A Renewable Power Waste Disaster Is Looming
It turns out that the falling cost of solar panels is a double-edged sword for the environment. As photovoltaic technology becomes more affordable, and therefore more widespread, some critics have become more concerned about the growing threat of all the junk these panels eventually become. While renewable resources greatly reduce many types of waste related to the fossil fuel industry, the clean energy infrastructure contains a fair amount of harmful materials that require specialized and costly disposal methods. “Few countries, operators and the industry itself have yet to fully grasp the long-term consequences of disposing of these systems, which have their own environmental hazards such as toxic metals, oil, fiberglass and other materials.” Deseret News Reports.
Ironically, however, the renewable industries have worked to reduce the use of precious metals and other elements, as well as rare earth minerals, in the manufacture of infrastructures such as solar panels, while at the same time stopped encouraging the eventual recycling of these devices. Cheaper-made solar panels tend to be more fragile and break down faster, creating more waste.
Then there is the fact that we cannot necessarily count on the companies that are getting rich in sun and wind to do the right thing for the environment. Many of the industry leaders are cleaning up the energy sector are not the least bit environmentalists– You only know an untapped market and a smart tax move when you see it. Those who own solar panels are also likely to be part of the problem, unless recycling is accessible, affordable and adequately encouraged for the average consumer.
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has projected that the world will have a huge amount of photovoltaic waste in its hands by 2050; Only the United States will have 10 tons while China will have double that. “Recycling is a critical part of our future not only for consumer products like paper and plastic, but also for the ever-growing renewable energy sector,” said EPO Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Without a strategy for end-of-life management, so-called green technologies like solar panels, electric vehicle batteries and windmills will ultimately cause the same unintended stresses on our planet and economy as traditional commodities.”
Most solar panels have a lifespan of around 30 years, but we are already seeing solar panel waste exceeding recycling capacity. “The growth of solar waste is already putting a strain on recycling and disposal capacities as some panels do not land properly in municipal landfills or pile up in warehouses while waiting for cheaper ways to recycle,” reports Deseret News.
Despite these worrying trends, there is reason to hope that by 2050 there will be much better infrastructure to recycle the growing amount of renewable energy waste. While the EPA’s new paper raises very important concerns about the industry’s potential negative external impact on renewable energy on the environment, it also shows that both scientists and policymakers are aware of the issues and know what needs to be done. to address them. Reports that renewable energy will be no better than fossil fuels for the world can easily be dismissed as alarming and Malthusian.
While renewable energies have their environmental disadvantages, they remain an absolute necessity in the global fight against catastrophic climate change. We don’t have the luxury of fully developing a 100% sustainable life cycle for a clean energy infrastructure from cradle to grave before we set out on increasing installation. We have a very short deadline to save the planet from a certain Armageddon, and unsafe Armageddon must come next. It is imperative to make a serious attempt to turn the entire energy economy into a circular economy. We’re not there yet. But hopefully with some serious research and development we will be much closer when all of the solar panels used up today pile up in 2050.
By Haley Zaremba for Oil Genealogie
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