The dirty side of solar
All that’s sparkly, squeaky clean, and meant to “save the planet” does not necessarily include solar energy. It seems the industry has a dark side as well:
Homeowners on the hunt for sparkling solar panels are lured by ads filled with images of pristine landscapes and bright sunshine, and words about the technology’s benefits for the environment — and the wallet.
What customers may not know is that there’s a dirtier side.
While solar is a far less polluting energy source than coal or natural gas, many panel makers are nevertheless grappling with a hazardous waste problem. Fueled partly by billions in government incentives, the industry is creating millions of solar panels each year and, in the process, millions of pounds of polluted sludge and contaminated water.
To dispose of the material, the companies must transport it by truck or rail far from their own plants to waste facilities hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of miles away.
The fossil fuels used to transport that waste, experts say, is not typically considered in calculating solar’s carbon footprint, giving scientists and consumers who use the measurement to gauge a product’s impact on global warming the impression that solar is cleaner than it is.
After installing a solar panel, “it would take one to three months of generating electricity to pay off the energy invested in driving those hazardous waste emissions out of state,” said Dustin Mulvaney, a San Jose State University environmental studies professor who conducts carbon footprint analyses of solar, biofuel and natural gas production.
There are a couple of issues I’d like to comment on.
First, solar panel production produces toxic waste and in no small amount. The now defunct Obama administration boondoggle known as Solyndra reportedly produced enough solar panels to power 100,000 homes before going bankrupt. But along with the solar panels, the company also created 12.5 million pounds of hazardous waste before it went belly up. And Solyndra is just a single company. There are many more companies which are currently producing solar panels and subsequently the waste that is a byproduct of that process. In addition, the story quoted above also reports that there are also numerous other companies which have collectively produced millions of pounds of waste in set up and refining the production process before having even produced a single solar panel.
The second issue is that while manufacturers have been keen to produce solar panels, they haven’t bothered to invest much effort in how to handle the hazardous waste byproducts on site from that production. Instead, these companies are happy to ship the toxic waste off to disposal sites which can handle it. In some cases, those sites are thousands of miles away in other states. How is that done exactly? By courtesy of transportation that runs on fossil fuels. Yes, those evil fossil fuels that green energy companies are trying to eliminate. In keeping with their green energy philosophy, and especially since these production facilities are new, shouldn’t the disposal of their toxic waste “in house” be included in the original plans for the facility? That way they would eliminate their reliance on fossil fuels for disposal.
While I’m not anti-solar (although I am anti-federal subsidies for such), I am tired of the industry getting a “green pass” when it comes to its environmental impact. Yes, in the long run solar is cleaner, but it is not as perfect as some would have you believe. Everything has an impact, and we should all be informed as to exactly what impact that is. I recommend clicking over and reading the entire story. It’s an interesting look at where the industry stands today.