Unsustainable Solar Power


Photo by Tony Webster

Solar panels at William O’Brien State Park near Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota.

Zoe Bell, Reporter

With so many people today joining the movement to “go green” in defense of climate change, solar panels have become a huge industry promoting eco-friendliness. However, skepticism about solar panels and their true benefits has been growing, causing people to wonder if they are doing as much damage to the environment as they try to avoid. With the disposal and building process in question, the expensive technology is facing inquiries. Though solar panels are highly efficient at reducing the use and burning of fossil fuels, toxic materials are used in the process of creating the panels, and can have detrimental effects later in the process. In 2016 there were about 250,000 metric tonnes of solar panel waste in the world at the end of that year due to the lack of an efficient disposal process. Solar panels require batteries that are relatively new and don’t yet have an entirely environmentally sound method of disposal.  

Since the panels often contain lead, cadmium, and other toxic materials, which can only be removed and disposed of by taking apart the entire panel, it leaves a large amount of waste and takes a team of skilled workers to perform the disposal safely and properly. The materials in the solar panels also eliminate the possibility of disposing the panels at a normal landfill, given that if the panels broke it would risk a leak of toxins into the soil. Though there are materials within the panels that are valuable and can be reused for other developments; disassembling the aluminum frames of the solar panels requires highly paid workers, making the product more expensive than the new raw materials that could be extracted.

In addition, to the exotic materials required for the machine, solar panels are not suitable for many environments, often where they are needed most. The panels can quickly catch dirt and dust and become covered, requiring cleaning, normally by water. Natural disasters pose a threat to solar panels and the environment as well, hail storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes all risk damaging the panels and causing leaching in the area. Dangerous materials, however, are not the reason people often avoid installing solar panels, it is the high price that drives them away. Though savings can be made throughout time, primarily with energy bills, the staggering average price of $10,000 to $14,000 makes it no surprise that people shy away from the investment. With a constant search for ways to help the planet live and be environmentally conscious, and many options being shot down by consumers for various reasons, solar panels remain a decent alternative; yet it must be considered that they don’t come completely risk free.