Solar energy may be one of the most important technologies in the 21st century, but the rapid pace of technology innovation has us often moving on to the next thing without a glance at what’s been left behind.
New advancements in clean technology can offer extraordinary possibilities, but often at unpredictable costs.
Less than one year ago, we published a report about the lack of regulations on nanotechnology which can contaminate air and water causing unknown impacts on human health and the environment.
Today, we publish a comprehensive look at another burgeoning clean technology – one that increasingly features nanotechnology – solar panels.
Solar is considered green, because during its “use-phase” it passively collects energy from the sun instead of burning fossil fuel. Solar installation and maintenance will potentially create green jobs that offer living wage, entry level positions and opportunities for advancement.
But solar isn’t so clean or green throughout its lifecycle. The solar manufacturing processes use many of the same chemicals as the electronics industry which still mars Silicon Valley with 29 superfund sites. Also, solar manufacturing can be inefficient and wasteful.
And what will happen to today’s solar panels at the end of their usefulness, which is estimated at 25 years or more? Not only do solar PV products contain many of the same materials as electronic waste (e-waste), but they also contain a growing number of new and emerging materials like nanotechnology that present complex recycling challenges.
This is an important time for solar, because the industry is still in its infancy and the patterns of behavior that develop today will become the status quo of tomorrow. Solar offers an important green alternative to burning fossil fuel, but if companies are not committed to finding ways to reduce chemicals used in manufacturing, design solar panels for recycling, and improve environmental performance throughout the products lifecycle, solar will be more of a trade-off than a green alternative.
The report, “Toward a Just and Sustainable Solar Energy Industry,” offers a plethora of supporting data and detailed information on how solar manufacturing works, what toxins are used, and steps that can be taken to reduce waste.
We would like to urge people to read the report and join us in taking action to build a safe, sustainable, and just solar energy industry.