Eco-Living Magazine

Can Solar Panels Actually Harm the Environment?

Posted on the 01 October 2011 by Alison_wood @midnight_eden

On mentioning solar panels, the first thing that springs to most people’s minds is saving the environment, going green and reducing carbon emissions. However, are there any environmental downsides to solar power?

Photovoltaic solar panels, by far the most common sort, which generate electricity, can amount to over 600,000 tons of waste per year, which doesn’t get recycled. Whilst 90% of photovoltaic cells last for 30 years before a significant loss of performance is experienced, hence their common label as a “fit and forget” technology, they will have to be disposed of at some point.

Estimates places the number of photovoltaic modules already sold, in Europe alone at 1.4 million, and this is set to continue rocketing upwards. For example, many countries are experiencing growth rates about 100% in terms of the number of solar panel systems sold, due to the ever increasing number of valuable government incentives available to pay for them.

The production process of solar panels isn’t without its evils either. A massive amount of energy is required to produce these expensive systems, provided by fossil fuels, and – as with many other products – the waste metals are toxic, including mercury and chromium as the chief trouble-makers. The typical installation also requires environmentally-harmful materials – PVC and glues used both cause damage.

Fortunately, the good news is that the average domestic sized solar panel installation will save approximately 1,000kg of carbon dioxide being emitted every year. Given the long lifespan of these products, this could amount to over 30 tonnes of carbon being saved, which arguably more than offsets the difficulties of their disposal. Environmental groups have already recognised this issue of waste, and PV Cycle, a pan-European country has been created specifically to maximise the amount number of photovoltaic modules which get recycled to maximise the otherwise fantastic benefits of solar panels.

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