How much energy to make a solar panel?

We can tell you if you are wondering how much energy it takes to manufacture a single solar panel. Though the answer is highly variable, in general terms, it takes about 200kWh to create a 100-watt solar panel.

In this article, we discuss:

  • The energy needed to make solar panels
  • The reason why it is a variable answer as to how much energy it takes to make solar panels
  • The carbon footprint of solar panels
  • How solar energy benefits the environment

But, as mentioned, the number is not as straightforward as it seems. Keep reading, though, and we go into just what that means. 

Electric Pylons in the sunset

How much energy does it take to make a solar panel? 

How much energy does it take to make a solar panel? How you answer that question depends on the solar panel. Since there are different types of solar panels, there will be different answers.

In addition, those answers will change as technology continues to improve the process we manufacture solar panels. If you are concerned about the myth that solar panels use more energy than they create, you can simmer down as that is a myth that is 100 percent false. 

It takes about 200kWh of energy to make a single 100-watt solar panel. We are talking about the energy needed to make the panel physically. However, that may seem like a lot of energy, that one solar panel will produce a lot of energy in its life. Here’s a look at that:

One hundred watts x 5 hours of direct sunlight per day = 1000 watts of energy per day. 1000 × 365 days per year = 365kWh of energy per year.

Because most solar panels have a warranty of 25 years, you are looking at 9,125kWh of energy over its lifespan. To paint this picture a little brighter, let’s assume that it costs $0.10 for a kWh of energy. So:

  • $.10 x 200kWh = $20 = About $20 in costs to make the panel. 
  • $.10×365 = $36.50 worth of energy per year
  • $36.50 × 25 years = 912.50 in energy production per lifecycle (25-years.) 
  • X 20 panels = $18,250 in energy production for a 20 panel array over 25 years. 

You can change the cost of energy to fit your location as energy costs change. For example, if you thought the cost of producing a single collar panel was high, you might have a different opinion now.

For about a $20 investment in energy results in creating a single 100-watt solar panel brings in a return of $912.50 – $20 = $892.50 per year. 

How much energy does it take to produce a solar panel?

There are a lot of varying factors involved in answering this question. We gave a “loose” answer above in that it would cost about 200kWh of energy to produce a 100-watt panel.

However, the reality is a little different as energy costs different prices in different areas. You also have to define what “the solar panel” is before you can answer that question. 

A better way to look at this might be to ask how much energy a solar panel produces in its lifetime and how does that green energy help the environment.

For example, making 1 kWh of electricity using traditional methods produces about .92 pounds of CO2 (Carbon dioxide.)

That fact is one of the reasons that solar energy is so valuable to the environment. Aside from the energy needed to produce the panels, which now can be solar, solar energy does not produce CO2. 

To determine how much energy a solar panel can produce in its lifetime, you need the following information:

  1. The wattage of the panel
  2. The average number of hours of direct sunlight per day
  3. Average hours of sunny days per year

To determine how much energy a solar panel produces in a day, multiply the watts times the number of average direct sunlight the panel receives.

For example, a 300-watt solar panel that receives five hours of direct sunlight will produce 300 watts of energy per hour or 1,500 watts of energy per day.

Convert that to kWh, divide the total amount of watts produced by 1000. In the example, you come up with 1.5kWh per day.

To figure out the annual energy production, take the daily production and multiply it by 365 days. So in the example, we had 1.5kWh per day, making an annual energy production of 547.50kWh per year.

So if 1kWh of energy is produced using traditional electricity produces one pound of CO2, then a solar panel that produces 547.5kWh keeps 547.50 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere per year.

Suppose you consider that the average home has a solar array of 20 panels. In that case, you are looking at a hugely positive impact on reducing greenhouse gasses before they are even created. 

What is the carbon footprint of making a solar panel?

Sources listed below suggest that the carbon footprint of a solar array is roughly 20 times smaller than that of a power plant producing the same amount of energy.

The solar array has a first-year carbon emission rating of about 50g. That is due to the way solar panel manufacturing occurs. 

As the solar panel ages, it earns back the carbon emissions produced during its manufacturing. In 3-4 years of operation, the solar array enters what we call net-zero, which means it is produced enough clean energy to erase the energy and greenhouse gasses used to create the array.

It is possible now that a solar panel manufacturing plant could use solar energy rather than traditional energy created by burning fossil fuels. If that were to occur, the carbon footprint of the panels from that plant would leave the plant at a net-zero status. 

Do solar photovoltaic panels produce more energy than it takes to make them?

Theoretically, solar photovoltaic panels can produce more energy than it takes to create them. However, in reality, how you answer that question depends on:

  1. The number of direct sunlight hours the panel receives each day. A solar panel that receives shade in the afternoon will produce far less energy than the same solar panel placed in a desert that receives full sun for 8-10 hours per day. 
  2. The size of the panel is essential.

Overall, solar panels produce a lot more energy than it takes to manufacture them, and the energy they produce is green energy free of greenhouse gasses. 

Sources 

General Solar Panel FAQ

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