Solar energy still has a hazardous waste problem, despite being labeled green energy. The boom in the solar industry has coincided with a hazardous waste increase, because of polluted sludge and contaminated water.
While solar energy in itself does not pollute, the process of making millions of solar panels per year causes waste. Companies who are making solar panels must transport the waste from their own plants to waste facilities hundreds, and even thousands, of miles away.
The fossil fuels used to transport that waste are not usually calculated into solar energy’s carbon footprint, reports The Washington Post.
The lack of inclusion gives scientists and consumers the impression that solar energy is cleaner than it actually is. Dustin Mulvaney, a San Jose State University environmental studies professor, stated
“[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.”
ABC News notes that the hazardous waste from solar panel manufacturing has raised concerns within the industry. If it is left unchecked, the problem could end up undermining solar’s green image. John Smirnow, vice president for trade and competitiveness at Solar Energy Industries Association, added:
“We want to take the lessons learned from electronics and semiconductor industries [about pollution] and get ahead of some of these problems.”
Several experts in the solar field have also said they did not calculate the industry’s total waste. When they did so, they were surprised at what the records show.
While some companies are able to make money and create solar panels to counteract the waste, several solar facilities in Silicon Valley produced millions of pounds of hazardous waste without ever selling a solar panel.
Most of the waste produced by solar panel manufacturing is considered toxic, though there is no evidence it has harmed our health. While including the transportation of the hazardous waste does not raise the carbon footprint of solar panels significantly, it is still important to add, because it helps consumers and the government know exactly how sustainable the energy is.
Mulvaney adds that solar panels are still much better than fossil fuels. Energy from natural gas and coal-fired power plants creates over 10 times more hazardous waste than the same amount of energy generated from a solar panel.
Are you surprised to learn that solar energy still has a hazardous waste problem?
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