They must have ample back-up from nuclear, coal and gas-fired plants for the significant amount of time on cloudy, windless days when turbines and solar panels produce nothing. Yet it’s the reliable energy sources that are being targeted for closure today.”

The Environmental Progress report describes energy policy in Western nations as “captured.”

“A picture emerges of an aspirational Western industry captured lock, stock and barrel by secretive, coal-loving Beijing,” concludes the report, which notes China’s key role in producing solar panels. “It’s a worry for the West’s economic development, never mind energy security and climate action. If solar is anything to go by, the great transition seems less based on data, than a mixture of blind faith and vested interests.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.