On January 30, 2021, a website called Deseret News posted an article about the ‘solar waste’ involved in green energy.
The article notes:
Although countries are feverishly looking to install wind and solar farms to wean themselves off carbon-based, or so-called “dirty” energy, few countries, operators and the industry itself have yet to fully tackle the long-term consequences of how to dispose of these systems, which have their own environmental hazards like toxic metals, oil, fiberglass and other material.
A briefing paper released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency predicts these startling global numbers for countries by 2050 just for solar waste:
- United States, 10 million tons.
- Germany, 3 million tons.
- China, 20 million tons.
- Japan, 7.5 million tons.
- India, 7.5 million tons.
Solar arrays have a life cycle of about 30 years, but the rapid adoption of solar in the United States and elsewhere has the problem of disposal creeping up in the rearview mirror — faster rather than later.
The article also notes the problem with wind power:
Wind power also is taking off as a clean energy resource, but the EPA notes that windmills are the least energy producing and most physically difficult renewable energy waste stream to address.
The sheer size of the windmills and the difficulty of disposing of them at recycling stations led the agency to conclude that each new wind farm is a “towering promise of future wreckage.”
While there is a market for second-hand windmills in Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America, the tactic of shifting used windmill components to other countries simply delays the waste disposal problem and puts it on the shoulders of countries less equipped to deal with the challenge, it noted.
Like coal mining or other natural resource extraction, certain entities in Utah and elsewhere have addressed the afterlife issues of wind and solar farms by requiring environmental remediation or the posting of a reclamation bond to ensure proper cleanup and disposal.
The article concludes:
There is some innovation playing out, however, with Japan’s Nissan repurposing batteries to power streetlights. In the United States, General Motors is backing up its data center in Michigan with used Chevy Volt batteries.
The EPA notes, however, that these sort of “adaptive reuses” still only delay the time for final disposal of the batteries and the need to deal with materials in the batteries that can cause fires or leach hazardous chemicals.
On the wind power front, GE announced last year it had reached a multiyear agreement with Veolia North America to launch the United States’ first wind blade recycling program, according to an article in Utility Dive.
Nearly 90 % of the blade material, consisting of fiberglass, would be repurposed for cement production, cutting carbon dioxide emissions from that source by 27%.
With the release of its paper, the EPA is calling on researchers, states, industry and other federal agencies to ensure green waste is sustainable from end to end and that gaps in renewable energy waste management are addressed.
“While consumers may purchase renewable energy or renewable energy-based products with good intentions, that does not prevent the unintended adverse environmental consequences of these products,” it said.
It seems that we have not yet solved the problems of green energy. Those problems will be solved in the future, but as of yet green energy is not quite ready for prime time.