Green energy is the fad of the hour. It sounds wonderful—as good as the perpetual motion machine scientists have attempted to invent since the Middle Ages. However, what happens when the windmill blades and the solar panels wear out? Have we considered that?
On Saturday a website called America First Report posted an article about this problem.
The article reports:
The United States currently has an estimated 149.5 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity installed nationwide. In the first quarter of 2023, the country installed 6.1 GW of solar capacity, which is its “best first quarter in history,” according to a June 8 press release by research firm Wood Mackenzie. Over the next five years, Wood Mackenzie expects America’s total installed solar capacity to hit 378 GW by 2028.
…Last year, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) withheld 1,642 electronic shipments valued at $841 million, including solar panels, due to the implementation of the Uyghur Forced Labor Protection Act that sought to counter the use of forced labor when sourcing from China. In March, the CBP released 552 pieces of equipment worth $345 million.
The stalled import of solar panels from China caused delays in solar project development programs. But with the release of part of the withheld shipments, the Chinese solar panels will now make their way into American projects.
Besides the human rights issue in the manufacturing process, the solar industry has another hurdle that is yet to be resolved and which is soon touted to be a global ecological nightmare.
The article notes:
Most solar panels have a lifespan of around 25 to 30 years. As these panels stop working or are retired, they pose a significant challenge as countries have to make sound arrangements to deal with the massive amounts of solar panel waste.
…Based on numbers from Yale School of the Environment, solar panels due to retire by 2030 in the United States would cover around 3,000 American football fields.
In a May 13 interview with CNBC, Suvi Sharma, the CEO of Texas-based Solarcycle, stated that solar energy is “becoming the dominant form of power generation” while citing an EIA report which said that 54 percent of new utility-scale electric-generating capacity in the United States this year will come from solar.
However, nothing has been done to make the solar industry “circular,” Sharma said, referring to recycling. At present, there are over 500 million solar panels in America, with tens of millions expected to be added in the coming years.
Recycling is a problem:
Solar panel waste presents a substantial pollution problem. The panels consist of numerous toxic chemicals like cadmium telluride, lead, hexafluoroethane, and more. A chemical created as a byproduct of solar panel manufacturing is silicon tetrachloride which can lead to burns on the skin.
Putting solar panel waste in landfills presents a long-term risk to the environment as the toxic minerals and metals can end up seeping into the ground.
However, this is what is being done right now. At present, around 90 percent of defective or end-of-life solar panels are sent into landfills. This is because the costs of recycling solar panels are far higher compared to just dumping them.
According to Sharma, this gap will be “closing over the next five to 10 years significantly” due to a “combination of recycling becoming more cost-effective and landfilling costs only increasing.”
We need to do some serious thinking about what we consider ‘green energy’ before we get too far down this road.