The Dark Side Of Solar Power

Everybody loves solar power, right? It’s nice, clean, renewable energy that’s available pretty much everywhere the sun shines. If only the panels weren’t so expensive. Even better, solar is now the cheapest form of electricity for companies to build, according to the International Energy Agency. But solar isn’t all apples and sunshine — there’s a dark side you might not know about. Manufacturing solar panels is a dirty process from start to finish. Mining quartz for silicon causes the lung disease silicosis, and the production of solar cells uses a lot of energy, water, and toxic chemicals.

The other issue is that solar cells have a guanteed life expectancy of about 25 years, with average efficiency losses of 0.5% per year. If replacement begins after 25 years, time is running out for all the panels that were installed during the early 2000s boom. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA) projects that by 2050, we’ll be looking at 78 million metric tons of bulky e-waste. The IREA also believe that we’ll be generating six million metric tons of new solar e-waste every year by then, too. Unfortunately, there are hardly any measures in place to recycle solar panels, at least in the US.

How are solar panels made, anyway? And why is it so hard to recycle them? Let’s shed some light on the subject.

How It’s Made: Solar Panels

Monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. Images via AZoCleantech and HaHaSmart Solar

Solar panels come in three basic types — monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film. Each cell of a monocrystalline solar panel is made from a single silicon crystal. These are the single malt Scotch of solar panels, and are usually black.

Polycrystalline panels have a jumbled, multi-faceted look to them because they’re made from several silicon crystals. These panels are usually blue, and this is because of a coating that makes them perform better. Thin-film solar panels are the type you see in solar calculators and watches, and they offer the least efficiency. These are made from amorphous silicon, which is why they look so different from the other two.

Extracting silicon from quartz requires an insanely hot furnace and a long pole. Image via How It’s Made

No matter the type, solar cells start with sand, usually high-purity quartz sandblasted at high temperatures. The quartz is first refined into metallurgical-grade silicon, then purified into polysilicon. This creates a highly toxic compound called silicon tetrachloride. This stuff is bad enough on its own, but when it gets dumped and reaches local bodies of water, it releases hydrochloric acid.

The resulting polysilicon is collected into rocks and melted together into ingots. Boron is added (known as doping) to give the silicon positive polarity. Then the ingots are sliced into paper-thin wafers that are coated with a substance that makes them absorb sunlight rather than reflect it.

The cells are treated with a phosphorus coating that negatively charges the surface, completing the p-n junction that makes it possible to convert the sun’s energy into electricity. The cells are baked in a furnace and then soldered together into panels. A layer of protective glass goes on the front, and a durable polymer goes on the back that keeps out dirt and debris.

So… Recycle Them?

If they are properly cleaned and maintained, solar panels can last for several decades. But as solar panels degrade, they become far less efficient, and eventually stop working altogether. The obvious solution might be to recycle all those solar panels, but it’s not that simple. People don’t go down to the big box store and buy solar panels directly, they buy them from companies who also install them. It’s left up to the companies to track the panels, take them back, and make sure they get recycled. The problem is that not everyone is aware that they can be recycled in the first place, and dumping them in landfills is not being policed much in the States.

Europe is really leading the way when it comes to e-waste recycling. The European Union have a law requiring that solar panel producers take back their panels at end of life and recycle them. Britain has a refinery that uses microbes instead of cyanide to break down e-waste and extract the precious metals. And France is home to Veolia, the world’s only commercial-scale photovoltaic recycling plant. In 2017 their partner PVCycle collected 2,400 tons of end-of-life panels throughout France. Veolia says they are able to achieve a 95% rate of re-usability for the collected metal and glass. Check out their process in the video below.

In the US, there are no federal mandates for recycling solar panels, and only Washington state and New York have any kind of laws about them. As a result, only about 10% of American panels are recycled. The other 90% get shipped to countries without mandates for reuse, or end up in landfills, leaching lead and other toxic chemicals into the Earth.

Right now in the US, recycling solar panels is difficult, and recovering the silver, copper, and silicon requires custom solutions. Scrapping the aluminum frames and silver from the metallization paste doesn’t net that much, and it costs $12-25 per panel plus transportation costs to recycle them. Dumping them in landfills only costs about $1 per panel.

It’s hard to compare the damage done by the solar panel manufacturing process to the damage caused by burning fossil fuels for energy. Neither one is good, so are we solving one problem while creating another? If we don’t figure out a global scheme for recycling panels, we’re certainly headed for a crisis.

302 thoughts on “The Dark Side Of Solar Power

  1. I still wish we’d go heavy on natural gas and invest in carbon capture tech. With scale, I think it makes the most sense for a balance of affordable energy production, environmental protection, and “not in my backyard” fears.

      1. Gas isn’t going to “run out” in your lifetime–and by the time it is a factor we will likely have made amazing technological advances that we cannot fathom. Imagine somebody trying to plan for the world of 2020 back in 1940–their assumptions would be so laughably wrong that it’s silly to worry about…

          1. Technically, they do, but it’s in areas controlled or threatened by Russia, like in east Ukraine. Elsewhere, there’s gas fields in France and Germany at least, but there you have the other kind of little green men successfully lobbying to ban extraction.

            The EU could be completely self-sufficient in terms of gas with the inclusion of the eastern deposits, and lifting the moratorium on extraction of known deposits, but Russia won’t let the ex-soviet satellites play ball and Gazprom is paying big money to environmental organizations (e.g. Greenpeace) and politicians to keep protesting.


          2. Making methane (which is what natural gas mostly is) from biologic waste isn’t a difficult process. Several landfills in many countries have pipes that tap the gas from decomposition to run generators. It works even better in a system designed specifically for gas production, with the bacteria species chosen to work best with the organic material that’s put in.

            Some sewage processing plants use the gas from decomposing sewage for their own heat and power.

            All the technology exists, has existed since at least the early 1990’s, to build a plant that can take in garbage and sewage and output electricity and clean water, along with all the metals and glass separated. Could even sort out plastics and liquid petroleum based products and chemicals for refineries to add to their crude oil feedstock – or burn for heating water to drive steam turbines for generating electricity. Or go farther and separate the ‘light’ combustible liquids to use directly in turbines.

            Just takes someone willing to put up the $ to build it, and for idiots opposed to “burning trash” to STFU and stay out of the way.

        1. When it will run out is a mute statement, because it will. The sun will be there quite a bit longer, so why not use it. It’s hard to meter and charge for it. So use it. Nothing comes without a down side, so deal with it. Fix it and move on. And nothing comes without a cost so pay it and move on. Just sayin RC

          1. This is because you believe the propaganda. A solar cell uses more fossil fuel in it’s lifetime than it can ever replace you cannot sustainably make solar pv only using power generated by solar PV. It is only cheap fossil fuel energy that makes PV possible.

          2. Greg is on key to a point, along with the others that look to bio gas production. It takes so little energy to make methane, which is why large land fills in the bigger cities are tapping it now. Some day reclaiming land fills will be a large industry mining metals and plastics and several other materials. The tech does exist and as soon as the petroleum industry realizes it is dying, it will be the source of funding to change the way we do things on this planet. They’re the only industry that will have the funds to move away from current energy sources, they took it all from us. Between the pharma and petro industry government is nothing more then the puppet on the strings controlled by these monstrous organizations. I know someone is going to say something like what a moron or nut case when I bring up scripture but it’s coming anyway. The days will be cut short on account of the righteous lest no living creature be left alive. We have exploited the planet to the point that the loss of live is beyond comprehension. Scientists will back this when they say that of all life that have been on this planet 97 % or more of it is extinct, and the last 500 years have seen at least 30 % of what was left now gone. How far are we willing to take this ?

        2. This is the same mind set that is responsible for all the species of life that have been wiped out in the last 500 years ! How nice it is to not have to worry about what is left on this globe for the generations to come after US !!! Human nature that needs to be changed. Industry gave rise to population explosion which led to depletion of the earths resources. There will not be tech advances without another list of problems like pollution and resource depletion continued. What WILL happen will be a drastic depletion of the population which in turn will lead to a massive reduction of strain on the earths resources. It has happened before and it will happen again. Things like the massive quake in the east Indian Ocean that wiped out a 1/4 million people, global climate change that will raise sea levels causing populations to shift into more concentrated areas which will lead to increase disease concentrations that will result in massive loss of lives. The current global crisis we face now is not going to go away before hundreds of thousands more die. As for comparing the 21st century to 1940 or whenever, there were visionaries that had ideas, though not spot on, they weren’t far off. Science fiction goes along with science, if it can be thought of it can be done. Einstein had theories that became facts.

          1. the global climate has been changing since the planet formed, but how does that relate to plate tectonics? your comment implies that the changing climate caused the plates to shift and caused an earthquake. Is it really possible to stop a section of the earth’s crust from moving by purchasing solar panels?

          2. Yes it can, if even at a very limited scale. It’s a fact that the petro industry can affect plate tectonics. Pumping the crude out reduces the natural friction aspects in shallow fault lines. It also has resulted in increased quake activity in areas of heavy fracking for gas. Oklahoma and surrounding areas are an example. Even in regions where water is being pumped from the ground lowering levels is affecting quake activity. And yes the climate has always been changing. The fact and point of this issue is not whether or not it has been. The issue is that human activity has accelerated the time periods those changes took place over. Life on this earth takes time to adapt to changes and even then some of it doesn’t survive. Look up some of the information concerning underground water sources in eastern Colo. where the oil and gas industry has polluted the ground water reserves to the point it burns and is totally unfit for drinking ! This isn’t simply an issue of whether solar will save us from one disaster or another. It is an issue of, Do we do something or nothing about making changes in how we live here, or not. Technology gave rise to population explosion and we either advance technologically to survive or we take our technology to extinction of a species without consideration to anything else but making our lives more convenient just for the time we live and to hell with those coming after us. No other form of life on this planet has the power to change this but us. We either fix it since we broke it or we expire and then the problem is gone and the earth will eventually heal itself because we aren’t continuing to tear it apart.

      2. The hydrogen will never run out, nor will the synthetic methane and more complex hydrocarbons made from it, only the source will change over time. This is why it is insane to undermine existing reserve values and infrastructure, they will be paying for the global upgrade to fusion reactors. Solar is just a niche market and always will be, even in space once compact fusion is commercialised and deployed there.

        1. Silicon solar cells are a 1950s technology. 70 years later they are finally changing the energy market due to decades of incremental improvements in production methods, commercialization, and ancillary technologies. Meanwhile for the whole time people have been predicting fusion power and still no one has gotten a joule of net energy out of a fusion reactor. Hmmm.

          1. Go and actually read about the technologies, there are fundamental limits to what you can do with PV and the rest of the light just gets downconverted to waste heat. It will only ever be a niche energy source because of the multiple intractable problems with it and no civilisation that relied on PV would survive a major solar storm. It has its uses, just don’t over sell them or you are insulting our intelligence. Also note that the other day KSTAR ran for 20 seconds at 100 million degrees Celsius, and they expect to be running for five minutes at a time by 2025. Things are not only changing rapidly in that space but are accelerating.

          2. What the fun…Solar efficiency is at 21-23 % at best so it means there are still lots of room for improvement… Fusion has it’s uses in spaceships and industries but once solar hits 90% eff…nobody will want fusion in their houses.

          3. @ 𐂀 𐂅 says:

            Nothing that you can say about solar substantiates your claims about fusion. The point is that even if your optimism about fusion is justified, it probably won’t be widespread in your lifetime, because that’s typically how long any fundamental new technology takes to make that journey.

            And btw, for all I know about you, I could have been reading about these technologies before you were born.

          4. That’s because when an atom is split it gives energy, this is Fission, Fusion is to combine which requires energy input. Just like welding. There is no such thing as producing Hydrogen, it already exists! The only way to get hydrogen out of any compound is to put energy into it and then burn the hydrogen which produces water and CO2 and you will never get more energy out then what you put in. Even our sun cannot do this. It is known that some day the sun will stop producing light and heat too, in billions of years.

        2. Solar energy researcher here. I disagree in what you say. Most models that weren’t paid for by the fossil lobby indicate that PV already is (in some parts of the world) and will be the cheapest form of energy if we ‘d be honest and incorporated all the externalized costs that have so heavily subsidized fossil fuels until today. Subsidies invested into renewables are a tiny joke compared to these.
          Imagine how much climate change will costs us in the future, every additional ton of CO2 we emit by not de-carbonizing our energy system will cost us so dearly. So why stick to something thats clearly leading towards desaster (maybe we’ll have syntetic methane, but it will be too late by then) when the alternatives are here, today, ready and cheap and with an efficiency of factor 3 higher than the syntetic methane.

          1. Imagine how quickly your navie solar PV diven civilisation will collapse during the next large solar storm. Mate you are deluded, fortunately there are strategic thinkers in places of power who are not, never put your eggs all in one basket.

          2. Imagine a solar storm with or without solar PV ! It won’t be the collapse of civilization, aside from one so intense life ceases to exist. Solar storm of that magnitude will burn out any and all things electrical, not just the solar farms. It will take out communications and transmission lines, industrial facilities and everything.

          3. Carbon rises and falls according to the changes in climate, the sun has the greatest effect on climate more than anything else. There is much much more involved, but you only have to look at the solar cycles of the sun of the past to give a more clear picture of what is happening currently. The dimmishing sun spots, the deep ocean currents, the dimmishing magnetic shield, activity of the volcanos and current shifting of the poles all contribute to climate change more than CO2 could ever do. Not to say that CO2 does not have an effect, but it is little. This only touches on the effects that all of these and other known contributors to affecting the climate. As for energy from solar production, it has a place, but not all conditions world wide are conducive for solar energy. Example: Where I live, we had 9 days of Fog and no wind, if it wasn’t for a gas fired steam plant I would be burning wood and using oil lamps. For the energy network to be fail proof you need a combination of sources for power production. Sure this could fail too, but the risk factor is less.

        1. Well, solar is a very dirty set of chemicals and Elements. Recycling these at 25 yrs is going to be a massive problem in ewaist in coming centuries. The use of hydrogen does not produce as much waste now or in the future. The problem of using as much energy as you receive will be technically solved in a few years. No need to worry about waist. There was a guy who invented a fuel injector that converted water into Hydrogen and Oxygen, so the energy required was reduced to the point of viability. This was quickly purchased by the oil industry and hidden. Why? If a solution does not make money, it does not get done. The Gov is wrong about spending billions to line the pockets of donors and call it Global Warming. The guy before who mentioned the Earth’s pole shift and other things like forest fires, volcanos, earthquakes, some man caused, polluted water, lack of fresh water, drought, and several other issues like polluting China are a problem. How are you going to stop other countries who are wanting to control the world by force? How are you going to make Russia not pollute. Man, what a joke. No, I feel most of you are off base about all this, and it is a think tank kind of problem, so I don’t think they will be reading this when they decide to tell the truth, if they know it. I just wish the smart guys would consider making what ifs for the future, which from where I stand it looks like history repeats its self when people rush to do something then put an impossible timeline on the project that does not allow for future impacts and programs to make sure we don’t kill the planet trying to solve our current problems.

      3. Just like other fossil fuels, there is lots in the ground. The only thing that limits availability is price. The higher the selling price the more worthwhile it is to remove it from the ground. Its for this reason the old predictions of availability are modified every year. All of that said, we have to find alternatives but goodness knows what they’ll be!

        1. I cannot believe what you said here, it’s as if you think the earth is infinite. Only space is infinite as far as we know. The earth has limits and everything on or in it is finite ! That means there is only so much of whatever and the cost of extraction reaches a point of return that cannot be recovered period. Limits of availability reach the limit when they are gone. END of argument !

        2. When you pump the oil out, it leaves behind more than 50% of it stuck in cracks and crevices. Please don’t put anything in the ground to push oil out, like fracking. Unacceptable form of pollution. No think tank involved here, man, what a mistake. In case you did not know, we are in a global drought, not just California. Check out India’s water problem and many other countries. There’s a lot to consider when making decisions that affect the world, not just the US. How can America Be Great Again, if we look stupid by poisoning our own water?

      4. Solar plasma is in the making, it is being experimented with as we speak, but when we improve our space travel we will be able to capture solar plasma and convert it to energy. This will be the energy of the future and in an endless supply as long as there are stars and corona

      1. So where is the limit in resource materials which are needed to develop these forms of energy? Do some research on extraction of rare earth materials and the processes to make use of them to produce energy. How do we address this ?

    1. You know that’s true because of the massive electric distribution system connected to those pyramids. They actually power half the Middle East.

      As a bonus, they also store 10 years’ supply of grain.

      1. Thanks for being a troll.

        the scientific principles have been proven time and time again. So please learn something before you turn on your sarcasm and turn off your brain.

        there’s tons of reading on the subject matter. these are just a few that took me literally less than 5 seconds to produce. But since you’re too lazy to actually read something before you respond, here’s 5 seconds of my time to abolish ignorance.

        1. “the scientific principles have been proven time and time again”

          No. No they haven’t. (see item 3)

          If you want to contradict me:

          1) Actually state what principles you are talking about.

          2) Where does the energy actually comes from? A Tesla tower is just a (theoretical) wireless energy transmission tech. It was never finished and never functionnal. It is not an energy source, and it effectively never worked. [1]

          Even if Tesla actually had the funding and the time, I highly doubt it would have worked with a usefull efficiency. It is just my understanding about it, if you don’t agree it’s fine, but as it was never actually tested there is no point arguing about this.

          3) Provide proofs, any statement provided without proof can be rejected without proof.*


          * an history channel video will not be considered as a proof

        2. No the scientific principles for what you talk about have not been proven time and time again. Wardenclyyffe never worked. Tesla’s Colorado Springs experiments were a failure (more energy was not produced than was put in). You might say that was just because Tesla ran out of money so his vision never ran to completion. The problem? We’ve done things like what he proposed. Not for power transmission, but for communication. Ever hear of VLF or ULF? and . We have (or had) some very powerful, very large transmitters on those frequencies. They were used for communication with nuclear subs. If Tesla’s ideas of earth resonance were true, the effects would have been noticed by those projects. Tesla was just wrong about that. It was the early days of electricity – there were lots of wrong ideas.

          No real evidence has ever been uncovered that the pyramids were for power production. All the evidence says they were exactly what people think they were – a tomb. And before you bring up the Baghdad battery, those would have been essentially useless for just about anything (including electroplating). To have any hope of doing electroplating, modern recreations show they would have needed hundreds. There’s no archaeological evidence of that.

          And yes hydroelectric power is a thing. We use it all the time. Problem is most of the good sites for the big dams we need for industrial scale production have already been taken. There’s also the issue that hydro has some pretty severe ecological effects (large areas of land being flooded, fish not being able to go upstream, issues related to rivers not flooding like they normally do, etc). Not that I’m against hydro by any means, but its hardly a slam dunk.

          1. Nothing we can do to produce energy is a slam dunk ! As for Tesla, his idea is the same thing as standing in front of a microwave generator. How is that going to work? I heard of some guy in the military on duty at some dish during a cold weather spell, he would walk in front of the dish and warm up, when he stepped out, he got cold. Then there is the issue of having to have everything inside a Faraday cage around a high power coil, I can see how that would work. Not. Watch the movie Sorcerre’s apprentice sometime, when the kid fires up his tesla coil to impress his girl friend while the music is played by the arcs firing all around his cage. Any time a lightning bolt fires in the air, things get real hairy and whatever gets in the way goes PUFF. It smells kind of bad too. I myself have been hit by a 30,000 volt arc from an old TV set more then 40 years ago and I still remember how it made me feel.

        1. This ;)

          Don’t store captured CO2 like it is radioactive or something: reuse it!

          Hydrocarbons also have very good energy density and can be stored with ease in infrastructure that’ll last for multiple decades.

          1. Turning CO2 back into usable petrol obviously requires a lot of energy. Considerably more than the energy one got by burning the gas into CO2.

            That’s one of the many reasons why capturing CO2 is a complete non-starter. Using these huge amounts of energy directly is totally more efficient than wasting it into CH4 CO2 conversion processes.

            If you’re really into capturing CO2: plant a tree. Or plant many trees. Easy, well known to work and AFAIK the currently most efficient process known.

      1. You can store it, plenty of ways, or you can turn it into plastic or something else stable and useful.

        Heck you could turn it into fuel. Then every ICE gas tank becomes a CO2 sink. And less oil would be used for making fuel.

          1. No, I know exactly what I mean and that’s exactly how sink is normally used.

            The ocean is a carbon sink. Carbon still comes out of it. Biomass is a carbon sink. Still decomposes and burns.

            But when you have a sink it means that at any given moment a lot of the material is STORED and not in the atmosphere. Any time CO2 is not in the atmosphere, it’s not a factor for climate warming.

            Further, if we are capturing CO2 from the air and recycling it into fuels using solar, nuclear or other renewable energy, that is new supply that subtracts from demand for pulling it out of the ground. If that fuel is cheap enough.

            And if it’s not cheap enough, that can be fixed with tax on extracted oil.

            Further, imagine all the fossil fuels used in extraction and processing and moving fossil fuels to market.

            If you can throw a solar powered extractor up on mountain it can extract fuel all day without having to incur all that cost.

      2. Dude seriously… what are they teaching your kids in school? Ask yourself this question “what do plants eat besides sunlight?”” Ding ding ding ding ding that’s right carbon dioxide. It’s like the universe has a plan, almost like it was solar powered from the beginning…

    2. The pyramids are actually reflected into the astral plane. Any energy extracted here deprives the denizens of the astral plane and degrades their environment – as depicted in many many ancient hieroglyphs.

      Wait, there was a Rick and Morty episode about this. Something about a car battery…..

    3. Carbone capture uses a lot of energy. It only makes sense if you generate this energy using carbonless sources (wind, water, nuclear, apparently biomasse might also make sense but it’s controversial,…)
      Tying it with natural gas will create more CO2 by kWh generated than what this kWh will be able to capture, hence it will actually make things worse.
      It’s probably because of this 2nd law of thermodynamics, this nasty annoying law…

    4. IGNORANCE EPITOMIZED!! Nat gas is almost as bad as coal when you factor the massive leakage and methane emissions that people like you seem to ignore. You also seem to be unaware or willing to ignore the low birth weights and other lifelong health detriments associated with fracking NG.

      1. Thank you exactly. What I was bringing to attention of all and that clean burning is a fraud and is detrimental to our health in the past present and future. I and people I Love and. Care for went from an amazingly healthy 64 plus year old physically mentally healthy and in a matter of using natural gas to heat our yurt. The heater had exhaust was service tested for safety. And hurts are by no means airtight. And in the seven weeks approximately from time we installed heater and. Heater. Was used intermittently. Trying to conserve fuel. He. Began thinking he had. Developed pneumonia. Becoming weaker not sleeping felt like a elephant was on his chest hard to breath loss or breath falling asleep waking gasping turning blue skin having trouble getting warm. Finally because could not walk from yurt to. Front. Maybe 200′ feet. Had to stopwatch breath this was a man who honestly could out work a man in is prime of life. Work break of dawn until supper. 5 or 6 pm. And come home do chores. Eat. Supper whittle projects. Could not breathe after walk I g 200 feet. Went to emergency room. And he had co2. Poisoning and. Had already had. 2 minor heart attacks. And was having. One. As they were admitting. Him to ER confirming the co2. In his blood. Heart failure. Yes the natural gas caused. Heart failure and now. Living. A much lower quality of life. Not able to .make. Supplemented income. And. On a fixed income well below poverty. Life was struggling. Now desperate to find a way to make ends .meet and stay by his side. To offer immediate. Care and assistance there was permanent damage to lower part of heart water. Builds up feet swell with water betwèeen second and third layer of skinhead can’t.breathe water in lungs. Dwroning and no water to be seen. What once was a vital healthy 65 plus man. Physically outperform. A young. Man in prime. Hands down. To. Weak can t breath heart unable to transport liquids out as waste. And many other loss of. And reasonable thought process memory. All in just 7 weeks using natural gas at bedtime and early Morin mgs typically ally to conserve fuser. Natural gas is the silent killer ventilated does not mattering continue c.f. use. Will cause heart failure and death and continue ous we.mage even when Not using any longer. And it is not. Clean or safe or best for anyone e of any age godmother old young healthy or. Not. Natural gas is a fraud. And is danger to the world and. Atmosphere past present future to all. Solar needs to recycle and pro was. Better ways. We can. Use wind flowing g water. Yes pollution and our need to Live with the. Comforts we have come accustomed to have got to be found. And used or found a balance I agree and to say that public has to do without co.forts that electric city has given elem and travel that vehicles. And fuel s have made possible of seems to make. Use see. To skyrocket with people trying to get the last .ineuõ te needs done and people panicking refusing to give the necessary means or travel warmth. Scared and unable to live without these comforts. We need to. Listen or we wont have an earth to call home and our lives. Will no longer have a place to sustain life let alone with comforts we have

    5. I’d like to see research into a closed loop carbon cycle. Extract CO2 from the air, convert to CO (I’d go with Nuclear power to supply the energy there) and then make synthetic liquid fuels.

      1. LMAO! talk about hypocrisy! complains about fossil fuels, which are naturally occurring chemicals (think of a volcano as a processing plant), creating toxins while supporting nuclear energy, which is FAR more toxic to the environment than fossil fuels could ever be.

        1. “which is FAR more toxic to the environment than fossil fuels could ever be”
          I don’t believe this statement to be true. The planet Venus would probably agree with me…
          If you have actual arguments to give it some credit however, I would genuinely be interested to hear it. (Maybe without screaming if that’s ok)

        2. “Naturally occurring” are weasle words. Would you like take a sip of my refreshing and naturally occurring cyanide drink?

          Nuclear by products from a fast reactor are indeed more lethal, but there would be orders of magnitude less of it than CO2 from carbon capture.

        3. There is an abundance of evidence proving the refining and combustion of fossil fuels causes considerable harm to human health and our environment. Our nuclear plants know where all of their waste is, the waste is very safely managed and the cost of managing it has already been paid. What other form of energy can say that.

        4. These CO2 Stazi are the same hypocrites that are going to go out camping, With their polymer nylon Chinese made tents, and start a big old camp wood fire… As they drive away from the campsite in a Prius talking smugly about what great environmentalists they are And how important it is to preserve nature. It makes me sad that we’ve produced generations of people this self important and stupid.

          1. Ignorance and hypocrisy always exist.

            But most of the folks you are talking about are probably neither – that polymer tent is a pretty green way to camp – being long lasting, light, reuseable and less destructive by far than creating an entirely natural shelter from local resources in most areas of the world – somewhere like a rainforest use the plants by all means, inside a few weeks it will be hard to spot you were ever there as the plants in those parts of the world grow so damn fast.

            Then you have to consider the need for relaxation – we all have a need for it. It is far greener to drive to somewhere reasonably local than fly somewhere pretty. Far greener to live the life a campsite to my mind entails than a fancy hotel and whatever entertainment you went for – Normal camping foods and entertainments are pretty low impact.. Its hard to find a downside there.. Sure the fire they might need for warmth is less effective than that same fire in a really well insulated house, but its still small fry and probably also used to cook their food, dry clothes – it might be less efficient at any one job, but its wearing an awful lot of hats..

            Then there is the biggest one of all, If people don’t ever get to experience nature, live with it and observe how it works they won’t care as much about it. It doesn’t mean anything to them, its just a picture of place they have never been. With no understanding of how such a place should function there is no understanding of when something is wrong either.

            As long as you camp responsibly there really isn’t much in the way of downsides… Heck your PC probably ‘wasted’ about as much energy and CO2 as that campfire while writing and reading these comments – its completely frivolous, you didn’t need to write (and hopefully read) these opinions at all! You are clearly just as ‘self-important and stupid’ as you claim those campers are (though I could not call you a hypocrite for it, not knowing what you believe at all – just ignorant that even the ‘CO2 Stazi’ at their most extreme would find it hard to object to camping done right)..

    6. Cell phones cost 10000x the ewaste, so let’s get rid of those too. How much did “The Industry” pay for this article? And this sketchy site is their only takers on this crap?

      1. We can’t tell you how much, because they’ll kill us all. But suffice it to say, we purchased Hackaday Island in cash.

        (Just kidding! We haven’t ever taken any money for anything ever. And while I understand your general disenchantment with the state of journalism, we’re the good guys and girls. We’re still running on Journalism Ethics 1.0, before sponsored anything, viral whatever, and paid placements. And as such, your accusation is offensive.)

    7. My fiance almost died from co2 Poisonning. Heater was safety Tested and had exhaust to vent he is struggling with. Damage to his lower. Section of his heart only working at 40 percent. Causing him to retain water. In his lungs and torso and lower legs. And throughout his body. Natural gas is nt safe or clean

      1. That’s a tragic event for your fiance, I am sorry to hear that.
        But you are probably talking about CO poisining and not CO2? CO is extremely dangerous because it “sticks” to your lungs and prevents dioxygen to be absorbed in your blood. CO2 is not toxic, the only thing dangerous when concentration of CO2 is too high is actually that there is too few dioxygen.
        Btw, I agree that natural gas isn’t in any way safe or clean.

      2. Well I feel absolutely horrible for the person that is ill, any form of combustion can be dangerous if the exhaust gas isn’t taken properly care of. Again I sympathize for his illness, but the issue isn’t that combustion is dangerous, we all learned that as a children, the issue At the center of this is that poorly installed equipment can be very dangerous. It sounds to me like a real quarrel is with poorly trained HVAC install technicians.

        In my particular circumstance, the absolutely worthless HVAC people that installed my upstairs unit left a natural gas pilot test line open. Damn near blew the house up. I don’t blame natural gas, however I do blame the absolute negligence and poorly trained staff of the HVAC company that installed the unit. If I ever see the owner of the company ever again, I’m going to throat punch him. It really came down to economics. House was built during the housing boom and they were using anybody that could pick up a screwdriver as a “expert” installers.

    8. Uhm, you loose somewhere near a third of the power generated just to capture the gas.

      Then there’s the compression, transport, and injection.

      So a non starter.

      Physics is a tough master.

    9. Yes let’s concentrate of Natural gas and all the fracking along with all the contaminates that poison the water supplies and the rest of the stuff that goes along with gas, high pressure pipelines exploding and burning wasting resources and all the carbon that isn’t processed when that happens. Then the cost of burying those pipelines and the steel used for them, the pollution from processing that steel, transportation costs, welding costs, have any idea what pollutants come from that along with the damage to peoples lungs that are welding? Any idea how to recycle natural gas after it’s burned? At least with hard materials that make up solar panels there is something to recycle. With panels lasting 20 to 25 yrs with minimum maint. No way to get that kind of life from the equipment that is used to access gas reserves. As for back yard fears, ask people living in eastern Colorado and other places that have to get their water from another location because of the toxins in ground water that make it cancerous and flammable! Who’s back yard is that ? There is NO simple solution to the energy needs of the World but solar is still the least costly over the whole. The only answer is to reduce what the world is asking for and that is not going to happen. Oh I forgot to mention the increase in earthquakes in the central region of this country! I would venture to say the people that live in these regions don’t care for the earth shaking under them, wrecking their homes and having their property broken up from those quakes. I spent several years in Calif. and though I only dealt with quakes a couple of times, it was not what I would call exilerating. It’s always the rule of return, you can convert matter to energy but there is always a lose. Energy cannot be returned to matter outside of the natural forces of the earth and universe, sunlight is the force from which all things progress.

        1. ya, so was Fukushima Daiichi- remind me how that worked out!! still dumping 300 dekabarrels of radioactive waste into the ocean, for the last 9 years, while the ground for 50 miles around it is so toxic the ‘scientists’ can’t mitigate anything!

          1. Fukushima didn’t have proper failure mitigation. the actual reason that fukushima failed is due to the fact that the backup generators were not sealed and ended up under water. One simple engineering and design change, would likely have negated that disaster entirely.

            This is according to the professionals who studied what had happened.

            there are designs out there right now that bury molten salt reactors deep in the earth, and then if they ‘melt down’ the active material literally falls into a container that is filled with neutralizing material. It can also be done manually, say if security were breached, at the push of a button.

            tldr: we literally have ways to solve these problems.

          2. Fukushima wasn’t a Thorium molten salt reactor. Thorium is the only way to fly for nuclear. Hopefully the tech is more widely adopted. There are a couple molten salt reactors that have been in commission for several years now.

          3. Please. The “radioactive waste” is water that contains trace amounts of tritium. It is considered as such for legal reasons, not because it’s dangerously contaminated.

          4. @dude

            Would you drink that water, though?

            And in general, I also believe that small, burried reactors would be a possible way, but the problem with that approach is – much more reactors meaning much more radioactive material around which needs to be guarded and controlled.

            I rather would go with solar power from deserts, though:


            And you don’t need solar panels to harness sunlight energy: lots of other approaches to focus and use the heat and transform to eletricity if needed.

          5. >One simple engineering and design change, would likely have negated that disaster entirely.

            Actually, sticking to the original plan would have made it safe, but the company deviated from the design and built the plant too low to the water, then had the changes “approved” by greasing a few palms with money.

          6. >Would you drink that water, though?

            I could. Tritium doesn’t bio-accumulate and it is so weakly radioactive that it poses no real hazard while it’s in my system. Bring it on.

          7. >Fukushima wasn’t a Thorium molten salt reactor.

            If it had been, you would have a whole other scale of disaster on your hands, because the fuel would be in the form of water-reactive and water-soluble salts, instead of metal oxides that won’t go anywhere.

            It it had been a molten salt reactor that got flooded, it would have poisoned half the pacific ocean.

      1. It takes one person to sabotage one or steal some radioactive material and make a dirty bomb out of it and you’re done. We also do not have the technical know-how at the scale needed–and that is not likely to change.

        It is one thing to get smart people to build brand new technologies–once you are in maintenance mode, the B and C-players begin showing up, and nuclear power is very unforgiving of such situations.

        1. if i’m not mistaken, there is a design that cannot be ‘stolen’ or made to be used as a dirty bomb. I’m no nuclear expert, so check out the latest information on how some of the newer style reactor designs are to be made.

          this kid has a design that is supposed to mitigate the vulnerabilities by being completely different in design than current reactors.

          there’s gotta be more info out there, tldr: look into the newer design styles for more info.

    1. Nuclear is the ultimate source of power anyway. I think we should proliferate the use of Uranium SMRs and then swap them out when we finally develop Thorium reactors. Nuclear is the only way we’ll ever generate enough power to restore the environment.

      1. The environment is being degraded because the human population is on a J-curve. No matter what resource we use for energy, so long as this continues we’ll always find a way to deplete it. If we intelligently manage our population size, however, we could theoretically all keep driving gas-powered cars and using coal-powered electricity for the remainder of our species’ time on earth.

        The people are the problem here.

        1. It has nothing to do with population. People living in the amazon rainforest don’t use the same amount of resources as the average american. People need to stop consuming resources faster than they can be replenished. We can live in tune with nature. Also how do you propose we “intelligently manage our population size”?

          1. The people living the amazon rainforests are rapidly being eliminated/displaced as the government cut down the rain forests for a quick buck. We cannot live in tune with nature with the present population size. We wouldnt even be able to do it with 1/5 of the present population size. Pipe dreams are nice, but wont solve any real life problems.

        2. “Whose job is it going to be to make the decisions to manage the world’s population?”

          Probably some bureaucrats and they probably won’t do a great job of it, but it’s better than nothing. The planet is already overpopulated, seeing as we’re measuring resource depletion in terms of decades rather than millennia. If we kept ourselves in check, we could burn coal for a million years and nothing would come of it.

        3. I love the continual fear mongering of the “overpopulation is going to kill us all” Paul R. Ehrlich crowd. ACTUALLY, as more and more countries become prosperous, population growth has declined. In fact, almost all first-world nations are not even having enough babies to sustain their current populations, if you disregard immigration. According to the video I linked below, even the UN predicts the population will plateau at around 13 billion. We supposedly reached “peak children” in the early 2000s. The birth rate in many third-world countries had dropped because they don’t have to have eight babies to ensure enough survive childhood. And with their newly acquired health and wealth, they have aspirations of a better life than just farming, sleeping, eating, and f*king.

          1. First world countries have reached peak baby boomers. The average number of children per women is below replacement because so many of the women are so old. The total population average shows decline, but this is not the end of population growth – merely a temporary setback.

            On average, there are 350 births per 1000 women aged between 15 – 44, every year in the US. When you integrate over the distribution, you get approximately 2.15 children per woman which is above replacement. The population keeps marching on to the inevitable Malthusian trap, because the only thing that really stops people from having more babies is that they can’t afford them (and yet they still try, even harder).

          2. There is no overpopulation threshold beyond which things suddenly get bad. It’s a gradient in which the more people there are, the less resources are allocated to each person. The only lower limit is the minimum number of people required to maintain a modern economy, which I highly doubt is anywhere near the 7+ billion we have now. How about we decrease the population for a century or so and see what happens?

        4. ” No matter what resource we use for energy,”
          still this old tired nonsense.
          until someone came up with the correct technology, coal was just rocks. oil and gas was just a stinking nuisance. uranium was just an interesting rock.
          there is no “resources”. what makes useless things into usable things is human ingenuity and economic processes.
          and the “depletion” nonsense. gold is extremely scarce, but i bet you can walk into any jewelry and find it there, readily available for anyone willing to pay the price.

        5. COVID-19 is making a start, it doesn’t take a huge leap to imagine the next pandemic being much much nastier. Given the reluctance of the US Govt to moderate behaviour (it’s against the constitution or something) it seems likely that the next one will hit the US much harder, and reduce the most consuming population accordingly.

          Gaia, innit???

    2. I will preach this message until I die. Watching so many people faf about with solar panels which can NEVER provide the power we need and have clear enviormental harm in manufacturing. It is laughable that nuclear is not considered the golden child by the greens but instead is universally viewed as the enemy.

      Here don’t let a failed state press workers into intentionally driving a reactor to failure and don’t let someone build one next to fault line and tsunami central and we are all living in France energy heaven.

      As for the *ahem* genius, in the comments talking about making a dirty bomb. Please learn the difference between weapons grade nuclear material and the stuff used in power plants.

      1. Please learn about the costs of cleaning (including storing the waste) a nuclear mess, be it a decommissioned power plant, a failed power plant, or a “dirty” bomb. then compare that to the benefits being made selling electricity during the lifetime of the power plant (zero in the case of a dirty bomb)

        1. Pfft. Bad actors don’t need power plant waste to make a dirty bomb. Search YouTube for videos talking about the numerous cases where various nuclear medicine machines have “accidentally” gotten lost (usually in third-world countries) and caused huge clean-up efforts because some scrap metal dealer didn’t know what they had and managed to spread the contamination across a whole city.

          The location of many Soviet RTG powered lighthouses around the Arctic sea were “lost” after the fall of the USSR. Supposedly most of the 1000 of them that were deployed have been recovered at great cost. But a few are still missing.

        2. Not just the end-of-life cost (be that age, or be that failure): can a cost be assigned to a waste material that will be around for millennia? Despite so many people saying ‘subduction zone’, I don’t think it has ever been done (has it?), or ever plans to be done (will it?)

          What about operating costs – mining the materials is all done with dinosaur fuel, transport (dinosaur fuel again), and initial construction (and where those materials come from).

          Sure, nuclear is real cheap when accounting tricks are applied to the figures. Unfortunately the same tricks are used to varying degrees with solar and wind. Big Oil has made it their mission to pick the ‘total solar cost’ to minutiae, but go really quiet when it comes to doing the same with their own stuff.

          1. so you are implying that those who build nuclear power plants cant do maths and fail to account for the decommissioning costs, or they are a bunch of crooks who are able to trick the regulators into forgetting about decommissioning?
            come on. this is the same old tired BS.
            once lies and nonsense are removed, nuclear is the safest, cheapest, cleanest form of energy generation ever devised, even in the imperfect and relatively inefficient form used nowadays.
            any nuclear power plant will reliably generate huge amounts of energy for half a century or more.
            the concept that intermittent, unreliable, expensive forms of generation like solar and wind can be a viable substitute really boggles the mind.

          2. Yeah, if it weren’t for fossil fuels and the tech that sprang up because of them, you’d probably be trying to figure out where to get wood for your stove…..gotta love the morons point of view. As a resident of CA, we know the results of the “green push” as we had to buy a “fossil fuel” generator so we could could keep our food from spoiling from all the power outages this past summer…so what did the politicians do? Yeah, they decided to turn the coal powered generators back on…pooleease…

        3. “Please learn about the costs of cleaning (including storing the waste) a nuclear mess”
          >cleaning a nuclear mess< is a simple engineering problem that criminal bureaucrats have made almost impossible and economically unviable with absurd and increasingly stricter regulations.
          the cost of decommissioning is always included in the construction and operation costs. the problem is the regulatory framework always changing for the worse, often under the pressure from ignorant and indoctrinated public, and making any planning impossible.
          dirty bomb is again an empty argument waved by people with zero knowledge.

          1. You label solar and wind energy expensive and unreliable. Solar energy hasn’t been expensive compared to nuclear energy for about 10 years. Solar provides the cheapest kWhs nearly everywhere on earth. We have wind reliably providing a plurality of load and occasionally a majority of load in jurisdictions all over the world. Measured capacity factors for wind and solar compare at least as favorably to their predicted values as nuclear reactors. Our demand for energy fluctuates seasonally and diurnally and 40 to 60% of it can be easily matched to the availability of wind and sunshine. Furthermore, your silly nuclear reactor still needs a gas turbine backup. Except instead of running intermittently running to backup “unreliable” renewables, that gas turbine needs to be sized and maintained to run when your goofy nuclear reactor goes down for 3 months due to an “incident.” I don’t think anyone should be listening to what you have to say. You appear to be a stubbornly clinging to a reality that no longer exists.

      2. > by the greens

        You mean the watermelons? Green on the outside, red on the inside. The point isn’t the environment, but to systematically exclude all proposals that don’t involve social engineering and a complete re-structuring into a planned managed society.

        1. Thanks for being a voice of reason, pointing out the selfless dedication to humanity of big oil and big coal, who only want the status quo to continue because anything else that competes with fossil fuels would obviously be communism.

          1. That’s begging the question that it really does compete with fossil fuels, when in reality the whole grid only stays up because there’s cheap gas to back up renewable power.

        2. The world has always been a planned and managed society. Its just that at the moment we’ve engineered a world which relies on fossil fuels and is managed by oil companies and other people who’ve made fortunes from the status quo. Thats not inherently bad, its just what people do.

          The thing about engineering is that you can come up with many solutions to any problem, just with a few different weighted priorities. We can engineer a world in which we get all the energy we need and more without the negatives of air pollution and resulting human mortality. Some people who’ve made lots of money might have to try something new to keep making money but I think they’ll be okay.

          1. “We” have not engineered anything, and you are running a conspiracy theory that spans back all the way to the 19th century, as if they could have predicted what the future will be like because they chose not to reject a cheap and plentiful source of energy such as oil.

            As if they predicted and planned cars, trains, planes… even before anyone had invented them!

          2. “without the negatives of air pollution and resulting human mortality.”
            i love when people rant at the same time about population bombs and human mortality due to pollution.
            fossil fuels have allowed an incredible flourishing of human race. that some people think that fossil fuels >kill< people really boggles the mind.
            without fossil fuels, my friend, modern medicine would not exist and you would have had a 50% chance of dying before reaching age 8.
            the day you need an ambulance, think about it. without fossil fuels, it would have been a horse drawn cart.

      1. AGREE. Several million tons of solid waste vs several hundred billion tons of Co2 gas is hugely preferable, I think. Nuclear and other tech has had decades to solve the emissions problem and has made no progress at all. Yes it’s clean, but if it is such a good solution, why isn’t it being adopted?

        Cheap solar + cheap batteries seem to be on track to _actually_ solving the emissions problem once and for all. Lots of other renewables can be in the mix too, but cost is key!!!

          1. Electric Cars can also feed the grid when needed when the charging infrastructure allows – so they are not as bad as you make out on that, though increased demand of which they are a part is still an issue.

            As for base-load that is part of the problem for trying to be solar powered – you shouldn’t have a meaningful base-load in that case, but currently we all do. It should be nothing is powered over night or on the low generation days unless it is really needed. As show by folks that live off grid with a very modern lifestyle its possible to manage your demands to your supply with relatively little change to a normal lifestyle if the setup is right. And that is really what the goal would have to be to realise a fully renewenable powered future – that all loads be given power based on priority, which leads to the potential for work not happening till the wind blows or the sun really shines (something Farmers have always lived with – can’t harvest in the bad weather, so you all sit around doing the small oddjobs till the weather is right, then work as hard as you possibly can when the weather is correct).

            There is also as Fred says Pumped Hydro, along with Compressed Air and a few other mechanical potential energy storage systems – some of which can even be more efficient that batteries albeit usually covering vast areas for the same stored energy.

            And then here’s a big one – How many timezones can you span without inconveniently large oceans in the way, and how large an area does your grid cover? For Europe and Asia that is a really big number of timezones – so you don’t actually need to store half as much energy as you might think if the grids interconnect. Might be night, dull, and devoid of power where you are, but just a little way round the world its blowing hard on a nice crisp bright winters day – yes there is transmission losses and power transfer limits to consider, so local storage is well worth having. But if everyone sizes their local renewables to provide more than they need on an average day there is spare ‘free’ energy that can be sent to where there is demand. HOWEVER I don’t see it as very possible until folks stop being quite so excessively profligate in their usage.

        1. Solar doesnt work in the sub arctic regions half of the year. Wind is at best temperamental. Aint no amount of batteries on this planet that would make solar viable as a substitute for nuclear, hydro and fossil fuels.

          1. What? I’m meeting about 25% of my wintertime load at 45N with panels aimed straight up at the sky. (More accurately my solar is balancing the load of myself and 1-3 of my neighbors for 4 to 6 hours a day for about 60 to 70% of each winter) Solar is working for just fine for me. Would work even better if I had a steeper roof line. Solar is clearly a viable substitute right now for any marginal fossil fuel capacity during daylight hours… which is virtually every grid on earth since loads are diurnal. Given that the the literal alternative to my solar panels is to ramp up a coal plant or fire up a gas turbine, I’m having a hard time understanding what isn’t working from your perspective.

          2. @Josh you need to remember that there are people living in areas where the sun won’t shine at all during winter time. Even on my location, the daylight is only available for 6 hours today and my house does not enjoy direct sunlight at all due to the surrounding environment.

      2. Re-process a spent nuclear fuel assembly, and the dangerous “waste” radionuclides would likely fit in a coke can. Everything else can be re-used. Instead we just seal up the whole spent fuel assembly in a big cask and wonder what to do with it. We had the technology to do re-processing and even had a pilot plant built and ready to go, but President Carter said no.

    3. When do the humans get a brain upgrade so they are capable of handling nuclear materials without the inevitable spills and leaks? It’s a clown circus out there with plant employees tracking waste out of the building on the soles of their shoes and washing into the river. No nukes for stupid humans!

    4. I’m going to go out further on a limb in totally to opposite direction. CHANGE YOUR LIFESTYLE. I haven’t even hit yet and I can hear all the guffaws from the narcissists in all three corners.

      1. Indeed, that has to be part of the solution. Doesn’t have to be massive dramatic change though – if everyone shifts a little in the right direction the net change is massive.

    5. Well, it aint that new and the downside aint too clear so for my money, keep looking for alternatives. The of Uranium is a lot longer than any of us we be here for.

    6. Uranium mines have already contaminated Navajo nation and Hopi nation water wells with arsenic. It’s just a matter of time before it’s in all the water tables, and we all share the problems we ignored on the reservations. My unpopular limb is not enough policing of corporations.

    7. Personally don’t think energy production is that big of a deal its moving or distances and energy storage which is the issue those panels and other energy sources would be much better if we didn’t lose so much transferring it and not storing excess energy

    8. European recycling solar cells is only a fake scenario, a true theater scene, because if the equipments has a lifespan of about twenty years, the small companies than sold and installed them won’t be there at the final of its lifespan to recall them!

  2. Fwiw, my parents setup a solar system in the late 90s and the panels are still putting out somewhere in the neighborhood of 80-90% of their rated value. Over the years we’ve upgraded from a separate pwm charge controller and square(ish) wave inverter to a hybrid MPPT charge controller/inverter. The upgrade from lead to lithium batteries made a pretty nice improvement as well.

  3. Well, natural gas is… naturally produced… by several mechanisms. Meaning it isn’t finite. I’m pretty sure this is the basis for biomass energy. It generally burns cleaner than diesel and most other fuels. Also, that big flame that’s famously shooting out the tops of oil wells is natural gas that they just don’t want to bother with trying to use. Plenty to go around, but the infrastructure needed to put it to use is more costly than the oil companies figure they can make off it.

    1. Yes, there is plenty of “natural gas” sources. I though prefer to say Methane, since that is primarily what natural gas and bio gas consists of.

      Some rather large producers of methane that currently mostly sit unused is sewage treatment plants.
      Most of these tends to employ systems to oxygenate the waste as to drastically reduce methane production. Though, waste water treatment plants currently put out the equivalent of 4% of the world’s energy needs worth of methane straight into the atmosphere.

      There is some companies in the world that do capture this methane, and even stop oxygenating the waste as to have it produce far more of it. Leading to rather large methane production that can then be filtered and cleaned to produce useful fuel for both transportation and power generation.

      Methane also have the huge advantage of being a very cost effective method of storing large amounts of energy.

      In combination with both wind and solar it can help providing a very environmentally friendly source of power that is also more reliable than just wind or solar alone.

      And in regards to solar panels, concentrated solar is likely a solution to the problem of solar panels being very energy intensive to make and also quite contaminating. All though, recycling efforts partly stems the problem.

      1. Well, I think some distribution is good for solar. Some businesses/ individuals really have an interest in having backup power. I don’t quite understand why solar thermal isn’t more common because heating water is somewhere around 35% of a standard household’s usage. Solar concentrators operate on thermal rather than p-n junctions, so that does avoid a lot of the chemicals and processes of silicon.
        Solar panels will always fit certain scenarios far better than anything else, but I’m not sure every rooftop needs them.

        1. > I don’t quite understand why solar thermal isn’t more common

          It doesn’t have a “virtual battery” that can be used to patch up the intermittency. If you don’t have the sun for a couple days, you don’t get a hot shower. You have to build an actual battery to store the energy through the seasons, like in Drake Landing. It’s not particularly costly, but it’s still not something you can do on your own, and all the money in the renewable energy is being poured on PV and wind so solar thermal gets no love.

          1. You really don’t need a thermal store – if you can take a few degrees of chill off (which will be true even on cold but sunny days) you are saving huge amounts of whatever other heat source you use. Making it well worth the effort.

            You also can easily store heat, water has a great thermal mass, so all you need is a relatively insulated container to put it in (or any other thermal mass to play heat-exchanger with your water), and on the n’th day with no real sun your showers will be cooler but still not cold, then days after that with no sun its finally not warm enough.. Trying to store it all isn’t going to be practical for most people, as you will need large volumes of water (or other thermal mass) to stay warm enough for say a reasonable 3 days without adequate sun, and then a large area of solar to reheat it quick enough (to deal with multiple bad days you will need x days reserve that recharges in much much less than that – probably 10x faster for that one good day of sun getting you 5ish full days of stored heat) – Though PV solar backed with water actually really works well improving the PV’s electric output and getting you free hot water…

          2. Are you talking large installation or home use? I’ve only seen residential systems being hybridized with gas water heaters, and actually they sometimes do have a separate water heater being used for thermal storage.
            Large scale systems have a bit of thermal capacitance in sheer volume of ‘working fluids’, enough to keep generating well into the night.
            I agree PV and wind are the darlings of renewable energy funding. Bummer because I feel like thermal projects strike a nice balance between install/operating costs and energy output.

          3. I see thermal collectors in houses built with gas, oil, pellet or wood operated furnaces, where they are used to top off the boiler when it’s sunny enough. The trouble is, it is often not sunny enough, especially in the winter, and running the heat transfer liquid through the boiler and the panels would lose more energy than gain (turns it into a radiator).

            So these houses end up saving something like 10-20% fuel, but they’re still dependent on some combustible fuel for the heat. Wood and pellets become a problem if everybody uses them, because of supply and air pollution issues, and gas is a fossil fuel.

      2. >Though, waste water treatment plants currently put out the equivalent of 4% of the world’s energy needs worth of methane straight into the atmosphere.

        I don’t think so. That would be a terrific amount and it would have a greater climate impact than all the CO2 output of all energy production. That’s not on a scale that would just go “oops, didn’t notice” by the IPCC so we would be hearing about it a lot.

        1. In the UK we use the methane from sewage plants to generate electricity which powers the plant, and feeds the excess into the grid. So we can eat as many beans as we like! It’s wa win-win because the plant operating costs are lower. I’m surprised this isn’t used in the US where cost is king.

          1. That’s about what it does. I read a Swedish study that if all the toilet waste of the entire nation was turned into biogas, it could supply fuel to about 10,000 cars. There are 6.3 million cars in Sweden, so not a whole lot.

            If you want to make biogas, landfills for solid wastes produce a lot more of it, or biogas digesters that process agricultural and forestry waste. Sewage doesn’t have a whole lot of energy left in it, because it’s mostly already digested food.

            This might be different in places where garbage disposal units are more common, and food scraps get washed down the sink in greater amounts. Elsewhere they’re put in the bin.

    2. “Natural gas” is called “natural'”, because it’s naturally dumb to use it as a source of energy.

      Come on, guys. The 1960s are long gone. No need to still whine over these never built nuclear propelled cars, no need to still whine over these vanishing and smelling liquids some still pour into their cars.

      It’s 2020 now. And we’re all ingenious enough to get our life continuing with those sources of energy which never run out for the next 100 million years. Photovoltaics it so much easier that it’s pretty funny to watch those trying to gain energy in much more complicated way with pistons, gearboxes, burners, whatever quirky ideas these guys come up with.

      1. Help me understand then why PV keeps having little surges of interest and then vanishing. PV companies have been the neighborhood bicycles of the oil industry for over half a century. I really wanted to believe the big, mean oil barons just wanted to stifle green energy, but the truth is that it’s an economical bear. Shell really believes in PV, enough to buy into it repeatedly despite its history. However, nobody in the industry seems to be able to turn a profit due to “shitty future outlook” generally. Normally, when something is costly to produce for whatever reason, the end cost goes up to compensate. The market then determines whether the cost is worth having the product. In PV, there’s been a mean push to get final cost under a dollar per watt. Is that where the market needed it to be for ROI? Did govt subsidies somehow bring that? I don’t know, but I know that the market wants a price that is unsustainable for manufacturers. I think growing the ingots is where the budget tanks, but that’s just my opinion.
        A good number of power plants use natural gas, and thanks to living things generating poop (and useable heat), it’s not finite. It’s still a combustible, but it’s the less offensive combustible, is all.

    1. Any radio amateur will tell you of the delights of using HF in an off grid house… noise floors so low you wonder if the radio is even on.
      If you pick up a copy of RadCom you’ll see that most of the noise comes from nasty plasma TVs, cheap low voltage light power supplies and other small SMPS devices and cheap appliances with inadequate filtering.

      1. the noise floor round my way jumped significantly when the council installed LED streetlamps. I assume they have the cheapest possible SMPS modules in them.

        The noise floor was already quite high at times due to a neighbour with DIY solar install. I’m hoping to move somewhere without the noise here, but that’s hard to predict

      2. Here in Sweden, people has been forced to tear down their solar installments due to causing RFI that interferes with Air traffic control and military intrests.
        Not to mention all the Ham’s that can’t use their radios due to neighbours with solar panels.

        An off grid cabin with battery storage and no inverters can be quiet, if it has a good charge controller, and of course during the dark hours

  4. “The other issue is that solar cells have a life expectancy of about 25 years before they start dropping off in efficiency, which means that time is running out for all the panels that were installed during the early 2000s boom.”

    Um… no? Solar panel efficiency is basically a constant drop over time. Obviously there are also point failures that lead to catastrophic drops (or weird nonlinear effects), but the overall “constant” drop in efficiency is typically pretty low – around ~0.5%/year. Industry normally quotes 1%/year but that’s because of the influence of a long tail from failures that get replaced (and thus bias the statistics) – if you just look at 20-year installations for panels, it’s a median of ~0.5%/yr, meaning a typical drop of 10%.

    In other words, even 20+ year installations still have useful life at the end – I’d actually imagine a significant resale market would exist.

      1. If the panels are interchangeable (same size/mounts/etc.), at some point (if the resale market’s strong enough) it will make sense to just swap out the panels and replace them with new ones.

        What I’m *really* curious about is how much of the long-term degradation is irreversible. Discoloration of the clear covering above the panel can be fixed, for instance.

    1. A large part of the ‘problem’ panels are due to terrible charge controllers (or just a poor charging program, yes you can program your own on some models) this makes the little indicator say that the batts are not charging when in fact it’s likely the power curve from the charger is poor, and/or the battery bank is poorly balanced/maintained. There is a pretty steep learning curve for how to properly engineer, install, and maintain a solid solar system. You don’t get really any of that from an installer or ‘tech’ who literally relies on how many systems they can sell vs. a proper diagnosis and repair of an existing system. You’d be hard pressed for me to buy a commercially sold setup due to the inefficiencies built right into them from the start.

      Having said that, we still need to regulate the proper recycling of almost every toxic load of bullcrap we build with planed obsolescence as the primary goal or feature.

      I’d buy a used solar panel at the right price any day of the week, of course i’d still like to verify the output of each panel ahead of time.

      some people have a better grasp than others. I have used a few of the techniques Bob has listed. I brought back 2 monster sized lead acid batteries from the dead using a tiny solar panel and the recommended voltage. They went from very dead (only a few v) to enough to fire up a monster diesel engine and hold a reasonable voltage. They weren’t like brand new, but that’s better than the 300 dollars it would have cost to replace them.

      Anyway. my 2 cents: Buyer beware.

      an example of a programmable controller with a good rep:

    2. Reading spec sheets is an art form that most aren’t accustomed to.

      Solar cells tends to last quite long. Degradation is a thing, partly heat accelerated, but in general not super fast.

      It is a bit like super caps.
      One can read, “5000 hours MTBF @ 65C” and think that sounds awful compared to “10000 hours MTBF @ 85C” that is far more common for electrolytic caps. But “Failure” is relative, typically for electrolytic capacitors it just means an increase of ESR by 2-5x, similar for super caps. For some applications, that is indeed a failure since the component can’t do its job. But for other applications it might not matter in the slightest. ie, one can look at it as ,”x hours average till it leaves spec.” Though, catastrophic failure is usually leaving spec. Unless it is a fuse, since they have a spec for that too.

      The failure modes needs to be taken into consideration.

      In regards to the second hand solar cell market, it is already somewhat of a thing. Not the biggest thing though, but will likely grow.

      1. Yeah, I’d really rather manufacturers just put in a typical aging curve rather than some bullcrap MTBF. It’s a royal pain in the neck to have to search for academic studies and extrapolate, and in *many* cases I’ve actually *completely avoided* components where I don’t have a good idea as to its aging behavior. Bit different when you’re building something you hope lasts 20 years.

        1. A lot of datasheets tends to include some more aging related information than just the MTBF.

          The MTBF value is usually for normal operating conditions at specified temperature, and for how long it can do that on average.

          But different manufacturers goes into varying amounts of detail in regards to aging, and yes, some manufacturers have really lack luster specifications and sometimes just hides behind the MTBF as their only specification of long term reliability….

      2. It’s common knowledge that power output decreases at higher temperatures…. what I don’t get is why they pack they panels next to each other, why not space them, perhaps a foot apart? Air circulation will help cool them off. I surely wouldn’t wanna be the panel at the top row. I built a 16V 50W panel 10 yrs ago, before installing the cells, bolted many aluminum U channels to the backside, heatsink compound too. Still runs great all year long

    3. The efficiency loss isn’t the only thing. There is an increasing probability that the panel will simply fail after some years due to:

      -thermal stresses on parts (busbar solder point failure, cell fracture, frame fracture)
      -water/moisture ingress
      -hot spots in weakly performing cells
      -storm/hail damage

      Many of these are the causes of others, so when eg. a hail hits the frame, it cracks the glass, which lets water in, which weakens one cell, which develops a hot spot, which quickly degrades the panel. Or, if a bird poops on the panels, it makes a shaded cell, which makes a hot spot, which eventually cracks the glass, which lets moisture in…

      The 0.5% efficiency loss is just for panels that survive intact through the years and only experience faults like yellowing of the anti-reflective coating. The actual condition and environment of the panels is almost always anything but ideal, and they’re all running with some damage that accumulates over the years and gradually increases the rate of efficiency loss. This isn’t just “baseball through the panel” type of injury that puts the panel out in one go, but the general wear and tear on them that means you’ll eventually have to replace the whole set.

      1. While you are quite correct there are many panels that will be ‘failed’ through physical harm over years that same harm can happen in short order to any other even NEW power source too. All it takes for your ICE to fail similarly is dirty fuel, oil, that one faulty component that causes knock on damage to everything else, and that can happen on day one, or 50 years on..

        So this isn’t a unique to solar issue at all – infact they are rather more durable than anything else I can think of, needing nothing but the occasional clean to keep functioning if they avoid taking that sledge hammer of physical damage for decades. Nothing else can claim that, ICE will run through sparkplugs, belts/pulleys, coils, the never ending stream of fresh oil needed in that time..
        Some types of Nuclear reactor can claim similar levels of maintance to solar, but not exactly easy to produce said reactor and they have a very definite end date when too many halflives have passed to produce enough. Solar cells however avoiding damage should be good as near to infinitely as makes little difference – the degradation of even the most primitive old cells shows they still work and that degradation drops to nearly nothing as the panel starts to get really old, with new panel technologies looking like they will level off much closer to the peak performance (can’t really know how they will do until the time has passed, but the best data I’ve seen so far points to 80% being conservative estimate) – so oversize to the required load and it COULD still be working hundreds of years on. Wouldn’t bet on it though, as you point out lots of things can go wrong, and will be expected to do so…

        1. Yes, but the point is that the real average lifespan isn’t just a matter of some theoretical aging curve that is constant over time, because the panels are subjected to the environment. They get blasted by the sun, rain, winds, dust, birds, leaves, hail, baseballs… and every year out in the field makes them degrade slightly faster.

          This means you are not likely to see a steady but slight efficiency drop well over 25 years, but an accelerating loss of function after some time, typically 25 years. It’s like a car – works fine for a time, but then it all stars to break down, bit by bit, one part after another, and it becomes cheaper to replace the whole thing at once.

          Which brings us to the point in the article: at some point we’ll be seeing loads and loads of dumped old panels.

          1. Like how we see tons and tons of dumped cars. Only the panels didn’t also fill the air with carbon while “useful.” I get that the point should be that we not whitewash solar. Fine, I’m ok with looking the truth dead on. Let’s not pretend that solar’s dirty parts somehow justify oil’s dirty whole. Solar is and will be better than oil on whole. Our planet doesn’t care what we use. We care. We’re the ones who want to stick around. Everything else will be fine if we all kill ourselves off. Let’s attempt to move forward in a cleaner manner until we accomplish that goal. Let’s not attempt to make ourselves feel better about our mistakes, especially to the point that we start denying them.

          2. Even in an all solar society, solar panels will make up insignificant fraction of human waste? Just like in that same society solar panels will make up an insignificant fraction of land use? Hmm.. seems like we lack perspective

          3. >Only the panels didn’t also fill the air with carbon while “useful.”

            Did I already mention the part where reducing silicon out of quartz involves a carbon shift reaction that produces CO2?

          4. >Like how we see tons and tons of dumped cars.

            We had that, until we started crushing them into cubes and sending them back to the smelters. Nowadays it’s becoming a problem again because the cars are made with composite panels and contain so many components that can’t be recycled, that they’re simply shredded and dumped.

          5. “This means you are not likely to see a steady but slight efficiency drop well over 25 years, but an accelerating loss of function after some time, typically 25 years.”

            I’ve got well over 1000 data points that suggests you’re wrong: one of the experiments I work on has in-the-field panels that have been continually operating over the past 20 years, and the *vast* majority of them see a steady but slight efficiency drop and nothing else. True failure’s extremely small. Most common failures are “some guy stole it.” Batteries are the constant replacement problem.

            If your home installation consists of a small number of panels, the chance of an actual true failure outside of the warranty from the manufacturer but before 25+ years is way, way smaller than “likely” (which would be over 50%).

          6. > and the *vast* majority of them see a steady but slight efficiency drop and nothing else.

            Of course they would, because their enclosures are still intact, they haven’t developed cracks or de-lamination, their connections haven’t corroded through… etc.

            An example: my car was fine when it was 20 years old. It was fine when it was 22, 24… then when it hit 26 reality started to creep in and all the wire rot, hardening rubber, wear on the joints, etc. started finally have an effect and things started breaking up – all at once. It became a whack-a-mole game of fighting the general decay where you fix one problem and find two others. The same thing happens with solar panels eventually

            It’s the deacon’s masterpiece – a machine designed so well that no part is weaker than another. It famously lasted a hundred years and day, then fell into dust.

          7. Point being, things generally work “fine” until they don’t.

            A simple thing like a silicon rubber seal around the perimeter of the panel can take 25 years to finally peel off all the way through, and THEN it lets in moisture that quickly degrades the panel.

        2. Yeah, but I don’t know where you live, but we don’t have birds pooping in our petrol tanks.
          Preventing contamination etc is a solved problem for other technologies from coal to nuclear. Solar still has big problems with keeping panels clean and running smoothly. Not that it can’t be done, but maintenance on the top of your roof is beyond most homeowners, for good reasons.

          1. It really isn’t that bad, the panels get hot enough in the sun most dirt crisps up and flakes off quickly or washes off with the first rain. And even when it doesn’t cleaning from the end of a long stick isn’t that bad. Also if you live in areas with deciduous tree you have to have somebody in or clean out the gutters yourself yearly anyway, this need be no more than that, keep an eye on them and call in the cleaner with their cherry picker when needed (so far we have noticed bird dirt on our panel less than once a year).

            Also not sure I’d call fuel contamination ‘solved’ lots of places round the world the fuel is garbage, and even when its not leave it in the tank too long and it can turn into it – which is why you have fuel filters and have to replace them fairly often. Everything has some maintenance.

    4. A large majority of solar panels will still be in use with an 80 percent power output up to 50+ years. It’s true that power plants will want new more efficient panels but someone will want to use the older ones for a long time. I have used panels on my house that are working nicely.

  5. The degradation over 25 years, at least on the LG panels on my house is guaranteed to be less than 83%, according to the documentation I should expect about 0.6% loss per year and I would assume that rate would continue after the 25 year point.

    I wish my other silicon based electronics would last that long or degrade that gracefully. :)

    There still needs to be some kind of planned end of life procedure, however this ‘dark side’ is the same for all tech energy tech, you seem to get to choose between hard(And damaging) to make/recycle but clean during use, or cheap/clean to build and nasty during use. Now that the prices are coming down and the uptake and proof of value is there, focus can shift from ‘cheap’ to ‘clean’ by slowing down the price drop and using the difference that to improve the process.

    1. A large amount of chips lasts a lot better than solar cells to be fair.

      Solar cells tends to be rather irradiated over the years, this slowly eats into their performance as the PN junction degrades.

      Same goes for practically all semiconductors. But most chips aren’t exposed to UV sources like solar panels are. So tend to last a fair bit better.

      Though, a lot of high power density chips using copper interconnects tends to last 10-20 years before the copper has diffussed through the diffusion barriers. (A diffusion barrier only slows the rate of diffusion, it doesn’t stop it.) And copper is literal poison as far as semiconductors are concerned, it simply diffuses into the transistors, and gradually turn them into conductors. For a CPU or GPU or other computing device with a life of 5-10 years, then this isn’t a major problem.

      (Also rate of diffusion is proportional to temperature, which is why server processors intended to run 24/7 year round tends to have a TJ max of 55-75 C, while consumer/workstation processors intended to not run 24/7 year round tends to have a TJ max of 85-95 C, since they aren’t expected to be used that harshly.)

      And chips that doesn’t have copper interconnects can still have copper leach its way up from the PCB itself, or heat sinks, or from thermal past containing silver (silver is also poison for semiconductors IIRC). So the chip will likely stop working at some point due to contamination leaching into it. But that can be many decades down the line.

  6. According to the US EPA, a person in the US generates 4.9 lbs of trash a day. That’s 1788 lbs a year per person -almost a full ton. That’s over 287 million tons of regular trash generated a year in just America. According the the article, by 2050 IREA says there will be 6 million tons of solar e-waste generated a day.

    If the article is strictly talking global numbers and the 6 million tons of e-waste is spread over the predicted 9.6 Billion people globally, well that solar e-waste amounts to less than a drop in the bucket of human generated waste.

    I am all for nukes, but making solar the bad guy is disingenuous at best.

    1. I have to agree with ill13x — The US alone mines around 700 MILLION metric tons of coal/year, and that accounts for only 9.1% of world production (source:,production%20data%20from%20BP%202018).), so figure world production comes to around 7 BILLION metric tons/year. Almost ALL of that coal is burned. 6 MILLION metric tons/year is less than one-tenth of one percent of what we generate by using coal. This doesn’t even account for the damage done by CO2 emissions.

      Yes, anything we manufacture generates waste. The idea is to manufacture things that reduce total waste in the long run.

      1. And solar cells are pretty much just rocks as far as waste is concerned, given enough time they will be gone, but for the very long time they will hang around they don’t cause much if any trouble..

        Unlike the heaps of batteries and other really toxic things people are throwing out daily… Its all about scale and harm caused. Solar cells as waste won’t amount to a huge scale any time soon or cause much harm… Making them way better than this article makes them sound – if anything Wind is the renewable with the dirtiest secret – all those turbine blades that are being thrown out because its so easy and cheap to put bigger more profitable turbines in place of one with heaps of life left in it. And even then the composites can be burned, the metals recycled – its wasteful but manageable if you put the effort in, and probably worth it overall as the newer bigger turbines work in greater range of winds and produce more power…

  7. “Unfortunately, there are hardly any measures in place to recycle solar panels, at least in the US.”

    eBay. If you don’t know by now… ;)

    Also, @ J Cook: yes, if you can deal with the waste output, or figure out how to fusion without making a really big kaboom every 5sec… or, for that matter, a Doc Oc lol.

  8. In terms of e-waste, the only problem with solar cells is all the plastic encapsulation. If there were a solar panel design in which the cells were only held in place mechanically, the cells could be replaced at end-of-life, and it would be fairly trivial to recycle the metals and silicon from them.

    Any manufacturing process is going to hurt the workers and the surrounding environment to some degree, that’s just the nature of it. The goal is to pick the tech which does this the least.

  9. It’s important to consider the full environmental impact of any technology before adoption, but I wish this article had gone into a bit more depth on certain things.

    First, all of the things they use to describe solar panel manufacture as “dirty” aren’t unavoidable problems, they’re the result of cost-cutting and skimping on safety by manufacturers in countries that don’t adequately enforce environmental and safety regulations.

    Silicosis from quartz mining and processing can be completely avoided just by giving employees proper respiratory protection and using processes that minimize dust (including wet instead of dry processing, and proper dust collection/ventilation).

    Silicon Tetrachloride is almost completely recyclable in a closed loop within the manufacturing process, provided your plant has purchased the necessary equipment. Note that the article detailing the dumping of silicon tetrachloride is from 2008 and China has since mandated that plants install recycling equipment (whether they are actually enforcing this is a concern).

    Also note that while dumping silicon tetrachloride is *obviously bad*, aside from acidifying soil and causing a short-term inhalation hazard, it poses no other long-term environmental damage – in fact, the HCl it produces is used by people *deliberately* and relatively safely to adjust soil and water Ph in situations where the soil/water is too basic.

    The electrical energy used to produce solar panels does have a substantial environmental cost, but the average solar panel produces an equivalent amount of energy within 2 years – so with a service life of 20+ years, this is an easy net gain.

    Referring to this manufacturing as “dirty” isn’t technically wrong, but claiming it’s on the same level as crude oil or even natural gas extraction and refining is ridiculous. Even Other “green” processes, like lithium battery manufacture, or even wind turbine manufacture, are much dirtier and more worrisome.

    Finally, with regards to recycling of panels, which the article paints as a necessity, the elephant in the room isn’t addressed – what is the actual environmental impact of recycling panels vs disposing of them? The vast bulk of the panel is made of components that are neither rare nor toxic (the silicon, glass, and aluminum frame). The aluminum frame is easy, profitable, and probably environmentally beneficial to recycle, but the rest of it may not be. In contrast, although there are concerns about heavy metals (lead, cadmium) leaching out of solar panels in a landfill, modern panels are heading toward phasing out the use of those toxic chemicals, and I’m not aware of any attempts to quantify how big a risk this actually is. Shipping panels off to a specialty recycling facility may make sense in some locations but not in others – the fuel burned for transport is not insignificant.

    This type of recycling is also in its infancy and may become more viable over time, so I’m certainly not arguing it’s not worthwhile, just that if you’re going to worry about the manufacturing process of the panels so much, you can’t ignore the rest of the lifecycle!

    I also wonder if the death of panels after 20-25 years may be greatly exaggerated – very few modern panels have reached that point in their life, and, although it’s only one data point, I’m personally dealing with a lot of panels in their mid to late 20’s and they’re still chugging along at 95-100% of their original rated specs.

    In fact, I bet the best environmental solution to deal with old panels *now* is to keep using them as they slowly decline – if necessary, moving them somewhere that space and efficiency are at less of a premium.

    1. >China has since mandated that plants install recycling equipment

      Though it doesn’t control whether it is actually used. Many of the dumping cases are because the plant has recycling equipment but they are overwhelmed by the production volumes, or they are simply out of use, or un-used entirely, because dumping the waste is still cheaper and they’re trying to cut cost to maintain market dominance.

      A lot of what China does looks good on paper, but the reality is something completely different. When they say recycling equipment is now mandatory, it means just that – and only that. It doesn’t mean the dumping is stopped.

      1. Really? can you show some numbers for the cost to relocate them? Have you tried shipping something to those “empty spaces”. Answer me this what is the cost to ship a 60″x24″x3″ package weighing 15lb from CA, to DE?

        1. In what measure – use a normal ICE powered AUSSIE style road train loaded to capacity and the cost in carbon is bugger all compared to output of the panels.

          And financially it really doesn’t matter what it costs – lets say it costs $1B to ship out enough to really create a big discard solar power station, pay a guy to drive round cleaning them off, and sell all the electric generated.. That personnel cost is going to be basically irrelevant its at most a few humans being paid compared to the heaps such a massive installation would be bringing in from selling its output, so just go time to payback (using current best guess type approximations) as a brand new solar set up pays for itself in a handful of years (in my case looks like it might be less than 2, but figure 5 to be safe) N.B. That’s cost of cells and shipping to you. These second hand ones are perhaps only 80% of stock performance, but you only have to pay shipping – so its going to be way less than that 3-5 years, probably with how expensive a new panel is vs its shipping cost to me here more like 1 month… – its all pure profit!

    2. Do note that all that corner-cutting and cheating is the reason why solar panels are cheap enough to have.

      It is part and parcel of the whole problem. 80% of solar panels come from countries that don’t give a hoot about environmental regulations or labor rights as long as it brings in money. The other 20% is first world countries desperately trying to keep up their own industries by paying unsustainable price subsidies for the technology.

      1. Not entirely true, as the ‘best’ panels don’t come from those nations, and while more expensive its not that stupid of an increase. A very valid point though, until the richer nations of the world either make everything for themselves, or at least cease buying from the sweatshops of the world until after they clean up their acts…

        1. Not the best, but the cheapest. China is dumping on the market to keep their dominance.

          With the solar subsidy boom, most of the money goes to the imports because that’s where the profit is – in the margins. If you can get a panel one dollar cheaper shipped in than made locally, that’s a dollar for you – and that’s all the industry is about. It’s not for making energy in a sustainable way, but farming the government for cash. The subsidy structure is made to benefit big industry operators, investors and importers. Every country that subsidizes solar power has seen their industry escape to China exactly because it enables them to take tax money, but not pay tax money, thus pocketing the difference.

          You get what you pay for.

        1. Facts:

          China is the largest producer, and the worst offender in terms of using coal to power factories making PV cells, dumping toxic chemicals instead of recycling them for cost reasons, and letting ozone-layer destroying solvents escape the processes:

          Carbon tetrachloride solvent is banned elsewhere, factories in China are still producing it illegally and mixing it in with industrial solvents that are destined for semiconductor fabs and solar panel manufacturing where it is used for washing silicon wafers.

  10. “The other 90% get shipped to countries without mandates for reuse, or end up in landfills, leaching lead and other toxic chemicals into the Earth.”
    Lead? where would that be coming from? if the solder is lead-free, and otherwise ROHS there shouldn’t be anything too bad in there… (not saying there isn’t aluminum and other things that should probably be recycled)

    Also Veolia isn’t a recycling plant, it’s a very big company that manages most of the trash collection and management throughout France but also energy production, water treatment, cleaning, private security… they also kinda smell rotten…

    1. >Lead? where would that be coming from?

      The RoHS directive does not apply to, “photovoltaic panels intended to be used in a system that is designed, assembled and installed by professionals for permanent use at a defined location to produce energy from solar light for public, commercial, industrial and residential applications.”

      1. Which kinda makes sense because leaded solder is still the only stuff that’s guaranteed to take large variations in temperature without developing tin pest, and has a total suppression of tin whiskers. If you want to make something that is guaranteed to last 30-40 years, you need to use lead.

  11. “Mining quartz for silicon causes the lung disease silicosis, and the production of solar cells uses a lot of energy, water, and toxic chemicals.”

    I’ve also read that the production of lithium batteries is equally dangerous and toxic.

    So, clean energy is not so clean after all. At least it isn’t spewing smoke into the air the whole time it is in operation…

    Let’s face it: the production of energy will be a dirty process no matter how we do it.

  12. “If replacement begins after 25 years, time is running out for all the panels that were installed during the early 2000s boom.”

    Aside from the other comments, I think there’s some misconception that other types of power generation *don’t* degrade over time – coal/gas/MSW fueled boiler replacements, steam and water turbine rebuilds, nuclear fuel rod exchange, hydroelectric dam site silt drainage etc. etc. are all part of any power generation scheme. If replacing a solar field sounds daunting, have a look at building-sized boiler rebuilds or pulling a turbine spool out of the Hoover Dam.

    The difference is that most of these installation-scale factors are anticipated/planned for, whereas solar cells seem to have as much long term planning as a set of storm windows (“Yeah, hook em up … they’re fine – if they give out, we’ll swap in new ones”). Local solar fields have been a string of comedies – the first one was overgrown with foliage within months (now fixed) and the second is inexplicably angled west rather than south. I’m sure a distinguished committee came up with that one.

    If cells degrade to the point of economic unsuitability in any sort of quantity my guess is that they could be recycled along with container glass, or may create their own industry of applications where an 80% (or 50%) efficient cell looks dandy at the right price.

    1. West – South West is good in most places that have a grid that peaks due to residential AC load, which is most grids to my understanding. Solar kWhs are so cheap that the incentives to optimize orientation to maximize kWhs is not that strong. Its better to make those kWhs at the best possible time. The alternative is to fire up low efficiency, relatively high emissions and high operating cost natural gas peaker plants. Of course most solar installs are optimized for net annual kWhs due to split incentives and broken energy markets.

    1. In Massachusetts it is far far cheaper to erect solar panels than it is to build a new power plant, thus you see then all over in cornfields and roadsides and cloverleaf intersections.

    2. You can invalidate this claim by buying equipment right now off the internet, refusing all subsidies, and still generate kWhs for cheaper than regular retail electricity rates anywhere on earth…

  13. My parents place has been off grid on solar for >20 years now. The first bank of lead acid batteries finally bit the dust at year 22, so they needed to be replaced. At the same time they upgraded the solar panels, as they could easily fit 4x the generating capacity in the same physical space. The new batteries were about half the capacity of the old ones, but could easily cope with the much higher charging rate.

    I took the old panels, and up until the 2020 bush fires they had been working fine. During testing the peak output I saw was within 3% of the rated output for the panel (into an “ideal” load).

    Is there anybody on here who actively monitors their solar system and can advise if they are seeing 0.5% / year decrease in output into the grid not attributable to other factors?

    1. Fraunhofer ISE, a German research institution, supports this:

      “Wafer-based PV modules age so slowly that detecting any output losses poses a challenge to scientists. A study by Fraunhofer ISE of 44 larger, quality-tested rooftop systems in Germany has shown an average annual degradation of the nominal output of about 0.15%.”, page 43 bottom.

    2. Solar has it’s place, it’s just the constant assertion that it is the universal answer that is annoying. How much did the system cost? how much power has it produced? Cost/kWhr? where is it located? Is it cheaper than 0.07/kWhr? (that’s what i pay)

  14. Seriously? This is an incredible beat up!

    Most panels are basically silicon and glass and you do dont get much safer than that.

    Silicosis ?- This IS a major risk but has nothing much to do with solar panels. In Australia common causes include COAL mining and grinding granite kitchen benches. Solar power doesnt even figure.
    Hydrochloric Acid in the environment – neutralised in no time leaving perhaps the equivalent of a bit of table salt. No long term effects here.
    Boron – Used as ant bait (this is a bigger problem than solar panels I think). No much boron needed for doping.
    Phosphorus – Used by the tonn in superphosphate, present in bones … I could go on (and on).

    Some of the thin film (non-silicon) panels do have more significant amounts of toxic metals like Cadmium telluride.

    Still makes you think this was also brought to us by the people who brought us cigarette advertising.

    1. Agree – the article we need is one comparing real-world whole-lifecycle emissions / costs per kWh generated for all power sources.

      I also think a device that’s largely glass and metal (how much boron is in a panel, 1%?) is pretty friendly compared to the huge non-recyclable composite wind turbine blades or all the contaminated cr*p that comes out the back of regular power stations.

  15. No one wants to look at , or even R&D the potential energy within ocean waves. Kinda sad.
    This area is where smart dudes should be looking. And Im not talking about the useless trials done in the 1980’s. We’ve progressed a bit since then.

  16. Seriously? SiO2 is not difficult to recycle, and 78mmt by 2050 is a joke. What a straw man. Sure it’s 78 mmt of Si waste, but it has an opportunity cost which is replacing more than 100mmt of coal waste per YEAR This doesn’t include the 973 mmt of CO2 coal emits per year. Get bent poor use of big math.

    1. Yeah, this is a really weak article. It presents the issues the US has with regulating waste and projects that unto the solar industry. None of this couldn’t be solved with legislation, and even if it isn’t solved solar is still cleaner than any fossil fuel.

  17. For such a tech-savvy bunch of readers, I sure saw a lot of empty arguments.

    Following any of the geopolitical commentators who are knowledgeable about energy, such as Mark Mills or Peter Zeihan, would expose numerous problems with the solar energy that need to be overcome before it can be really effective. Heck, Mark Mills claims that all alternative energy sources will never replace more than 10-12% of our oil needs. (I love it when people make predictions like that; someone out there is working on a solution to prove them wrong right now.) Fracking went from being an environmentally hazardous concept to being one of the most incredibly environmentally responsible energy production sources in only about 10 years.

    The problem with solar energy is everything that was said in the article. There are limited spaces where sunlight is effective at producing power, solar panels degrade too rapidly (improvement target), solar panels don’t recycle well (improvement target), solar panels aren’t cost-effective to manufacture yet (improvement target), solar panels need massive energy storage systems for when the sun doesn’t shine (and those are a whole different category of improvement targets!), and solar power needs massive distribution infrastructure. So, solar power should be used where it is most efficiently produced and used, and we tech types should keep working to overcome the current limitations. TANSTAAFL.

    1. There are so many willfully ignorant, un-educable people who flat out refuse to understand the fact that fracking to improve the output of oil wells is a very old technology. IIRC started not long after WW2.

      It’s also done below layers of impermeable rock, never at depths where drinking water wells are, so the water and chemicals pumped down the wells can’t get into the drinking water.

      The places where people get enough methane out of their faucets to light on fire? That’s natural, there are records and reports of it long before any oil or gas wells were drilled in those places. There are also places where water has stuff in it like sulfur, excessive amounts of soluble minerals, and/or other naturally occurring stuff one doesn’t want in water. Remember that closed mine the EPA stupidly drilled into and unleashed a spew of contaminated water into a river? All of that stuff in the water was naturally in the rocks. The mine shafts provided a place for water from rain to leach and wash it to. All that was slowly going into the river even before the mine was dug.

      Groundwater can do some weird stuff. Where a friend used to live, their water had so much sulfur in it, it could easily be smelled. They had to install a special multi stage filter to make their water fit for drinking and cooking. Then suddenly, in the space of a single day, it quit. There was no more sulfur coming out of their well the rest of the years they lived there.

    2. If you are going to make such claims, you should make sure that they at least stand up to even a casual thought, like this one : “and solar power needs massive distribution infrastructure”.

      So dotting a few large power stations (hydro/coal/gas/nuclear) in locations that are generally near the resouces they need and not near the consumers of the power they produce does not require “massive distribution infrastructure”.

      Somebody may have believed your arguments if they weren’t riddled with statements like this.

      1. The average distance from generator to consumer in the US is less than 200 miles. Solar power (or wind) needs to be transmitted all the way from coast to coast (supergrid concept) to level off a large part of the variations, and yet this is still just leveling off the differences on average to make the renewables act like they were baseload stations. You still need local load following on top of that.

        In the European Union, the transmission grid for leveling off variations would need to extend from Norway to North Africa. Literally, there are plans to “neo-colonize” northern Africa and parts of the near east for solar power.

        1. The difficulty being of course, that you start to have 10-20% losses over such vast distances using conventional AC transmission technology, so the supergrid concepts rely on extensive construction of HVDC and superconducting DC links between large distribution hubs, which are effectively the same as “a few large power stations not near the consumers of power”.

          The reason for this is that solar and wind don’t act like a bunch of local random number generators, but instead everyone on the same time zone gets sun at the same time (duh) so everyone in a thousand mile radius is producing power and nobody’s consuming. Obviously you have to transmit the power out of state, many states over, to find consumers for your surplus, and that requires upgrading the interstate grid infrastructure.

          Same with the wind: on average you have to go 600 miles out before the output of two generators stop correlating with each other, because weather patterns are very large indeed.

          1. 10% losses don’t really matter. Only simply adds another 10% solar panels, problem solved.

            The really nice thing about solar is, there is no fuel bill. It’s investment only, then it runs for free.

          2. >adds another 10% solar panels, problem solved.

            On then simply pays billions or trillions more money. Problem solved.

            The cost of energy has an exponential effect on the cost of everything, because it sits at the bottom of the production chain that multiplies the 10% difference into something much greater when it comes to the price of bread in the supermarket.

            > investment only, then it runs for free.

            Plus maintenance and upkeep. It’s never “free” because you have to pay back the investment, too.

    3. Not to claim that everybody else is retarded, but here in Germany public electricity demand is fed by ~50% renewable sources already. Actually, 2020 will be the first year passing the 50% mark. And this section is growing, likely 54% next year, 58% in 2022, and so on.

      The only ones fearing this for a reason are the former electricity provider monopolies. Because wind turbines are often owned by the community, solar panels usually by the owner of the house they’re mounted on. Which means, average people depend less and less on these huge, billion-Euro power plants. Solar panel owners use their self-generated electricity for 6 Cent/kWh rather than big company electricity for 30 Cent/kWh. Villages and towns with their own wind turbines do it likewise.

      Accordingly, last nuclear power plants will be turned off 2022, last coal power plants in 2038. Coal likely earlier, because they’re simply no longer competitive, too expensive.

      Only caveat: we still need gas power plants running on methane for nights without wind. Currently they get subsidized for just waiting on standby. That’s what we’ll take care of the next 10 to 20 years, likely with more batteries and generating and storing hydrogen for these gas power plants.

  18. Cheap? Are many thousands of acres of fallow farmland worth nothing? All this Green Happy clean crap is such a joke. The Gallium Arsenide used in production in the plants where it’s cheaper to make these (China) is being dumped into rivers and killing farmland and people.

    I like the idea of Solar, but if not made responsibly please don’t tell me how this energy is GREEN. It is, but only when the manufacturing is closely regulated and then the costs per kilowatt go up and all the sudden it’s not cheap at all.

    Nuclear. We need to embrace it. Gen IV reactors and Molten Salt designs are the way to go. Nothing else has the energy density we need to desalinate water, to provide power to homes, to charge our cars…

    1. There is plenty of unused real estate between the lanes of divided highways and in cloverleaf intersections. Every roof is a candidate for solar panels. Every parking lot can be covered with a solar awning. Space for panels is most certainly not a problem.

      When will humans become smart enough to stop spilling nuclear waste in the river? Just curious…

      1. What exactly is the issue with hydro, both from rivers and tidal. It seems there is a bunch of energy being carried by water every second of the day, 365. Combine that with serious education on waste, perhaps some new industry standards on all things electric. Maybe a serious attempt from start to finish so as to chip away at this issue, and not the usual ‘incentives’ offered by various entities. The goal is simple, create the infrastructure so as not to be much more different than current day amenities based off a reasonable amount of energy used per day. Some who don”t use much, no harm, other who use gobs of electricity, might have to make a little sacrifice, but not cutting into what is required for daily consumption + some for entertainment and such. As much as possible all the time 24/7/365 serves nothing but to feed the beast. I think all areas of life need a little sacrifice to curb the greed bug. Has many good possibilities. The mistake is forcing stuff on people, that will result in resistance, even on good policy. How is hydro not the cleanest source of energy?

        1. What is the issue with hydro? Where have you been? They are tearing down hydro dams in Washington State because they DESTROY the ecosystem. No migrating fish, no habitat for insects, no food for birds, etc. a total disaster for mother nature. But you are blind and don’t care.

      2. But all those panels are short lived and as toxic to the environment as nuclear! Especially in their “cheap” construction.

        When will humans stop turning a blind eye on the real cost of their green dream? I’m all for clean energy, but I demand the definition be more exact. We can control nuclear better now and we’ve got technologies to make it impossible to use the fuel for bombs, and with the density, protecting the reactor site is quite easy.

        If you want to cover roofs with panels, especially parking lots, feel free. But unless you’re sourcing those panels at a responsible manufacturer, and ensuring they are properly disposed of when they get replaced you’re not fixing the problem, you’re adding to it.

        Don’t get me started on the waste all these batteries will add to the landfills and waterways as they are “recycled” by South Asian countries. The world doesn’t look beyond their part when it comes to the clean-up, we assume it’s being handled properly and don’t care that someone is making a buck by doing it wrong and tossing it into the environment instead.

        Going green the wrong way will poison our planet faster than any Chernobyl or Fukushima can. All the while those who don’t bother checking the real cost of their solutions will go “it wasn’t our fault, we wanted green power!!!”

      3. When? as soon as YOU are ready to start paying for it. Show conviction of your beliefs, pay-up! Don’t ask others to pay for your beliefs, build it, and sell power cheaper than dirty energy and the world will beat a path to your door. Oh, but that’s hard work and doesn’t actually work without outside financial help.

    2. The percentage of solar panels that use gallium arsenide is close to zero. As far as I know, the only real market for them is in spacecraft, which is the only place where the much higher cost is justified (because the much higher efficiency reduces the cost of lifting x amount of solar power to space, which is a bigger cost that the item itself).

      1. Methinks he meat Cadmium Telluride.

        CdTe is the closest competitor to silicon panels, and it’s technically cheaper to manufacture all other things being equal, but the Chinese are undercutting prices with silicon panels and keeping it down for the moment. Still, 5% market share.

        1. Cadmium….as in heavy metal….toxic like lead….yes yes IF it’s handled right, IF it’s recycled right, it’s safe. We could just plant more plants and deal with the CO2 issue too…..

          1. No amount of increased planting is going to correct for 100 and more years of burning carbon captured for eons on its own…Even the most fast growing, stable carbon storing plants take significant time to grow.. There is no single fix to the mess we have made…

  19. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern… a virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer on this planet, you are a plague, and we… are the cure. … Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment; but you humans do not. A quote from the philosopher agent Smith

    1. How dare you compare smart viruses to stupid humans, your typical garden variety virus knows exactly much it can take from its host while humans have no such knowledge and will simply draw all the resources and kill everything.

    2. and a virus relates to solar power how???
      Please stop using Hollywood movies to guide your life. the writers are just as dumb as everyone else. PS the movie quote statement is wrong. Mammals…heck all life consumes as much as it can for as long as it can. If the food runs out it starves, THAT is the equilibrium reached.

  20. On the basics of solar panel recycling … the big issue is the mechanical design of the panels, everything is welded or glued, basically a solar panel is nothing more than an alloy frame, a piece of glass, a plastic sheet and solar cells, and can be recycled endlessly. But due to the mechanical design, the only solution is to shred the whole panel and try to sort all the confetti, a very low efficiency process … Here in France, I personally know a company that has tried and succeeded to design ,from the drawing board, a solar panel with recyclability in sight : everything can be disassembled without breaking anything (no encapsulation, laminate or soldering), you can even fix a panel with a defective cell by simply opening it and change cell, improve your panel in the future by changing only the cells to newer / efficient ones.

  21. Things not mentioned in this article:
    1. Solar panels have no known life! This article includes multiple statements alluding to much shorter lifetimes without validation or reason. The 25 years listed in this article as the “lifetime” in the article is the minimum federal warranty period by which the panels must maintain 80% of their rated output or be replaced under that warranty. All panels sold in the US must abide this minimum, some manufacturers offer longer warranties.

    In fact panels built in the 70’s are still functioning, and at a 50+ years life there is no known lifetime limit that’s been identified where even half the panels would be non-functional.

    2. The decline of power percentage listed in this article of 0.5%/year is an average. In fact panels decline slightly more during the initial few years and the decline percentage per year reduces each year in all the panels built up to this point. Anecdotal review of panels from the 70’s still in service show panels still producing as much as 50% of their rated wattage at nearly 50 years later.

    There is no known lifetime! Utility scale panels will likely see a economic lifetime where they are no longer worth maintaining or where replacement is more economic than leaving them but it’s not going to be 25 years, it will likely be closer to 40 years depending on ROIC and opportunity costs for the deployment, not a fixed lifetime as implied in the article.

    3. Solar panels, including mono-crystalline (the most common variant by a very significant margin), CIGS and thin film silicon panels (which are both insignificant in the market) comprise primarily 4 materials, glass, conductors (usually copper), aluminum backing and silicon (CIGS will typically contain polymers instead of aluminum because they are typically roll-to-roll production on polymer sheets, but they are an insignificant portion of the market % wise). None of these are hazardous. There are traces of other metals, but none are heavy or hazardous. In fact, traditional silicon solar panels are generally harmless if piled up and buried. The most common materials are aluminum and glass, both of which are easily recycled.

    The exception to this is Cd-Te panels produced only by first solar in the US. These panels contain Cadmium, a heavy metal that’s more dangerous than lead. These panels are only sold to utility scale solar farms so will be far easier to recycle in mass. They are also thin flim roll-to-roll production so other than the thin film again comprise mostly polymer, glass and aluminum with copper conductor connections.

    This article reads like a paid for hit piece by the fossil fuel industry. Was the author paid to write this or just relied entirely on fossil fuel propaganda for “evidence”? Someone should be ashamed for this article.

  22. Key is to reduce the birth rate.
    Reach a sustainable (and much smaller population).
    That will help cut energy consumption.
    Any cause is a lost cause without population stabilization.

      1. factory farming is a response for the need to produce more food because there are increasing numbers of people to feed. It’s a chicken and egg situation (obviously the chicken in this sentence was a free range chicken) ( I didn’t check where the egg came from )

      2. Require mitigation to institute vertical farms whether natural or domesticated resources to accommodate, harvest an remediate the waste.

        Even requiring biogas harvesting more of the animal waste as being mandatory. Would be a fuel source also. Seems like can make use of underground volumes also for geothermal performance improvements maybe in some situations and not take up more surface area to develop the volume to clean up the waste more.

    1. Why not develop more classical systems for survival requirements production in higher volume using erection and vertical farming structures and methods?

      For example tree farming for more natural resources as high rise walls basically.

      Then advance to domesticated farming systems as high rise walls basically.

      For both examples use a regenerative farming methods and remove the deadly toxic polluting acts and events and entities out of the valid lifecycles to deal with less unhealthy issues and concerns. Then reduce the population of the imminent threats and malicious intent.

  23. Something rarely mentioned enough:

    The Solar Sunflower, a Swiss invention developed by Airlight Energy, Dsolar (a subsidiary of Airlight), and IBM Research in Zurich, uses something called HCPVT to generate electricity and hot water from solar power. HCPVT is a clumsy acronym that stands for “highly efficient concentrated photovoltaic/thermal.” In short, it has reflectors that concentrate the sun—”to about 5,000 suns,” Gianluca Ambrosetti, Airlight’s head of research told me—and then some highly efficient photovoltaic cells that are capable of converting that concentrated solar energy into electricity, without melting in the process. Airlight/Dsolar are behind the Sunflower’s reflectors and superstructure, and the photovoltaics are provided by IBM.

    The two constituent technologies of the Solar Sunflower—concentrated solar thermal power and photovoltaic solar power—are both very well known and understood at this point, and not at all exciting. What’s special about the Sunflower, however, is that it combines both of the technologies together in a novel fashion to attain much higher total efficiency. Bear with me, as this will take a little bit of explaining.

    The reflectors are simply slightly curved, mirrored panels. Airlight has tried a variety of different reflector materials, from glass to mylar, but it looks like they have finally settled on aluminium foil, which isn’t prohibitively expensive and has very high reflectance. Aluminium foil does need additional material to protect it from the elements, though, as it’s very flimsy. The Sunflower has six “petals,” each consisting of six reflectors. At the focal point of the 36 reflectors there are six collectors, one for each block of six reflectors.

    The collectors are where most of the magic occurs. To begin with, each collector has an array of gallium-arsenide (GaAs) photovoltaic cells. GaAs is much more efficient at converting sunlight into electricity (38 percent in this case, versus about 20 percent for silicon), but it’s much, much more expensive. With the Sunflower, though, space is at a premium: the sunlight is only focused on a very small region, so you need to use the absolute best cells available. The GaAs array in each collector only measures a few square centimetres, and yet it can produce about 2 kilowatts of electricity (so, one Sunflower generates about 12kW of electricity in total).

  24. Nuclear is always the best answer. It’s just that no one wants the reactor complex nearby their homes and cities (NIMBY). Everyone forgets that wind and solar are all nuclear energy, but the reactor is 8 light-minutes away. Fossil fuels are nuclear, where the organic matter stored the nuclear energy from the sun as hydrocarbons many millenia ago. Nuclear is nature’s answer, but “Not In My Backyard”

    1. Good morning
      As a Cooperative in South Africa it’s difficult to understand the dynamics around solar effects as no proper education plus physical training is available
      Could their be that we cry for assistance and a possible solution is provided on educational implementation of Solar

  25. RE: using waste to produce methane (e.g. sewage treatment plants). I have a municipal utility sewage treatment facility as a long-time customer (I am a controls system consultant). We have had Bio-Gas Cogeneration in place for about 5 years now at a wastewater plant. We produce electricity with three (3) 240kW generators. The Bio-Gas must be dried, cleaned, and compressed prior to burning. It has approx. 60% methane, so 60% of the energy content of 100% methane natural gas. We are able to cover about 30-50% of the operational power for operating the plant. (this plant handles about 50% of the sewage from a county with about 170,000 people, plus industry).
    Gas production varies with time of year, waste quality, temperature, etc. Normally, we have to purchase natural gas to run the 3rd cogeneration unit (at today’s nat. gas prices, we can make electricity for less that way and save the utility some expense).
    We also capture as much as possible of the hot water from the engines for use in the process, but cannot use it all.
    It makes sense to use what is a waste product, but we cannot even begin to self-sustain the process and also sell electricity. We even use bioaugmentaion to optimize the bacteria and produce more of the BioGas.

    Also, with the large investment and maintenance costs, payback is in the 7-10 yrs. range at today’s cost of energy and money.

    Not an easy process and not an easy solution to our energy needs.

  26. Though when you stretch a single AC transmission line for approximately 4700 miles, it matches the wavelength of 60 Hz in copper and becomes an antenna that radiates a large portion of the power out into ULF radio waves. Significant fractions such as 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 will also do that, so you have to mind not to have an exactly 588 mile long section of wire.

  27. So much focus is put on generating more and more energy. We don’t need it! We waste way too much as it is.

    I use an average of about 2.5kWh per day in my 1500 sqft house. My desktop computer is always on, and I leave the lights on in 2 rooms 24/7. They are LED lights and use 6W per room. My house has no insulation. It is old. Better efficiencies could be had. I also only produce a single 30gal trashbag of waste per year, mostly from poorly packaged (non-recycleable) food items, which I try to avoid. I ride my bike each day to get fresh groceries. I have no need for a car. I work from home (self-employed, not pandemic related), but every single job done on a computer should be a home job.

    The vast majority of electricity usage (over 95% IIRC), is used by giant office buildings and heavy industry.

    A huge amount of energy is wasted driving cars back and forth between offices and homes every single day.

    It’s all so unnecessary and completely avoidable. And I’m not talking a few percentage points or anything here. If you add it up, we’re literally wasting 99.5% or more of the energy we use. Doing it for basically no reason. It’s dumb. We don’t even need a grid. With my energy usage, a single solar panel is sufficient for my entire house.*

    * I live in Los Angeles where it is 75 degrees year round. I use an extra kWh per day during the summer with fans, but that’s about it. If my house had insulation and some shade trees, I probably wouldn’t even need that.

  28. Naturian has a great point. We waste energy everyday. People are always talking about we need “more,more,more” but it’s really about what do you need? How much electricity do you use? Answering these questions will help you understand what’s the best outcome for you.

    However, I see a lot more positives with Solar Panels than I do negative. There will be a day when we will be able to reuse them just like we reuse tires and other items. Patience!

  29. I appreciate Kristina Panos’s thorough analysis of e-waste and solar panel recycling in Europe and the United States.

    I agree that Europe is leading the way when it comes to taking back their panels at the end of life and recycling them, with Britain having a refinery that uses microbes instead of cyanide to break down e-waste and extract precious metals, as well as France being home to Veolia, the world’s only commercial-scale photovoltaic recycling plant.

    However, it is concerning that there are no federal mandates for solar panel recycling in the US, nor do many states have any laws about them – resulting in only 10% being recycled.

    The damage caused by our current disposal and recycling methods is problematic, meaning that the other 90% of panels are either shipped to countries without mandates or end up in landfills, leaching lead and other toxic chemicals into the Earth.

    It’s difficult to compare the damage done by the solar panel manufacturing process to burning fossil fuels for energy – both can cause immense damage. Still, we must focus on finding a global scheme for recycling panels before things get out of hand.

    A great way to reduce our environmental impact from solar panel production would be to start with the source materials – using more sustainable materials like solar cells made from perovskites instead of silicon, which require less energy and resources during production, as well as reducing waste with zero-waste designs.

    Additionally, companies should offer incentives for people to recycle their old panels so that they are more likely to do so without needing an official mandate.

    Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this article and am thankful to Kristina Panos for bringing the issue of solar panel recycling into the spotlight.

    We are all responsible for reducing e-waste and its detrimental environmental effects. It is up to us to ensure future generations don’t suffer because of our mistakes today.

  30. Unfortunately, this article is mostly fiction with a few kernels of truth to give it a flavor of realism. The 78 million tons of waste by 2050 is insignificant when weighed against the ~2,000 million tons of coal ash per year! And end-of-life PV modules aren’t e-waste. Modern modules pass the EPA TCLP leaching tests. Studies on worst case scenarios of disposal in unlined landfills still showed order of magnitude lower exposure risks than EPA requirements – and landfills today, are lined and have leachate collection systems. The toxic risks from PV are vastly overblown. Also, silicon tetrachloride is not a waste product that gets dumped. After the fractional distillation, the silicon gets deposited as high purity polysilicon and the chlorine goes back to the beginning of the process to form silicon tetrachloride from metallurgical silicon. It is a closed loop system. This article is a poorly researched smear attempt.

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