How Much Coal Does It Take to Make a Solar Panel?

Solar Panels are becoming a great source of energy. In 2010, about 1.2 million solar panels were installed in homes and businesses across the United States. The average residential system is around 10 kW (kilowatts) which would generate about 7200-kWh each year, based on insolation of 4.2 sun hours/day.

To put that into perspective, consider this: it takes about 6 tons of coal to produce 7200-kWh, which would be required to power one home for a year using 10 kW of solar panels.

Therefore, it takes approximately 1 ton of coal to power the average residential solar system for one year. As the need and demand for solar power increases, so does the quantity and efficiency of production and installation.

In this article, we’ll be going through:

  • The effects of solar power on the environment
  • What fuel is used to make solar panels
  • How much pollution it takes to make a solar panel

You’ll be surprised how much coal it takes to make a solar panel and its effect on the environment. Read through to the end to find out.

Lumps Of Coal. - Sol Voltaics: Solar Panel Information
Lumps Of Coal.

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

It takes about 1 ton of coal to power the average residential solar system for one year because it takes approximately 1 ton of coal to power 7200-kWh.

There is a correlation between how much coal is used and the efficiency of solar panels. As the need and demand for solar power increases, so does the quantity and efficiency of production and installation.

Solar panel efficiency has increased by over 100% in just five years – with further gains expected in the coming years.

As more people use alternative energy resources, there is an increase in awareness on how much electricity usage costs us as individuals, companies, states, or even whole countries.

Renewable energies like solar panels require so much coal to produce the same amount of energy that 7200-kWh would generate yearly because of its high efficiency and low cost.

This allows it to frequently supply enough energy to power a home for an entire year (and even much more). Because the demand for this kind of energy is increasing, we can expect further efficiency gains.

For example: if you consider that 1 ton of coal equals 7200-kWh (in total), then let’s look at how many kWh it takes to power something as small as your laptop computer – which usually takes about 5 or 6 kWh/year.

Considering those figures, it equates to roughly 15 tons of coal per laptop unit, so imagine how much coal is used daily for laptops alone.

If, however, we consider other less-efficient or older solar panel technologies (which are still used in some cases), like the polycrystalline silicon type (used in commercial PV systems), which currently has an efficiency of around 15%, it takes about 21 tons worth of coal using today’s standards to produce enough kWh’s yearly to power one life for a year.

Industrial Pollution Canada Saskatchewan Smoke Billowing Environment. - Sol Voltaics: Solar Panel Information
Industrial Pollution Canada Saskatchewan Smoke Billowing Environment.

What are the effects of solar power on the environment?

Solar panels reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate change: coal power plants produce a lot of emissions, so if photovoltaic solar panels replace those power plants, there will be fewer emissions.

In recent years, more people have become concerned about the environmental and global warming effects of fossil fuel use – an alternative to burning all that coal is to use renewable energy resources like solar.

Solar energy production does not emit greenhouse gases or produce air pollution during electricity generation.

As a result, switching to clean energy production can help limit global warming and other environmental issues caused by carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power stations.

The most significant impact on coal consumption comes from direct substitution for coal-generated electric power due to low coal prices and renewables subsidies.

Abandoned Coal Mine In The Badlands Alberta. - Sol Voltaics: Solar Panel Information
Abandoned Coal Mine In The Badlands Alberta.

What is coal?

Coal (from the Old English col, Col) is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock usually occurring in rock strata in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams.

The more intricate forms, such as anthracite coal, can be regarded as metamorphic rock because of later exposure to elevated temperature and pressure.

  • Coal comprises carbon and variable quantities of other elements, chiefly hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen.

Coal is extracted from the ground by coal mining that uses various techniques, including strip mining and deep shaft mining.

Most coal is mined using surface mining, but some gas coals are still mined underground using traditional pit mining methods.

It is usually burned in a power plant to produce electricity. Thus its energy content is classified as a fossil fuel.

Big Machin Coal Mining Mine Excavator. Kolubara Lazarevac Serbia. - Sol Voltaics: Solar Panel Information
Big Machin Coal Mining Mine Excavator. Kolubara Lazarevac Serbia.

Is coal used to make solar panels?

Yes, coal is used in producing solar panels and as a raw material to produce the chemicals used in the manufacturing process.

The main chemical used during this process is polyvinyl chloride (PVCs) which is very hazardous and poisonous.

Using such materials will increase pollution levels worldwide, leading to global warming. It will also release toxic materials if it is burnt or not disposed of correctly.

The raw material for the solar panels is coal, with an average life of 11 years. This means that 11 tons of coal must be burned to make a solar panel – about 3000 pounds! The production process uses high temperatures and pressures.

Solar panels are connected to electric systems that form part of overall electricity networks, including transmission lines to generation plants. Electricity generated by these photovoltaic cells flows to customers via existing power grids.

Hazy Day In Kuala Lumpur Due To Wild Fire That Occurred In Sumatra Indonesia. - Sol Voltaics: Solar Panel Information
Hazy Day In Kuala Lumpur Due To Wild Fire That Occurred In Sumatra Indonesia.

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

To produce a solar panel it takes 11 tons of coal. A typical power plant produces 10 tons of ash for every ton of coal burned – so if the panels are made with this material, you’ve just increased your requirements by 11 tons per panel!

The process of making the chemicals used in the production process creates dioxins.

Dioxins can cause reproductive and developmental problems in humans and animals, damage to chromosomes, hormones, and immune systems, and some types even cause cancer.

Solar panels also do not last forever – they have an average lifetime of 11 years. To produce 1 billion square meters of solar panels would require 2,000 million metric tons of coal – that’s 20 billion pounds!

It takes three pounds of coal to create one pound of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a chemical commonly known as plastic.

So if it takes 3 pounds of coal to produce 1 pound of PVCs, then 33 billion pounds would be required for all the plastics needed for 1 billion square meters – or about 100 million 50-gallon drums filled up.

The energy to manufacture the panels, create the PVCs and dispose of them all cause pollution. So you are releasing poisonous chemicals into your environment and adding to global warming by the production process alone.

Picture Of A Coal Power Plant. - Sol Voltaics: Solar Panel Information
Picture Of A Coal Power Plant.

What Fuel is used to make solar panels?

The primary raw material required to produce solar panels is coal. Coal is burned as a fuel in power plants, and its heat creates steam that rises and rotates turbines that generate electricity.

This process begins with the mining of coal, which results in large-scale environmental degradation through air and water pollution.

Besides this, burning coal releases harmful greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen oxide (NOx) into the atmosphere, causing global warming and acid rain.

The process of manufacturing solar panels is energy-intensive, and so there are byproducts created through this. Some of these, such as cadmium chloride, have been identified as hazardous and poisonous.

Using such materials will increase pollution levels worldwide, leading to global warming. It will also release toxic materials if it is burnt or not correctly disposed of.

General Solar Panel FAQ

What Problems Do Solar Panels Solve?

In environmental terms, solar panels can potentially solve a handful of problems, including;
1. Air pollution
2. Water pollution
3. Greenhouse gases
4. Reduction in fossil fuel use

For individuals, solar energy allows you to become completely self-sufficient when it comes to your electricity needs and can save you a lot of money in the long run.

What Are 3 Important Uses Of Solar Panels?

The three most important uses of solar panels are;
1. Solar electricity. This can be used to power almost any appliance in your home, including TVs, computers, and fridges.
2. Lighting. In addition to the use of low-power, LED lightbulbs, solar panels can provide an efficient, low-cost, and environmentally friendly way to provide lighting to homes. 
3. Portable solar. In our modern, always-connected lives, our phones, tablets, and computers are almost always with us, and all run on batteries. Portable PV chargers can help keep our batteries topped up no matter where we are, as long as there is some sun to charge them.

Do solar panels give you free electricity?

Once the cost of the array is paid in full, the energy it produces is free. There are ongoing maintenance costs, too, such as annual panel cleaning, etc. 

How much will my electric bill be with solar panels?

Suppose your solar array includes a solar battery backup system, and it is large enough to fully cover your energy usage per day. In that case, your monthly electric bill will be next to zero dollars, even with a grid-tied system. 

If your solar array does not include a solar battery backup system, then at night, your house or business will use grid electricity. That cost will vary but expect to pay from 1/3-2/3 of your average electric bill, and that cost will fluctuate seasonally. 

Do you save money with solar panels?

The simple answer is, Yes, you save money with solar panels. There is an initial upfront cost, but since solar panels are warrantied for 25 years, you will save money over time. You will also begin to see monthly savings in energy bills, but there are other ways that solar panels pay you back. Those include:
1. Adding value to your home or commercial building 
2. Monthly decreases in energy costs
3. The ability to add more energy appliances without increased monthly costs
4. The potential for tax credits for going solar

Can solar panels power a house 24-7?

Most definitely! Solar panels can certainly power a house 24-7, with the addition of a high-quality inverter and a suitable battery bank, of course. To power, a house under normal usage will require a massive solar array, though, and there will be a very expensive initial financial outlay.

Do I need to tell my energy supplier I have solar panels?

This depends on where you live, but in most cases, it’s not necessary to inform your energy supplier that you have solar panels. That said, you may be producing excess power with your solar system, in which case you may be able to sell that excess power back to energy companies.

In this case, you’ll naturally need to be in contact with them. 

What Are Solar Cells Known as and Why?

Solar cells are also called photovoltaic (PV) cells. They are called so because the term ‘photovoltaic’ literally means light i.e. photo and electricity i.e. voltaic.

These cells generate electricity through the photovoltaic effect. This effect basically causes the generation of free electrons from the semiconducting silicon material of the solar panel when sunlight hits its surface.

What Type of Solar Panels Are Most Efficient and Why?

There are currently three types of solar panels available in the market that are:
1. Monocrystalline
2. Polycrystalline
3. Thin-filmed

Among these, monocrystalline solar panels are known to be the most efficient among all others.

Does heat enter your home through the roof?

Absolutely. Heat enters your home through your roof, and on a hot day your attic can get up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Through conduction, heat from the sun warms your roof which then warms your attic and the rest of your home.

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