• Mon
  • Dec 22, 2014
  • Updated: 12:30am

Carbon footprint from Chinese solar panels twice the size of those made in Europe

Solar panels made in China result in twice as much greenhouse gas as those produced in Europe, with lack of environmental standards blamed

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 June, 2014, 4:42am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 June, 2014, 9:26am

The manufacture of Chinese solar panels exported to Europe produce a carbon footprint twice the size of those made in Europe, a US study has found.

It says this is because China has fewer environmental and efficiency standards and generates more electricity from coal and other non-renewable sources.

The study was conducted by Northwestern University and the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and published in the Solar Energy Journal.

"It takes a lot of energy to extract and process solar-grade silicon, and in China that energy tends to come from dirtier and less-efficient energy sources than it does in Europe," said Seth Darling, a co-author of the report and Argonne scientist.

The study analysed the "embedded" energy in Chinese- made solar panels, from mining of raw materials, the manufacturing process and shipping the finished products.

"While it might be an economically attractive option to move solar-panel manufacturing from Europe to China, it is actually less sustainable from the lifecycle energy and environmental perspective," said Fengqi You, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University and an author of the paper.

A Chinese-produced solar panel made from silicon and installed in sunny southern Europe would need to be used for 20 to 30 per cent longer than a European-made panel to produce enough energy to offset the higher carbon emissions of its production.

Li Yan , Greenpeace's East Asia climate and energy campaign manager, said China's high use of coal for electricity meant its factories were much dirtier than those in most European countries, where renewable and nuclear energy were more common.

"Although the new findings do not change the fact that solar panels are a cleaner energy choice, it should raise the alarm for Chinese solar-panel makers: the life-cycle carbon emissions could become a problem in the long run as more countries put a price on carbon," Li said.

China is the world's largest maker of solar panels, accounting for more than 60 per cent, according to data from the China Photovoltaic Industry Alliance.

The study's authors propose a carbon tariff on Chinese solar panels of between €105 and €129 (HK$1,100 to HK$1,400) a tonne of carbon dioxide to offset the emissions.

"This could be bad news for China's solar-panel makers who export about 95 per cent of their production, especially as they're still battered with the fight over anti-dumping duties by the European Union and the US," Li said.

China did not have specific environmental and energy limits for solar-panel makers until 2010, when the central government moved to curb the blind expansion of the industry.

Last year the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology updated the requirements, setting limits on energy consumption and pollution emissions. By the end of the year, 109 companies accounting for 74 per cent of solar panels met those requirements. A further 74 companies have since met the target.


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Comparatively it is better to generate clean energy with higher carbon contents than traditional fossil fuels. The World needs to evolve a step at a time. Thus it is the Western hypocrites who neither do anything for the well being nor contributing to accelerate the much need technology of CLEAN AND SUSTAINABLE ENERGY transformation that is truly themselves NATO.
Have they also put the livings of the production workers into the equation? Chinese workers ride their bikes to and from work while their European counterparts drive to work for up to an hour one way. In fact there are a lot more items relevant to be included! This report is probably sponsored by the stakeholders in Europe involved in production and sales of the solar panels! The same old tricks!
Oh yes! Hong Kong people should show their true patriotism and for China with buying Chinese made products only! Also stop buying European, especially German and Italian cars, European luxury designer times, etc.
If you would understand something about energy and industrial manufacturing processes, you would not make such a comment. Making a solar panel consumes more energy than this panel can convert from the sunshine into electric energy during its first 10 years of lifetime. That is not only a problem of Chinese made solar panels. But China is de-facto using more fossile energy than the European manufacturers, which is also one reason why the Chinese panels are cheaper. In general, solar panels are not necessarily more environmental friendly, because of the energy consumption during the production process. For years, when fossile energy and oil was much cheaper than today, solar panels were not energy efficient at all when taking the whole energy needed for production into account.
So u meen then if u polute The air in a way that u destroy ur country in double The speed it is ok as long as u do it when make solar panels?
SCMP must lie to give Chinese panels an advantage. SCMP and HK People are not good slaves to the Party. They do not prove their fealty to the masters.
Sour grape. SCMP trying to sell Western solar panels by disparaging local products.
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