The potential of solar energy is vast and bright,
but are we harnessing renewable energy responsibly today?
The sun brings light and warmth into our lives. It makes sense to also harness this wonderful energy to power our homes, businesses, and machinery. Solar fields are popping up everywhere. Innovators are busy making solar panels easier to produce and more portable for greater convenience. It all seems very promising. However, there is also some chatter concerning panels spilling heavy metals like lead into our soil and groundwater.
When most people think of solar, they think “green energy.” But are we poisoning the earth with these panels? The research opens a debate of whether the push for solar energy is creating more environmental harm than the use of fossil fuels!
As an advocate for eating organic whole foods and avoiding hidden pesticides or additives, Energy Matters, LLC.’s biggest concern comes from the partnership between solar energy and farming. Solar panels are touted as being safe to have around crops. However, this claim is misleading. It’s not uncommon for the glass panels to become cracked or broken due to natural events like storms. When rain falls on a broken solar panel, it carries lead (and other metals like carcinogenic cadmium, copper, or aluminum) down into the soil below.
Over time, polluted soil is washed into nearby water sources—streams, lakes, and wells. In this way, lead and cadmium spilled from solar farms can contaminate not just the ground immediately below, but also our crops and drinking water supply. Despite the potential for public health risk, this problem is not being addressed with the strength or urgency needed.
And this isn’t the only environmental concern. When solar panels are produced, manufacturers use harmful chemicals. Traditional solar panels require the purest silicon because it is especially conducive. Pure silicon production uses nitrogen trifluoride and sulfur hexafluoride—two of the most harmful greenhouse gases.
While the newer lightweight perovskite panels eliminate much of the need for silicon, they pose greater concern for depositing water-soluble lead into the ground. “Lead toxicity has been one of the most vexing, last-mile challenges,” says researcher Tao Xu (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2020).
Keep in mind that solar panels have only a twenty- to thirty-year lifespan. Because of this, we are beginning to see a new challenge: deciding what to do with broken or worn-out panels. Before the glass or silicon casings can be recycled, they should be heated in cement ovens to burn off the metals.
But there are barriers. This process is expensive; it isn’t easy to find a solar panel recycling facility; and there isn’t a lot of oversight to ensure that it happens. It is simply cheaper to bury them in a landfill—where the panels break down, leaching toxic metals into our groundwater.
Solar panels first grew in popularity in the early 2000s. This means a large volume of panels are nearing the end of their lifespan. As the application of solar power continues to expand, scientists predict that by 2050 we will be trying to manage as much as 80 million tons of solar waste.
Solar energy is bound to play a role in society’s quest for green energy as we move into the future. At the moment, however, it seems as though solar panels may be causing more harm than good. We should call for innovations that make solar a safer option. In the meantime, pay close attention to your food and water sources for your own health and safety.
For personalized guidance on nurturing your physical and energetic wellness, schedule a phone consultation with Rose Boghos, Intuitive Lifestyle Practitioner, Whole Health Educator, and Reiki Master Teacher.
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What to Remember:
Solar power is considered green energy, but it generates more pollution than you might think.
The production of solar panels contributes to greenhouse gas emission.
Cracked panels can spill lead and other toxic heavy metals into our soil and groundwater.
This concern grows more serious with millions of tons of solar panel waste heading toward landfills.
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