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Solar proponents point out solar energy cuts down on alleged carbon dioxide pollution. But they never mention energy requirements to produce solar facilities or pollution involved in their manufacture and contained in their components.
At the end of this paper is portion of a paper by Paul Chesser of the National Legal & Policy Institute titled “Abound Solar’s Toxic Waste Highlights Enviro Hypocrisy on Pollution.”
This paper features pollution problems resulting from the 2012 bankruptcy of Abound Solar that may have to be paid by taxpayers. At the end of his paper is reference to a 2010 Stanford University publication that describes in great detail pollution problems with all solar PV systems.
Paul Chesser wrote:
Ishan Nath, a Stanford scholar specializing in economics and Earth systems,wrote in the university’s Journal of International Relations (PDF) that “until these issues are properly addressed, a shadow of doubt will hang over the true environmental impacts of solar energy.’
The Stanford University paper must be read by all involved with considering use of solar energy.
Abound Solar used cadmium in their solar panels and the Stanford University report also notes silicon used in other solar panels produces severe environmental effects.
After 25 years, solar panels no longer produce electricity. How much energy is produced during that period of operation in comparison to the energy consumed in manufacturing and installing solar facilities needs to be addressed.
Energy and money are linked together because all forms of energy cost money. Subsidies for solar energy systems include a federal 30 percent tax credit for facility costs, rapid depreciation of costs to reduce tax burdens, other subsidies provided by individual states, and requirements that electricity from solar systems must be purchased at costs that usually exceed electricity from conventional coal or natural gas. Because solar electricity without subsidies costs more than conventional electricity, energy requirements to produce solar facilities are of significance and need to be considered.
Operating data from SunnyPortal indicates a 1 kilowatt solar PV plant will produce 1200 kilowatt-hours annually in the Atlanta, GA area. For a 25-year operating lifetime in the Atlanta area, an optimistic lifetime output for a solar plant is 30,000 kilowatt-hr. Using 12 cents per kilowatt-hr as the value of electricity, the Georgia average residential electricity rate; the value of electricity from a 1 kilowatt solar plant is $3600. This is far less than the cost of such plants, which suggests total energy requirements to place 1 kilowatt solar plants into operation is significant compared to its energy production.
Finding reliable estimates of energy requirements to produce solar PV systems is difficult. One reason is the technology is constantly improving and energy requirements should decrease in the future. An Australian reference suggested solar PV panels required 1000 kilowatt-hours of energy to produce a one square meter solar panel. Assuming a peak panel output of 0.1 kilowatt per square meter, it would require ten square meters of solar panels for a 1 kilowatt solar plant.
This plant in the Atlanta area would generate 30,000 kilowatt-hours over its 25-year lifetime. Using Australian data, 10,000 kilowatt-hours of energy is required for producing the solar panel. This indicates it would take 8 years of operation before a net energy output would occur for the solar plant. This estimate assumes negligible energy requirements for balance of solar plant from framing, wiring, support structure, DC-AC converter, etc.
Proponents of a tax on carbon dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels should note that fossil fuels account for about 85 percent of all energy produced in the United States. If the cost of this energy increases due to attempts to curtail its use via a carbon tax, this will in turn increase the cost of solar energy because so much of its cost is due to high energy requirements in it production and assembly. Continuing increases in fossil fuel energy costs via continuing increases in carbon taxes may cause solar energy to never be competitive with fossil fuel electricity production.
The purpose of carbon taxes is to drastically reduce or eliminate fossil fuel use. If the tax succeeds, the outcome will be most electricity production has to come from renewable energy sources of solar and wind. The public will be left with an unreliable electricity supply that most certainly is five or more times expensive than what is paid now.
A very important question is who will be around to clean up the mess containing toxic materials once solar panels cease operation?
In October 1981 and 1986, I drove East to Palm Springs, CA on I-10. I was stunned to see thousands of windmills in the mountain pass West of town that were not spinning. This was the start of promoting wind energy and those windmills were in the range of 100 kilowatts or so. This massive wind farm has long been abandoned, late 1980s, and I believe this blight on the landscape is still ruining this previously beautiful view.
Another example of abandoned solar facilities is shown by a trip on U. S. 40 to visit the Rocky Mountain National Park in July 2009. There was a village on the road that had many buildings with perhaps six condominiums per building featuring large roof top solar water heaters. I stopped and asked one of the condominium owners about the water heater performance. He told me they were installed in the mid-1980s and had never been hooked up for operation. Nobody cared to do anything with them in 25 years.
These examples show maintenance or clean-up are not part of government-funded renewable energy projects. Similar problems may occur with private-funded projects where builders seem to fade away.
Most solar PV panel production takes place in China where pollution problems are ignored in comparison to production standards of the United States. The United States may never be cost competitive with China under this type of competition. When bankruptcies take place as happened to Abound Solar, disposal of toxic wastes may be a liability left over after bankruptcy.
This brings up future problems. The growth in the solar industry has occurred in the past ten years so there is no experience on what needs to be done once solar panels no longer produce useful amounts of electricity.
Is there a future planned for solar sites once solar panels no longer perform? The panels contain toxic materials that would be considered life-threatening by the EPA if these materials were used for any other purpose. In Georgia a company named Georgia Solar Utilities is proposing building a 200 Megawatt solar PV facility in central Georgia. This is by far the largest penetration of solar energy in the state and Georgia Solar Utilities needs to address the future of this solar plant after its 25-year lifetime elapses.