How Green Is Solar?
As we as a species have recognized the importance of sustainable energy production, Solar energy has become highly prominent worldwide as a green way to produce energy. The adoption and evolution of solar technology have been a huge step in the right direction for the green movement. Unfortunately, aspects of solar production still require a few steps that have a negative impact on the environment. While the footprint of these issues pales in comparison to the positive effect of the resulting in green energy produced by solar technology, knowing the negative effects and associated issues is important so you can make an educated decision on your solar investment.
The most obvious issues arise from the production of components that utilize heavy metals and quartz. This production required a temperature of approximately 2000 degrees celsius, which is currently realistically impossible to establish and maintain with purely solar energy. To reach his temperature solar companies utilize fossil fuels, generating greenhouse gasses. The process of refining solar grade silicon also results in the byproduct Silicon Tetrachloride which until recently was a hazardous product that produced poisonous fumes and could damage ecosystems if not disposed of properly. Luckily a process has been developed to recycle this material to produce more solar panels, meaning that this by-product is much less of an issue.
The mining of the materials required for solar production also obviously has a negative impact on the environment. Ecological destruction is an unavoidable consequence of mining operations, as well as risks to the workers at these mines. Early in solar production safety standards were much lower, meaning that silicosis was a common issue amongst workers. Thankfully, increased levels of safety legislation surrounding these mines have meant a significant decrease in rates of this lung disease.
Finally, the largest hurdle currently facing the solar industry is the management of solar waste. In 2016 it was estimated that approximately 2500000 tonnes of solar waste have been produced worldwide. While initially, experts believed that solar waste would not become a problem for another 2-3 decades, it is a reality that it has already become a problem, predominantly due to a lax approach to recycling solar panels in many countries due to the difficulty of efficiency separating these parts. The current frontrunners in solar recycling are Europe, with all solar developers being under a legal requirement to create products that decrease waste, and increase the ease of recycling their products. Some US states are following suit, by implementing legislation to increase the ease of recycling in an effort to reduce the number of solar panels going to landfills. Currently, the main concern in the solar recycling movement is The Asian region's apparent lack of action, with it being estimated that 50% of the 50000000 tonnes of solar waste expected by 2050 will be produced in this country. It is likely that this is due to the fact that many panels produced in this region have much thinner profit margins, due to their budget cost strategy, meaning that the additional cost of recycling may not be as financially sustainable as it would for a company such as REC.
There are definitely some scary numbers associated with solar, however, action is being taken constantly by most reputable producers to improve international solar conditions. Despite the statistics presented above, solar is infinitely greener than fossil fuels and can be managed in a way that is totally sustainable. One of the best examples of a responsibly managed solar company is REC, which has a constant and diligent mantra related to green energy while being one of the frontrunners in quality in the international solar market. If you are worried about your environmental footprint and would like to ensure that the system you are installing will be environmentally responsible as well as economically beneficial, feel free to get in touch with one of our experienced solar designers.
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