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Making Solar Panels in China Takes Lots of Dirty Energy

Solar modules of a 100-megawatt photovoltaic on-grid power project in Dunhuang, China
Solar modules of a 100-megawatt photovoltaic on-grid power project in Dunhuang, ChinaPhotograph by Feng Li/Getty Images

Manufacturing solar panels can be a dirty business, from the mining of raw materials to the chemical-laced process of purifying silicon to the assembly of silicon wafers.

Solar energy is a renewable source, of course, but it’s essential to examine the full supply chain to gauge its total environmental impact. One potential concern is the use, containment, and disposal of toxic chemicals. Another is the energy-efficiency of the manufacturing process and the source of the energy used.