Product Review

Photovoltaics and Their Environmental Performance

Renewable energy systems, particularly photovoltaic (PV) panels, have come under attack for using toxic materials and having a high carbon footprint. The truth is more complicated.

As planet temperatures continue to rise, reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuel consumption is now our biggest challenge. Photovoltaic (PV) energy is often held up as our future.

Though PV already has a long history of solid performance, articles claiming PV is actually a net producer of carbon have been circulating for years. Other articles describe PV’s negative manufacturing impacts; ineffective boondoggle PV technologies like Solyndra are used as political anti-PV fodder; and the new YouTube film Planet of the Humans takes the most recent scatter shot at renewables. Data from fossil fuel think tanks aside, let’s look at what is behind some of these claims and perceptions, where there is room for improvement in the industry, and the complex reality of assessing PV’s environmental performance.

Published June 8, 2020

Ehrlich, B. (2020, June 5). Photovoltaics and Their Environmental Performance. Retrieved from