For the upcoming years, solar panels are considered as the source of energy. But the problems created by them have no easy solutions.
What will be the benefits of innumerable solar panels if they stopped working?
The Environment Ministry of Japan announced a warning in November, 2016 that by the year 2040, the country will be producing 8,00,000 tons of solar waste.
In the same year, in accordance to the International Renewable Energy Agency, it was estimated that if you talk about the whole world, 2,50,000 metric tons of solar panel waste were already there. This number is expected to increase to 78 million by the year 2050.
A senior fellow of the Institute for Energy Research, Mary Hutzler says, “That’s an amazing amount of growth, It’s going to be a major problem.”
Generally, the warranty of the solar panels is for 20 to 30 years and sometimes can be even more. With the growth and evolution of solar industry, economically made Chinese panels are flooding the market.
According to Kelly Pickerel, editor-in-chief of Solar Power World, the flood of Chinese panels in the market will break down in almost five years.
In order to have an in- depth knowledge of the challenges associated with the solar panels, it is imperative to first understand how these panels are made.
Different kinds of solar panels are available nowadays. Most of the solar panels contain glass, silver, aluminum and elastic material popularly known as ethylene- vinyl acetate.
The main problem related with these panels is that most of them contain cancer- causing materials like chromium, lead and cadmium.
Though functional panels are sealed with the help of glass and are not dangerous but if the glass breaks down, the sealed substances can get leaked.
If the solar panels are installed in such locations which are prone to hurricanes and hails, then risk is higher. The reason being, heavy air and rain can easily break the glass which further can lead the chemicals to leak into the soil. These chemicals can further leach into the water system.
The solar panels which get damaged and then leach the chemicals is not a giant risk given that, how many of the solar panels helps in addressing the dangers associated with the global warming as well as what amount of risks are present at the time of hurricanes.
If you talk about old electronics, solar panels are just a single chunk of the problem but now it falls under the category of fastest- growing waste. It was once established by China about 70% of the world’s e- waste but the main thing of consideration is that it has now denied to practice recycling.
As a solution, many western countries started shipping the waste to Southeast Asian countries but is it a long- term solution? No.
For instance, some companies sell old panels to the countries who want them in at economical prices but that does not serve the purpose, that only ends up in moving the waste around the world.
There is one more challenge associated with solar panels i.e., recycling now is not economically feasible. Just like cell phones and other kind of gadgets, solar panels have no valuable materials in them. For making up for the large amount of breaking a panel in to its constituents, they absolutely don’t contain anything. Hence, the Electric Power Research Institute has advised that the best feasible option till the situation of recycling arises is to store the old panels for a longer period of time in a landfill.
The damaged panels can also be accumulated and can be put in shipping vessels to ensure that they are in a single area.
According to Justin Baca who is SEIA’s vice president of market and research, “The Solar Energy Industries Association, one of the major industry groups is working together with centers of recycling in order to address the problem early.”
A national recycling program was established two years ago by SEIA with an objective of reaching out to US- based recyclers to scrutinize the processes and practices used by them and make deals with them.
At present, they are working with five recycling centers.
Baca said, “The volumes are really low right now, which is both a blessing and a curse, it’s a blessing in that it’s goo not to have a lot of waste. But not having a lot of waste means traditional recyclers aren’t very interested, since it only becomes economical to do at certain waste volumes.”
Baca also added that it is very difficult to ascertain the cost of recycling in the coming years. If the volume goes higher, it might be worth it for the recycling industries.
This problem definitely requires a legislative solution. Different types of materials are not going to do anything good. As no frames are being used, it is tougher to recycle because there is absence of aluminum in the frames that are to be reused. A change made in the policy can bring a huge difference.
There are many signs which are showcasing that the policies are changing. Many energy policy makers are bringing a solution to add a fee into the cost of solar panels as it will make easier for them to get recycled.
A more proactive method is being used by the state of Washington, a legislation was passed according to which the manufacturers and traders of solar panels will have to make a recycling plan for their solar panels.
The first solar panel recycling plant was opened in Europe in June. These are merely small steps, there is still a requirement of a broad plan to be implemented before the solar panels shut down.