Solar Energy Pollution
Most of us like to think we know a thing or two about solar energy, it’s a great power source that provides wonderful benefits. We also know that it’s free and sustainable. The discovery that the sun is a practical renewable source that we can utilize to generate our own electricity without leaving any carbon footprint into the atmosphere is such an important breakthrough. With all the problems that already have in our fragile world, the last thing we should want to do is inflict even more harm on an already damaged planet.
But with everything positive that’s said and written about everything solar, only a few have mentioned solar energy pollution and how it’s becoming a real problem. Many will surely ask, “I thought solar is meant to lessen, if not eradicate, pollution?” To be fair, the utilization of solar panels is supposed to be a solution to that problem. The thing is that the people who advocated and promoted photovoltaic cells realized too late that we don’t really know how to deal with old or damaged panels. Here, we will elaborate on how this dilemma should concern us all if we don’t find an effective solution in the next few years.
If Solar Energy is Green, Why There Is Some Toxic Waste from It?
If your question is “Does solar energy cause pollution?”, the honest answer is yes. But the truth is, the energy itself is not the culprit. The problem is with the way we generate the power. It might sound confusing, but let’s elaborate. In order for us to harness power from the sun, we need a means of absorbing its energy to convert it to electricity. And what kind of device does just that? It’s the photovoltaic panels that we install in elevated areas such as the roof or on mounting poles. So how is this a problem?
The manufacturers of the PV (photovoltaic) cells and their component parts use toxic chemicals or materials during the manufacturing process. These materials include glass, plastic, lead, cadmium, etc. These materials and chemicals can be harmful if not disposed of properly. The usual lifespan of a solar panel is about 20-30 years on average. When solar panels reach the end of their lives, most, if not all, end up in landfill along with other rubbish or waste.
Broken or damaged panels as a result of natural disasters such as tornados or earthquakes can no longer be recycled. As the glass starts to fall apart and disintegrates, the toxic materials get scattered – and this is when the real problems begin. These hazardous chemicals are what cause pollution. Toxic waste is not easy to get rid of; until we develop a technology that safely generates power without causing any other issues, we are left with these impurities and contamination that we never meant to create in the first place.
Environmental Impacts of Solar Power
It’s been said over and over again that solar is meant to be something good for the planet. While it is true that the process of using solar power does not actually generate harmful greenhouse gases that cause air pollution, it still creates an indirect impact on our surroundings. Let us cite a few examples of the environmental impacts of solar energy.
- Land utilization – This refers to significant land areas where multiple panels are installed for large scale use. Since the panels require a large amount of space, it is quite possible for it to cause disruption or even damage to a local habitat. On the other hand, those which are installed for personal home usage have little to no impact at all.
- Water usage – Conventional solar power systems do not use water as an additional energy source, but it is for solar thermal power plants. These plants use a significant amount of water as a cooling system, and this can greatly impact the local water supply if not utilized properly.
- Hazardous or toxic materials – The manufacturing process for the photovoltaic cells needed to generate power includes the use of toxic materials. Silicon, which is one of the main components of the panels consists of gallium, cadmium, lead, and a few others. If these materials are not disposed of properly, it can cause serious damage to the environment and to the people who have been exposed to it.
- Emissions – It has been established that the process of harnessing solar energy through solar panels does not create toxic emissions in the atmosphere. The emissions being referred to here are from when the solar panels have reached the end of their life span.
Environmental Impact of Solar Panel Manufacturing
Are solar panels bad for the environment? To be quite honest, it’s tough to give a definite yes or no answer to this question. As with everything in life, there are always positive and negative sides to the debate, and going solar is not an exemption to this. Let us cite a few points on how having solar has its ups and downs.
- Manufacturing process – Initially, it takes a whole lot of energy to produce the materials and parts of a solar powering system. The factories have to make use of different facilities and machinery to create a single panel, which means hours and hours of electric consumption, manpower, and labor.
- Usage of chemicals – Using materials that are hazardous and toxic in nature can cause serious harm, yet it cannot be helped sometimes. These chemicals are necessary to produce the parts of the system. The good thing is that there are manufacturers out there who really care about the environment enough to find ways on how these chemicals can be recycled or discarded properly.
- Recycling operation – This is one of the major issues solar manufacturers will have to face and have resolved a few years from now. While almost all countries are now using solar systems, not all of them have come up with efficient ways to recycle solar system parts when they reach the end of their useful lives. If we don’t get this right as soon as possible, solar energy pollution might become a big problem we have to deal with.
Going green is what we think of as the ultimate solution to counteract global warming and climate change. These are very serious problems that we must all be concerned about, as they can, and will, affect everyone in the future. In order to move forward, everyone must be expected and encouraged to do our parts in helping save the planet. Pollution has always been there ever since the industrial revolution, but it doesn’t mean we should have to live with it forever. Solar power is great.
Not only can it prevent further damage to the atmosphere, but it is also an abundant source of energy that’s free and will be available to us for as long as the sun rises and sets. How cool is it to be able to create your own energy without exerting too much effort or spending too much? But in order for these solar systems to work, we have to generate the power properly and efficiently. This way we can continuously reap the benefits it brings. And hopefully soon, we can find ways to manage solar waste to prevent any more issues in the future.