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‘Worldwide demand for solar panels presents ‘global warming risk’ through aluminium production’

By Jasmine Hines and Paul Culliver

As countries around the globe push towards net zero emissions targets, new research has highlighted an area of environmental concern in the production of solar panels.

An Australian study has found that to reach net zero milestones, the world will need almost 60 times more solar power, the production of which could cause “concerning” levels of global warming unless steps to reduce emissions during the panel production process are taken. 

Photovoltaic engineering researcher Alison Lennon said part of the problem was the emission-intensive production of aluminium, with solar panel components mainly comprised of aluminium frames, inverter casings, rooftop cells and mounts.

However, Professor Lennon said that even if the solar panel production process continued using non-renewable energy sources, a move towards more solar energy would still be of benefit to the climate.

“There’s still benefit … [even] having all the elements to build that solar without the green aluminium, there’s still a benefit,” she said.

“Australia is actually the largest producer of bauxite, and one of the largest producers of alumina — so there’s a real opportunity for Australia to play a big role in this growth of renewable energy.”

The study revealed that for the global community to reach net zero by 2050, about 60 terawatts of solar power along with 480 megatons of aluminium would be required.

Currently, there is 0.8 terawatts, or 800 gigawatts of solar available globally.