This is in response to Benjamin Hance’s June 4 letter to the editor, “Time for St Mary’s government to commit to renewable energy.”
The problems with renewable energy, particularly solar, are rarely discussed. As the U.S. pushes to determine the energy sources moving forward, solar needs to be looked at considering its pros and cons. I believe solar has a role in U.S. energy policy in conjunction with other energy sources.
Currently a majority of solar panels used in the U.S. are manufactured in China, which has a history of having less environmental friendly manufacturing process. There are numerous articles that talk to China dumping toxic waste into their water ways and air.
I was surprised to learn of the number heavy metals and chemicals used in the production of photovoltaic (PV) cells. A quick Bing search uncovers that PV cells are fabricated with aluminum, cadmium, copper, gallium, indium, iron, lead, nickel, silver, tellurium, tin and zinc. The heavy metals are typically mined (like coal) and use similar processes to extract. The chemicals are toxic to humans and known to cause lung damage.
While a large component of solar panels is silicone, with is abundant, I learned there are a number of byproducts of processing the silicone which are not good for the environment. A byproduct of sawing the silicon disks used in PV cells, “silicon dust,” is highly toxic to humans and can affect your lungs. Silicone production reactors are also cleaned with sulphur hexafluoride which is the most potent greenhouse gas per molecule and can react with other chemicals to form sulphur dioxide, aka “acid rain.”
I will pick on one metal used in PV cell production — silver. There have been rumblings about silver in the stock market and future supply. Silver is used in electronics, i.e. cell phones, computers TVs, medicine and manufacturing.
In 2018, 8% of total silver supply went to fabrication of solar panels. With increased solar production how does that effect other industries that rely on silver. What are the implications with increased silver extraction from the Earth. I don’t know, no one readily addresses that.
Let’s say the world pushes for extensive reliance on solar energy moving forward. The International Renewable Energy Agency predicts that by 2050, 78 metric tons of solar panels will be end of life. Currently it costs more to recycle the panels then it is to dispose of — that is 78 metric tons of toxic trash.
I haven’t even touched on the problems with the batteries that store the solar power which brings a whole host of environmental issues in itself. Maybe next time when someone writes about the wonders of electric cars, I’ll address.
The above is coming from someone who just purchased a home solar system. As I said upfront, solar should most likely be considered as part of the whole U.S. energy future. It just needs to be looked at holistically and realistically.