A neighbor of mine is interested in putting solar panels on his house, "to have [his] electric meter roll back and take money off [his] electric bill." Well, it isn't that simple! Or possible really. Why?
Often I drive through neighborhoods and see old solar panels on a house. This is the view from the street of a house I inspected yesterday. Of course these panels stopped working many years ago. They're gorgeous!
Such panels are seldom removed. Even the roofers roof around them, as in this case!
Why is that?
One reason is disposal costs. Many jurisdictions have huge environmental fees associated with solar panel disposal. Why?
Because of the fact that the panels are manufactured with as many as 49 elements that are prohibited from disposal in a land fill. Why?
According to Treehugger.com, " little attention is currently paid to the environmental and health costs of the rapidly expanding solar industry; that 'most widely used solar PV panels are based on materials and processes from the microelectronics industry' which could cause an avalanche of e-waste at the end of their productive lifetime of 20-25 years; and that many of the newest panels with higher rates of efficiency use 'extremely toxic materials with unknown health and environmental risks.' "
Well, that's interesting. I wonder if they tell you that at the sales pitch?
Futurepundit.com agrees. " Solar panels are not 100% green and pure. Solar cells may generate clean green electricity but manufacturing them involves a witches brew of toxic chemicals that could harm the environment if millions of solar panels end up in landfills, according to a report issued by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. "
Not just that. They also say, " The solar industry’s trade group says it embraces the report’s recommendations. 'We completely support take-back and recycling,' says Monique Hanis, a spokeswoman for the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington. 'We’re in a fortunate position in that we’re still an emerging industry and have an opportunity now to establish standards and proactively set up processes before we end up with solar panels on every rooftop.' Most of the PV manufacturers in business today won't exist 25 years from now. Some of the biggest suppliers a few decades hence will be companies that aren't even selling PV today. The take-back idea only works if the original seller exists to do the taking back. Otherwise original sellers are going to need to set aside cash in some kind of industry fund to pay for retrieval and disposal. But how to estimate the cost of doing that 25 years in advance or the rate of return of money set aside today for this purpose? "
The spokeswoman calls solar power an "emerging industry." Well, the first photovoltaic solar cell was invented in the 1880's by a German scientist. The technology was tweaked and furthered for space use by NASA, using its first cells on the Vanguard Satellite in 1958. These panels have been put on people's houses since the late 1960's. That is NOT "emerging."
THEY ARE JUST NOW FIGURING OUT THAT THIS STUFF HAS TO BE DISPOSED OF!?
What "witches brew of toxic chemicals" do solar panels and photovoltaic (PV) cells contain?
According to the Renewable Energy Geek, who also quotes other sites, here are a few: copper iridium, selenide sulphides, cadmium, cadmium telluride, mercury, nickel-cadmium, silicon tetrachloride, gallium arsenide, germanium, pyrolitic boron, nitrides, brominated biphenyls, ruthenium metalorganic dyes, various crystalline silicons and nitrogen trifloride. Try licking some of that! And you're worried about the "dangers" of microwaving something in plastic wrap?!
As to the nitrogen trifloride, the "geek" says: " After all, what good is using nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) to manufacture thin cell photovoltaics (a type of solar panel) if there’s a chance it could escape into the atmosphere undermining the benefits solar energy is supposed to offer in the fight against global warming? By the way research results from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography indicate NF3 gas has 17,000 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide and is rapidly increasing in the atmosphere (historically from the electronics industry but the young growing solar industry may be the next tyrant involved). "
Again, the "young, growing solar industry." Well, NOT! And I'm not sure I want this "young" industry to grow, especially next door to my house!
But why can't we just recycle the panels? According to Future Pundit above, there is NO RECYCLING PROGRAM.
You might not be able to put them on your roof, in your yard, or even in your city. Greencounsel.com posits that the biggest problem in California (THE most solar using state) regards, " design impacts and architectural compatibility.'' Further, " Dozens of other cities across California are making life difficult for people who want to install solar panels on roofs and businesses, even as state leaders are trying to encourage renewable energy with millions in tax credits and rebates. Some cities require that solar panels can't be seen from roads. Others say they must be installed at the same angle as roofs, which can limit the electricity they generate. "
The horror, the horror... You mean HOAs get involved?
I am not quoting screaming, mouth-foaming, anti-alternative-energy conservatives! (I said that tongue in cheek...) These sites quoted are all ADVOCATES of solar power for our homes, and even they recognize these serious problems! None of them would put such a "toxic mix" on their houses, in their yards and probably wouldn't want to see panels next door because of the poisons and disagreeable view. So, what to do? What would they say if a hail storm breaks a few panels and some of the toxins leak into their neighbor's gutter and yard? This happens a lot! Hmmm...
I barely scratched the surface of problems associated with solar panels and the solar industry. Yet we are touting this as a means of weaning our "addiction" to oil and coal? Well, I don't think so!
In Part 2 I will talk a bit about the costs of installing a system. To quote Robert Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts), BE PREPARED.
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC
Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.
Office (703) 330-6388 Cell (703) 585-7560