Solar waste

Mar 2012
59,663
41,154
New Hampshire
We just had a situation where the town had a truck of old panels and they flagged them and put them off in a field. Treated like toxic waste. Company that came for disposal said "keep them out of the rain as they leach lead into the water supply." Yikes.

The last few years have seen growing concern over what happens to solar panels at the end of their life.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in 2016 estimated there was about 250,000 metric tonnes of solar panel waste in the world at the end of that year. IRENA projected that this amount could reach 78 million metric tonnes by 2050.

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,” notes San Jose State environmental studies professor Dustin Mulvaney. “However, this glass often cannot be recycled as float glass due to impurities. Common problematic impurities in glass include plastics, lead, cadmium and antimony.”

Researchers with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) undertook a study for U.S. solar-owning utilities to plan for end-of-life and concluded that solar panel “disposal in “regular landfills [is] not recommended in case modules break and toxic materials leach into the soil” and so “disposal is potentially a major issue.”

The fact that cadmium can be washed out of solar modules by rainwater is increasingly a concern for local environmentalists like the Concerned Citizens of Fawn Lake in Virginia, where a 6,350 acre solar farm to partly power Microsoft data centers is being proposed. There is real-world precedent for this concern. A tornado in 2015 broke 200,000 solar modules at southern California solar farm Desert Sunlight.

Governments of poor and developing nations are often not equipped to deal with an influx of toxic solar waste, experts say. German researchers at the Stuttgart Institute for Photovoltaics warned that poor and developing nations are at higher risk of suffering the consequences. There are firms that may advertise themselves as "solar panel recyclers" but instead sell panels to a secondary markets in nations with less developed waste disposal systems. In the past, communities living near electronic waste dumps in Ghana, Nigeria, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India have been primary e-waste destinations.

Wise solar industry leaders can learn from the past and be proactive in seeking stricter regulation in accordance with growing scientific evidence that solar panels pose a risk of toxic chemical contamination. “If waste issues are not preemptively addressed,” warns Mulvaney, “the industry risks repeating the disastrous environmental mistakes of the electronics industry.”

If Solar Panels Are So Clean, Why Do They Produce So Much Toxic Waste?
 

Blueneck

Former Staff
Jun 2007
56,140
44,264
Ohio
E-waste is a problem we have to deal with so it doesn't end up sitting around for decades like coal waste, which no one has addressed. Nice to see people are figuring out ways to deal with it now before it becomes an overwhelming mess.

Every form of energy is going to generate pollution of some kind, it's just a matter of developing systems to keep it out of our air, food and water.
 
  • Like
Reactions: bajisima
Mar 2012
59,663
41,154
New Hampshire
E-waste is a problem we have to deal with so it doesn't end up sitting around for decades like coal waste, which no one has addressed. Nice to see people are figuring out ways to deal with it now before it becomes an overwhelming mess.

Every form of energy is going to generate pollution of some kind, it's just a matter of developing systems to keep it out of our air, food and water.
Cadmium and lead are big issues as water supplies in several communities are now saying the runoff from solar panels is causing the elevated levels. So thats not really a waste issue as the panels are still used. Our recycler told us tiny cracks in the glass allow the toxic waste to leach out of the panels. One corporate user near us actually has trenches under the panels so when it rains they catch it and then put it in drums. Where it goes from there who knows.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Blueneck

Libertine

Moderator
Apr 2015
16,370
3,218
Katmandu
Cadmium and lead are big issues as water supplies in several communities are now saying the runoff from solar panels is causing the elevated levels. So thats not really a waste issue as the panels are still used. Our recycler told us tiny cracks in the glass allow the toxic waste to leach out of the panels. One corporate user near us actually has trenches under the panels so when it rains they catch it and then put it in drums. Where it goes from there who knows.
Nasty stuff and we can't send it Asia like we used to.
 
  • Like
Reactions: bajisima
Mar 2012
59,663
41,154
New Hampshire
I still see it as less of a problem than coal ash.
Coal is used though to purify water. Lead and cadmium arent. We have the highest rate of pediatric cancer now up here and some are saying its e wastes in our water. Plastics and such as well used.
 

Libertine

Moderator
Apr 2015
16,370
3,218
Katmandu
Coal is used though to purify water. Lead and cadmium arent. We have the highest rate of pediatric cancer now up here and some are saying its e wastes in our water. Plastics and such as well used.
Coal has some nasty stuff as well, some components are useful.