Solar panel cadmium debris could be an environmental problem
Last year, the total number of solar panel installations was 629 GW, which is 12 percent more than in 2018.
And in a few years, these panels may become the main headache in waste disposal … writes about this in her article by Irina Slavyanskaya for Oilprice.com
Solar cells vary in size and capacity, but here is an example of the relationship between size, quantity, and power. For example, a solar power plant with a power of only 5 kW could be composed of 20 panels, each with a capacity of 250 W or 16 panels, each with a power of 300 W. Thus, 16 to 20 panels are required. for a 5 kW installation.
One gigawatt of power equals one million kilowatts. If we take the installation of larger and smaller panels from the top, 3.2 panels per kW of power are required. Now multiply that by the global solar capacity added just last year, which was 114.9 GW. We're talking tens of millions of panels added last year alone. And there are millions more in use, some of them near the end of their useful lives.
In a recent study, scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory warned that by the end of this decade, some 8 million tons of waste from solar panels could end up in landfills worldwide. … By 2025, this may increase to 80 million tons. That's up from 250,000 tonnes in 2016, so if anyone needs more proof of how quickly solar energy has grown, they don't need to look further.
There are opinions that waste from solar panels is not particularly harmful. For example, an article in Australia's Renew Economy states that “the typical panel life is 30 years, so every year only 2 square meters of 20 kg panel will be produced per person, almost all of which are recyclable. This is 1% of the annual solid waste generated per person and one part per thousand by weight of Australian annual carbon dioxide emissions per person. By comparison, a car typically weighs 1,500 kg and lives for 10 years, resulting in an average of 150 kg of waste per year. ”
Andrew Blakers also notes that most solar panels are made of glass, a small amount of silicon, which non-toxic, and “in small amounts of copper, silver, aluminum, and very small amounts of solder.”
The International Energy Agency also claims that the world's most popular solar panels pose little health risk. But not everyone agrees.
In a 2018 Forbes article, environmental activist Michael Schellenberg cites insiders and solar industry researchers who claim solar waste contains toxic elements that can seep into land if the panels are disposed of in landfills. What's more, because of these toxic elements, including cadmium, lead and antimony, solar cell recycling is a problem. The problem is that although 90 percent of the panel is glass, it cannot be simply recycled like any other glass because of impurities.
The larger the installation, the more impurities. For example, a massive solar farm proposed a few years ago for Virginia, if built, would include up to 1.8 million panels. They, according to opponents of the project, will contain about five tons of cadmium, which is a toxic element. Currently, the amount of cadmium and other toxic elements is naturally lower in small solar farms, but the fact remains that they cannot be excluded from the composition of solar panels to make them suitable for regular recycling.
It may seem surprising given the global drive for increasing the capacity of solar energy, that the problem of recycling has not yet been solved, but it seems to be so. Earlier this month, University of Australia scientist Charles Darwin sounded the alarm for thousands of solar panels that were to be decommissioned in the Northern Territories alone over the next few years. : ///
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