The environmental impact of solar panels is an overlooked cost of solar energy. In this post, we’ll consider some of the downsides to using solar power.
The Environmental Impact of Solar Panels
Millions of solar panels are going up across the country. So, it’s only a matter of time before every city and town will be encircled by them. Additionally, many of these panels will need to be replaced as they age or are damaged.
Many cities and towns are now dealing with the problems of replacing or getting rid of panels. Today recycling solar panels is very expensive. Also, the cost to repair a broken panel is often higher than replacing the panel altogether. For this reason, most used or damaged solar panels end up in landfills.
Once in the landfill solar panels pose a big environmental risk. This is because solar panels contain a lot of harmful chemicals. These chemicals include lead, cadmium, and other toxic chemicals. Overall, these chemicals can’t be removed without breaking the panels into pieces.
Transporting the panels is also a challenge. Large community solar projects require large panels. These panels need to be transported carefully. If they are damaged during shipping they can leak chemicals. Then those chemicals can pollute the local soil and water.
The High Cost of Recycling
Solar panel recycling cost is 5x the cost of making a solar panel in the first place. Recycling solar panels also require a lot of energy. In order to recycle them, they need to be taken apart. This makes the process even more expensive. Using a solar panel recycling yard saves energy, money, and a few headaches. Finally, there is also a constant risk that the items will contaminate the local recycling process. This could lessen the benefits of recycling other items.
The Rising Economic Value of Solar Panels
It can save money for people and businesses to purchase and install solar panels. After they are installed, owning solar can save up to of 90% on your monthly electric bill. Thus, there are a large amount of new solar systems worldwide. Overall solar power is viewed as a sustainable way to make energy.
In 2008 in the United States just 0.34 gigawatts of power came from solar energy. This number is growing. Today the U.S.makes almost 97.2 gigawatts (GW) of solar power. This is enough to power for about 18 million American homes. Today, over 3% of U.S. electricity comes from solar energy.
How is 1 Gigawatt of Power?
According to Engery.gov the following would generate 1 GW of power:
3.125 Million Photovoltaic (PV) Panels
364 Utility-Scale Wind Turbines
Roughly 1.3 Million Horses
2,000 Corvette Z06s
110 Million LEDs
Cost Of Solar Energy Installation
The cost of solar energy installations has dropped dramatically in recent years, with the average new system in America costing $15,000-$25,000. This cost is before any tax credits or other discounts.
The Payback Period for Solar Energy
The payback period for solar energy is 15 to 25 years. As solar panels gain popularity and are used more often, the payback period decreases.
Tax Credits for Solar Power
The federal government offers a tax credit for solar energy installation. A credit is money given by the government to make something cheaper. Credits are given to people and businesses to help them pay for special projects. The government also uses credits so people will choose to do things the government wants. Over the years the government wanted people to use solar power. This is a way to help reduce pollution from fossil fuels.
Why Talk About Solar Panel Pollution?
The Natural Resources Defense Council reported 1 million to 3 million tons of solar panels end up in landfills each year. This is about 15 to 17% of the total number of solar panels made in the US in a year. In 2010 only about 3,000 tons of solar panels were recycled. That means millions of tons of chemicals from solar panels went to landfills.
How Can We Reduce the Environmental Impact of Solar Panels?
There are several ways to increase how many solar panels are recycled. One idea is for the government to require the recycling of solar panels. That would make more facilities offer to recycle. Another idea includes funding companies that take panels apart. Then those parts could be sold for repairs. Next, these companies can recycle any glass, plastic, or metals. Finally, workers could safely remove dangerous chemicals. This would lower the risk of chemicals polluting soil or water.
The cost of solar panels has dropped and the environmental benefits have improved. Overall, they still need to be watched in terms of their costs and benefits.