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Solar power pays off

Nature volume 540, page 318 (15 December 2016) | Download Citation

Solar-cell production generates high levels of greenhouse-gas emissions, leading some to question the environmental sustainability of the booming business (pictured) — a concern now allayed by scientists in the Netherlands.

Image: Nicky Loh/Bloomberg Via Getty

A team led by Atse Louwen at Utrecht University studied developments in photovoltaic production around the world between 1976 and 2014. The authors found that, thanks to ongoing improvements to the technology and production methods, every doubling of global photovoltaic capacity was associated with a drop of up to 13% in the energy used during system production, and a fall of as much as 24% in greenhouse-gas emissions.

Even in the worst-case scenario, whereby solar panels perform at their lowest efficiency levels, the industry is set to break even in 2017 in terms of energy use and in 2018 for emissions.

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