Benefits and potential impacts of photovoltaics

This page gives examples of benefits to the community photovoltaic technology. There is also a list of the environmental benefits and potential impacts.

Community benefits

  • Potential for local job creation in supplying, manufacturing or installing modules and parts.
  • Opportunities for local authority and community-owned systems to generate local energy and income.
  • Reduces fuel bills and therefore fuel poverty, if installations are targeted at fuel poor homes. Local authorities can take the lead in this area.

Environmental benefits

  • Energy payback (i.e the energy used to manufacture the modules) is currently between two and five years in European conditions (expected to reduce as production improves)
  • Zero emissions in operation
  • No noise
  • Produces no waste
  • Can be used as an alternative building material
  • Minimal glare (modules are design to absorb as much solar energy as possible)
  • Building mounted systems take no additional land and may not compete with other uses
  • Ground mounted systems can make use of unused space, such as embankments, vacant plots or agricultural land.
  • Can play multiple roles in addition to energy generation, such as providing shade for walkways or car parks or noise barriers for roads.

Potential environmental impacts

  • Potentially toxic chemicals are used in the manufacturing process of some modules (for example, cadmium); however, PV is likely to have a lower environmental impact across its production and operation than any other energy technology.
  • If a fire were to occur when a PV module containing toxic chemicals were in operation, a small amount of the substance could be released. One PV module contains less cadmium than one size C NiCd battery, and the cadmium in the module is in a much more environmentally stable form (that is, a compound rather than a metal).
  • Visual impact can be an issue but this is often much less than for other energy technologies. Solar tiles are becoming common although these will not match the look of traditional roofing materials.
  • PV is not as efficient in converting fuel (sunlight) to energy as many technologies and so land take can be significant. A PV array generating the same power output as a 2MW wind turbine would take over 4.5 hectares.



1 May 2012

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