Energy Fact – Retired solar plants have similar amounts of waste to coal and natural gas


The materials used to construct power plants

(pounds per thousand kilowatt hours – MWh)
Generation TypeMetal and Concrete (pounds / MWh)
Natural gas2.4
Solar (panels only)3.2
Wind (tower + turbine)5.0
Solar (panels + racking)5.2
Wind (+ concrete foundation)25.0



Additional information

  • To see the original source links and calculations, check out Freeing Energy’s sources and analysis spreadsheet: How much metal and concrete is used in various power plants like solar and nuclear?
  • The Department of Energy did an extensive analysis of power plant decommissioning in 2017: SOLID WASTE FROM THE OPERATION AND DECOMMISSIONING OF POWER PLANTS
  • Argonne National Labs has a transportation-focused Lifecycle Analysis tool called GREET. It is a useful way to measure the environmental and materials impact of various configurations of automobiles but it can also be used more narrowly to calculate the material intensity of various power plant types.  The data is often cited, particularly by critics of solar energy because it plugs in a large volume of cement for solar installations. A review of the tool’s assumptions and the accompanying notes provides very little basis for its solar materials data, other than a reference to a paper that itself references a 2002 research paper analyzing a Brazilian solar plant that contained a great deal of cement. If any of our readers have a better understanding of where the GREET tool sourced data on concrete/cement usage for solar, please let us know. In broad terms, the use of concrete in solar is not mentioned in any other materials/LCA studies of solar that we can find and it is generally known that most solar installations contain little or no concrete. Based on all this, we chose not to include any of the GREET data in our analysis above. Instead, we did direct sourcing of various research papers and direct, real world data sources.


Fact Code: g106