How Renewable Are Solar Panels?

It seems everyone is becoming more and more excited for the possibilities of renewable energy. Solar panels in particular seem especially popular. Corresponding systems have become the most common source of renewable energy in our society.


While solar panel systems are admirable when viewed from the “eco-friendly” perspective, at least some scientific theory exists that states they may not be sufficiently renewable. Despite the environmentally conscious and low carbon footprint attributes, it’s important to consider how much weight these claims really have.

The crux of the argument lies in indium, a sole element found in most high powered solar cells. PV cells are manufactured similarly to other semiconducting devices with silicon frames, but cells comprised of silicon alone are fairly limited overall. As such, the silicon is often doped with several other elements to create multi-junction devices. The efficiency is then boosted upwards of 40 percent.

Indium is one of the go-to elements for achieving this. Though not often talked about in general conversation, it can be found in the likes of LCD screens, infrared detectors, and mini lasers. Even so, it is a very rare metal in the grand scheme. There are very few mineral ores with indium, especially compared to something more ubiquitous such as iron. It’s been suggested by researchers that the current usage of indium will likely result in only 10 more years of usage before the supply has been depleted.

So while droves of people continue to utilise solar energy in Sydney NSW and surrounding cities, this “renewable” energy might not be quite as renewable as we once thought.

Fuel cell technology presents a similar problem. Platinum is the catalyst for turning hydrogen into electricity within fuel cells. There’s a basic chemical reaction in place that allows power to be generated, making a cell greatly more efficient. Platinum is also a precious metal however, and while it’s commonly used in the likes of electronics, it’s literally a thousand times less common than indium is. It really all puts it into perspective.

So, there needs to be a radical restructuring of how the world views solar panels. They may not really be as renewable as people think. With that in mind, more sources of renewable energy still need to be found. There are many countries that are investing a large amount of capital in wind and hydro electricity generation, this only work well with certain environmental conditions, and so changing the way solar panels are made might be the best way to move forward into a truly renewable future.

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