WASHINGTON – The solar-energy industry has been touted for years as the environmentally safe alternative. After all, solar panels merely absorb the sun’s energy and transfer it to consumers. No oily pipelines, no obstructions to the nation’s waterways.
But it appears all is not well for fans of the industry.
Discarded solar panels, piling up around the world, are detrimental to the environment, according to a new study by Environmental Progress.
While environmentalist have warned for decades of the hazard of nuclear power, solar panels produce 300 times more toxic waste per unity of energy than nuclear power plants, warns Berkeley, California-based EP.
Discarded solar panels not only contain lead, but chromium and cadmium – both of which are carcinogenic. Cadmium is present in cigarette smoke and is blamed for the development of kidney problems.
And little is being done to mitigate the environmental hazard posed by discarded solar panels.
Japan’s Environment Ministry cautioned last November that Japan has no means to safely dispose of its discarded solar panels, noting the amount of solar panel waste the nation produces annually will increase from 10,000 to 800,000 tons by 2040.
According to EP, it would take 19 years for Japan to recycle all the waste generated by 2020 alone.
Similarly, California, which leads the world in deploying solar panels, has no method set up to safely dispose of solar panel waste. Americans with solar roofs produce 30 to 60 percent more electronic waste than non-solar households.
Only Europe mandates that solar panel producers dispose of waste.
There are approximately “1.4 million solar-energy installations now in use” in the United States, EP’s study reveals, many of which “are already near the end of their 25-year lifespan.”
A “solar waste crisis” looms, EP warns.
“If solar and nuclear produce the same amount of electricity over the next 25 years that nuclear produced in 2016, and the wastes are stacked on football fields, the nuclear waste would reach the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (52 meters), while the solar waste would reach the height of two Mt. Everests (16 km),” EP states in its study.
Solar panels came into commercial use in Europe in 1990 and ever since have been electrifying millions of households globally, bringing energy to many remote communities in less-developed countries.
Underdeveloped countries will, however, bear the brunt of the environmental damage posed by this source of “clean energy,” according to the study.
“In countries like China, India and Ghana, communities living near e-waste dumps often burn the waste in order to salvage the valuable copper wires for resale,” Environmental Progress explains. “Since this process requires burning off the plastic, the resulting smoke contains toxic fumes that are carcinogenic and teratogenic (birth defect-causing) when inhaled.”
Not only are discarded solar panels a source of chemical pollution, the creation of solar panels produces toxic waste.
In California alone from 2007 to 2011, the manufacturing of solar panels expelled “46.5 million pounds of sludge and contaminated water,” according to a 2013 investigation by the Associated Press.
However, Dan Whitten, a spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association, contends EP’s study is inaccurate.
Solar panels are “mainly made up of easy-to-recycle materials that can be successful recovered and reused at the end of their useful life,” Whitten stated in an email to the National Review.
Stuart Fox, vice president of the green energy company CivicSolar, said last week that, contrary to popular belief, warmer weather does not prompt solar panels to produce more energy. In fact, the more the temperature rises, the less effective and sustainable solar panels are.
“If you take a glass solar shingle and lay it on the roof, there’s no air going behind it, so it might get a lot hotter – it might get to 140 or 160 degrees Fahrenheit,” Fox told the San Francisco Chronicle.
“Photovoltaic cells work when energy-filled photons from the sun activate electrons on the solar panels,” the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out. “The electrons go from a resting state to an excited state, and the cells capture the resulting energy. At high temperatures, the resting state of the electrons goes up. As a result, the difference between the resting state and excited state is smaller, producing less power.”
While industrial solar systems lack the capacity for large scale cooling and work less effectively when it’s hot outside, they are predominantly funded by taxpayer dollars. Residential rooftop installations receive a 30 percent federal tax credit through a subsidy called net metering. Maintaining net metering subsidies for rooftops will ultimately skyrocket power prices.
To the dismay of many environmentalists, President Trump has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord and has repeatedly referred to “climate change” as a “hoax.”
The president, however, marked the middle of his administration’s technology week earlier this month by announcing he is considering positioning solar panels on the wall he wants to build between the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We are thinking of something that’s unique. The southern border – lots of sun, lots of heat. We are thinking about building a wall as a solar wall. So it creates energy. And pays for itself,” Trump said to cheers from the crowd at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “I think we can make it look beautiful too. It would really look beautiful. That would be nice.”
President Trump suggests building a border wall with solar panels “so that it creates energy and pays for itself” pic.twitter.com/lzRWzgFXU9
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) June 22, 2017
The president estimated that solar installation on the wall would cost Mexico “much less money.”
“And that’s good. Right? Is that good? You are the first group I’ve told that to. It makes sense. Let’s see. We are working it out. Solar wall panels. Think of it, the higher it goes, the more valuable it is,” Trump said.
Conservative talk radio show host Rush Limbaugh suspects Trump may have proposed a solar-panel-covered border wall to agitate his political opponents.
“Trump has come along and suggested it and some people don’t know what to make of it. Is Trump teasing them? Is he ragging ’em? Is he jagging ’em? Or does he really mean it?” Limbaugh said. “Why did Trump do it? My preferred reason is that he’s just jamming ’em. ‘OK, you leftists, you don’t like that I pulled out of the Paris Accord, but you can’t oppose solar panels. You support solar panels wherever they are. Solar panels on top of igloos. Solar panels in places where polar bears live. Solar panels on the new Apple spaceship campus. Solar panels, I’m gonna put ’em on my wall.
“I saw it, I laughed,” he continued. “And then I noticed all of these people in the blogosphere wringing their hands trying to figure out if Trump’s serious or if he’s making a joke, does he know what he’s doing. The same predictable reactions that you get from the various opposition factions, people opposed to Trump.”
Despite the chemical pollution attributed to solar panels, the rise of solar energy in the United States is proving to be beneficial for pollinators, which according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United help grow three-quarters of the world’s food crops.
Solar panel manufacturing is also creating jobs nearly 17 times faster than the American economy as a whole.
The American solar industry employed 260,077 as of November 2016, an increase of 24.5 percent from 2015, according to a 2017 report published by the International Renewable Energy Agency.
Statistics from the Virginia Department of Mines show that the state of Virginia, which has long been referred to as “coal country,” now has more jobs in the solar industry than the coal industry. The number of people working in the coal industry has dropped by 40 percent over the last five years.