With the price of Solar Panels continuing to fall and the use of these marvels continuing to rise, soon, Solar Panels will be part of everyday life, especially with the onslaught of flexible Thin-Film Solar Panels that will be able to power the smallest of devices doing away for the need of batteries. Overproduction leads to cheaper prices and more Consumers. Will Solar Panels break down into the environment safely once they’re landfilled? Are solar panels bad for the environment?
Yes, Solar panels that are disposed of in landfills can leach heavy metals like lead, cadmium, NF3 & other toxic chemicals into the soil that can’t be removed without breaking apart the panel. Recycling will help play a big part as the 1st generation of Solar panels can be used to supply the next.
Here at SolarPowerCampingGear.com, I see Solar Power as exciting, new, with all kinds of possibilities, and just developing as new products are made every day. But like all new technology, problems exist that need to be ironed out especially when it comes to the environment which is the whole purpose behind Solar Power, to begin with.
What are Solar Panels Made From
Solar photovoltaic panels are the standards in Solar Industry that last up to 20 or 30 years depending on where they are being used with less life working in Desert regions and if not physically damaged and broken. Some types of Solar Panels break very easily, unlike the Monocrystalline Panel which is well constructed.
The main types of Solar Panels used today are Crystalline and Thin Film. Crystalline is the most common type of Solar Panel used today. They come in different types and sizes which both do the same job of collecting sunlight and converting it into available energy. Each one has advantages like durability and price.
There are many different applications from a big large-scale Solar Farm that can contain 72-60 Cells on hundreds of Solar Panels to tiny flexible panels used for individual devices. Unfortunately, all types of Panels contain lead, cadmium, and other toxic chemicals like nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) used in the construction of Solar Panels.
In most cases, that cannot be removed without breaking apart the entire panel. Solar panels generate 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than nuclear power plants. Worse, rainwater can wash many of these toxins out of the fragments of solar modules over time.
Crystalline solar panels consist of solar cells with a glass layer on the front and a protective back sheet on the rear. Usually made from a type of polymer, back sheets adhere to the backside of modules to provide electrical insulation. The Panels are encased in an Aluminum frame. They add strength and are able to be mounted to the flat surfaces of roofs of homes and moving vehicles. They can live 20-30 years because of that rugged construction.
Polycrystalline-Polycrystalline solar is made by pouring molten silicon into a cast. However, because of this type of construction process, the crystalline structure forms imperfectly, creating boundaries where the formation of the crystals tends to break.
This gives the polycrystalline silicon its distinctive, grainy appearance, as the gemstone-type pattern highlights the boundaries in the crystal. These impurities manufactured in the crystal make Polycrystalline Solar modules less efficient and also cheaper than monocrystalline for the manufacturer and consumer.
Monocrystalline. Monocrystalline silicon solar is made by growing a single crystal. They are made in a distinctive type of pattern. They are considered the premium product in Solar Panels using this process and production method. To make solar cells for monocrystalline solar panels, silicon is formed into bars and cut into wafers.
These types of panels are called “monocrystalline” to indicate that the silicon used is single-crystal silicon. This is a good example of a Monocrystalline silicon small popular starter kit through Amazon Renogy 200 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit with Wanderer
Thin-Film-A thin-film solar panel may only work for as little as 2-10 years because it’s made of thin films of semiconductors deposited on glass, plastic, or metal. It is 20x thinner than the Crystalline Solar Panels and is encased in plastic to be able to bend into shapes. They are produced in a process of mixing chemicals on a glass sheet.
They are made to accommodate all kinds of spaces and places that the bulkier Crystalline Solar Panels can’t go. There are three common thin-film divisions: amorphous silicon (a-Si), cadmium telluride (CdTe), and copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS). process of chemicals on a glass sheet. Cadmium telluride is the only thin-film material so far to rival crystalline silicon in cost/watt. The only problem is cadmium is highly toxic.
The cadmium present in the cells would be toxic if released into landfills. However, a release is impossible during normal operation of the cells and is unlikely during fires on residential roofs. Thin-film solar panels tend to degrade faster than mono-crystalline and polycrystalline solar panels, which is why they typically come with a shorter warranty.
Disadvantages of Solar Energy to the Environment
The use of Solar Power has many obvious advantages of its clean usable energy developed by the sun and can reduce our carbon footprint here on earth. It’s renewable and an alternative to burning fossil fuels. It will lower Air, Greenhouse, and Water pollution concerns in the future by using it.
The negative of this positive is some toxic materials and chemicals are used to make the photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert sunlight into electricity. Some solar thermal systems use potentially hazardous fluids to transfer heat. Leaks of these materials could be harmful to the environment. U.S. environmental laws regulate the use and disposal of these types of materials.
Contrary to previous assumptions, pollutants such as lead or carcinogenic cadmium can be almost completely washed out of the fragments of solar modules over a period of several months by rainwater and then leached out of the ground. There are studies being done that say China and even California have made no future plans to deal with Solar Panels That have become a huge part of their energy system. It has serious waste disposal issues that few countries are tackling. The hazardous materials used in their construction are not easy to recycle and can contaminate drinking water.
According to US Energy Information Administration:
Some toxic materials and chemicals are used to make the photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert sunlight into electricity. Some solar thermal systems use potentially hazardous fluids to transfer heat. Leaks of these materials could be harmful to the environment. U.S. environmental laws regulate the use and disposal of these types of materials. As with any type of power plant, large solar power plants can affect the environment near their locations.
Clearing land for construction and the placement of the power plant may have long-term effects on the habitats of native plants and animals. Some solar power plants may require water for cleaning solar collectors and concentrators or for cooling turbine generators.
Using large volumes of ground water or surface water in some arid locations may affect the ecosystems that depend on these water resources. In addition, the beam of concentrated sunlight a Solar Power Towercreates can kill birds and insects that fly into the beam.
San Jose State environmental studies professor Dustin Mulvaney. Solar panels often contain lead, cadmium, and other toxic chemicals that cannot be removed without breaking apart the entire panel. “Approximately 90% of most PV modules are made up of glass,” However, this glass often cannot be recycled as float glass due to impurities. Common problematic impurities in glass include plastics, lead, cadmium and antimony.”
Can Solar Panels Be Recycled
Recycling Solar Panels is a fairly new process and information is thin at best because of the fact that Solar panels last 20-30 years or even longer. The International Energy Agency’s Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme (PVPS) will release research later this year showing that solar panels can be landfilled safely, amid growing concern over the disposal of renewable energy components. Their feeling is that there are plenty of problems that will need to be resolved.
The IEA PVPS study will show that disposing of solar panels in landfills is unlikely to have an adverse impact on human health, according to co-author Garvin Heath, a senior scientist in the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s resources and sustainability group.
The study, which is due to be released within a couple of months as part of the IEA PVPS’s Task 12 sustainability research activities, looked at the potential for human health impacts under a worst-case scenario involving unlined landfill sites with water seepage affecting crushed modules.
When the studies are concluded the known contaminants that are associated with the manufacturing of Solar Panels will be investigated and more information should be known. Crystalline silicon, Cadmium telluride (CdTe), and Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS).
The pollutants studied were lead, cadmium, and selenium, respectively. One potentially positive option could be that besides being landfilled some Solar Panels could be salvaged and used or sold in Secondary Markets.
New Companies like this international company «Our mission is to keep PV waste out of landfills and to properly treat all the components. » said Sam Vanderhoof, CEO of RECYCLE PV SOLAR are underway around the world to find ways of using material that is used in the manufacturing of Solar Panels and learning how to pull them out of these unused systems and reusing them in other solar products.
There is a growing recognition and awareness that solar panels contain toxic heavy metals that can pose a risk to the environment should they leak out of the panels, the environmental costs of renewable energy are becoming more and more clear every day. People in the know are responding.
Washington State is the only US state that requires the manufacturer to develop a serious recycling plan, but the state requirement does not address the cost of recycling. Adding a fee to the cost of solar panels would help ensure that the disposal issue is addressed in the event the manufacturer goes bankrupt.
Some researchers disagree, contrary to researchers with Worldwide Agencies like the IEA, who see Solar dangers, as the dangers, Researcher Dustin Mulvaney from San Jose State see. The study that is underway from IEA called Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme (PVPS) should answer a lot of questions. Especially Recycling Solar Panels. Most people do agree Solar, especially flexible Thin-Film Solar is here to stay and like nothing new is ever perfect at the beginning, we will rise to problems that come with all technology that’s new.
The solar panel toxic waste problem