Homeowner Blog

How do Solar Panels Reduce Your Carbon Footprint?

Alicja Kopinska · 12 Jun 2024

Solar panels produce electricity from the sun’s rays, which means there is no greenhouse gas emissions or pollution, unlike with burning coal, natural gas or any other fossil fuels. This can significantly reduce your carbon footprint and help with the fight against global warming. 

What is a carbon footprint? 

A carbon footprint is the amount of emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by an individual, a company, a building, a city, etc. A carbon footprint encompasses both direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions. This means it accounts for the emissions coming from burning fossil fuels, for heating, manufacturing, transportation, but also for the mere generation of electricity. Not to mention the pollution coming from other greenhouse gases. All the CO2 emissions that humans produce go up in the sky and further interreact with the Earth’s atmosphere and ozone layer components, causing the Sun’s radiation to be trapped inside the atmosphere, instead of being sent back into space.  

What is the UK's carbon footprint?

Ever since the 1990s the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions have been decreasing due to the switch from coal power stations to gas and renewable energy sources. In fact, this is the largest driver of the long-term emissions fall. However, the total UK territorial emissions were still spiking at 384.2 million tonnes in 2023. Only 5.4% lower compared to the previous year.  

The reduction in CO2 emissions in the electricity supply is mostly caused by the fact that coal made up 1.8% of fuel used for electricity generation in 2023, compared to 65.3% in 1990. Nuclear and renewables, which are low carbon energy sources, accounted for 56.7% of fuel used for electricity generation in 2023, up from 22.2% in 1990.[1]

But what is the carbon footprint of the solar panels themselves?

While it might seem that there is no downside in solar, it is important to note that the manufacturing of solar panels does produce some CO2. While for various reasons it is extremely hard to estimate the exact carbon footprint of a solar panel, the IIPC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) estimated in 2014 that for every 1 kWh of energy generated by solar, about 41g of CO2 or equivalents is produced, the vast majority of this being in the manufacturing process. [2]

Despite the cost, CO2 solar is still much, much more efficient in terms of reducing your carbon footprint than fossil fuels, contributing 96% to 98% less greenhouse gases than 100% coal generated electricity which produces over 800g of CO2 per kWh, and very significantly less than natural gas which produces roughly 500g. In it's lifetime, solar also uses 86% to 89% less water, occupies or transforms 80% less land, and contributes to a greener environment, as it reduces other harmful byproducts of burning fossil fuels such as acid rain and water pollution.[3]

It's also worth pointing out here that the carbon footprint of solar is getting smaller all the time, both because of improved manufacturing process that increase the efficiency and lifespan of the panels, as well as greener energy being used in the production itself. So, currently you can already expect the carbon footprint of a solar panel to be much less than the 2014 estimate by the IPCC.

So how much does solar really help with my carbon footprint?

After throwing loads of numbers in the air, it’s time for the real deal: how will my “small” solar panel system help with the global issue of climate change?  

A typical home installation can save around one tonne of carbon per year, depending on your whereabouts. That is the equivalent of: 

  • driving 3,600 miles - that's 5794 km or 30 trips from London to Bristol 
  • 16.5 tree seedlings grown for 10 years  
  • 85,822 smartphones charged 

    Solar energy certainly has a lot of potential, as it not only creates the opportunity for individual household independence, but also helps the UK do the same thing, since it lowers the need to import energy sources, like coal or oil, from other countries. 
    Going solar is one of the most effective ways for households to reduce their carbon footprints, mitigate climate change impacts, and gain electricity independence. 

Topics: Solar PV, Environment, Benefits of Solar PV