Solar energy produces no air or water pollution or greenhouse gases. However, it has some indirect impacts on the environment. For example, the manufacturing of photovoltaic cells (PV) produces some toxic materials and chemicals.
Solar systems can also affect ecosystems. Water from underground wells may be required to clean concentrators and receivers, and to cool the generator, which may harm the ecosystem in dry climates.
Although solar panel recycling has not become a major issue, it will in the coming decades as solar panels need to be replaced. When solar panels break, it is possible they may leak chemicals which are sealed in a functional module. If solar panels are not disposed of properly, chemical leaking may be a more widespread issue. These issues are worse in poorer countries that don’t have as robust of recycling infrastructure.
Pros and cons of solar as an energy source
|Most abundant energy source available|
|Systems last 15-30 years|
|Renewable and sustainable|
|Power remote areas|
|Low maintenance and silent|
|High initial investment|
|Supplemental energy may be needed in low sunlight areas|
|Requires large physical space for PV cell panels|
|Limited availability of polysilicon for panels|