Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Solar energy is clean energy?

You like solar energy because it’s “clean energy”?

But are you sure about that?

Despite the daydreams by the likes of Russel Norman, solar energy still struggles to be economic. It’s not sustainable. This industry that’s never made a profit wouldn’t survive without being subsidised by industries that do.

And it’s filthy:

Nowhere is the waste issue more evident than in California, where landmark regulations approved in the 1970s require industrial plants like solar panel makers to report the amount of hazardous materials they produce, and where they send it. California leads the consumer solar market in the U.S. — which doubled overall both in 2010 and 2011.
    The Associated Press compiled a list of 41 solar makers in the state, which included the top companies based on market data, and startups. In response to an AP records request, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control provided data that showed 17 of them reported waste, while the remaining did not…
    The state records show the 17 companies [who did report] had 44 manufacturing facilities in California, producing 46.5 million pounds of sludge and contaminated water from 2007 through the first half of 2011. Roughly 97 per cent of it was taken to hazardous waste facilities throughout the state, but more than 1.4 million pounds were transported to nine other states: Arkansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Nevada, Washington, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona…
Solyndra, the now-defunct solar company that received $535 million in [“stimulus” money], reported producing about 12.5 million pounds of hazardous waste, much of it carcinogenic cadmium-contaminated water, which was sent to waste facilities from 2007 through mid-2011…


“Having this stuff go to … hazardous waste sites, that’s what you want to have happen,” said Adam Browning, executive director of the Vote Solar Initiative, a solar advocacy group. [But this is less likely] as manufacturing moves from the U.S. and Europe to less regulated places such as China and Malaysia.
    The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, a watchdog group created in 1982 in response to severe environmental problems associated with the valley’s electronics industry, is now trying to keep the solar industry from making similar mistakes through a voluntary waste reporting “scorecard.” So far, only 14 of 114 companies contacted have replied. Those 14 were larger firms that comprised 51-per cent of the solar market share.
    “We find the overall industry response rate to our request for environmental information to be pretty dismal for an industry that is considered ’green,”’ the group’s executive director, Sheila Davis, said in an email.

So it’s not profitable, and it’s not really green.

So why exactly did you like it?


  1. Very good post, Peter.

    I'm a very big fan of nuclear power - in particular the kind of reactors mentioned in this article -

    *Nothing* can beat nuclear for getting a huge amount of power from a small amount of fuel. I think thorium-based reactors are the future (as thorium is more abundant than uranium). Thorium is also almost impossible to use for nuclear weapons (so it'd be less attractive for terrorists).

  2. I have solar hot water. Evacuated glass tubes, copper tubing, aluminium and stainless steel.

    These things are all in common use so I saw little footprint above the usual. This summer I've had hot water for 4 at the cost of the 40 watt pump going when there's enegry gains to be had. The mains power supply has been off for days at a time.

    The economics are probabl;y marginal overall but that's not the whole reason we do things. Progress comes about when we try things but that does not excuse the govt wanting to subsidise me - it was my choice and, as is only right, I paid for it. All of it.


  3. I had to comment because I recently just got some solar panels in London for my home and I love them! Saving money, although I wish the weather was a bit better.

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