I have begun reading “Green Illusions” by Ozzie Zehner and I have to say, it is about time that this type of book has been published. Now let me be clear. I am a strong advocate of alternative and renewable energy. However, I have had questions about renewable energy since my earliest days of teaching environmental science in the 1980’s.
For those that think that solar energy does not have environmental consequences, rethink your position. As is noted in the book, and as I have questioned from time to time, solar panels are made from many different chemicals that have a toxic life.
From the mining of rare earths, to the manufacture of the panels using chemicals that contribute to climate change at a rate thousands of times more than CO2, to the unknown end life of solar panels; there are serious questions that must be answered as we move forward with the development of solar technology.
End of life handling of such panels is my first concern. Panels break, fail and eventually, all of the panels made today will wear out and end up in the waste stream. I say waste stream because I know of no reasonable, cost effective means of recycling solar panels at this time. Do you?
This is a major flaw in the solar revolution. It is no better than any other manufacturing industry that has developed a product that does not take the end of life factors into account.
In the U.S., it is important that the solar industry get its act together and figure out how to recycle panels at the end of their useful life. If it can’t do so, it is a part of the problem and not a part of the solution.