Friday, January 8, 2010

Solar energy’s dirty little secret

Solar energy’s dirty little secret
by Todd Woody
6 Jan 2010
Link to full article below

Solar energy has long been one of the great hopes for fighting climate change and liberating the world from fossil fuels. And it’s easy to see why solar has captured the collective imagination: All those photovoltaic panels look so shiny, futuristic, clean, and green.

A cauldron. Producing solar PV modules involves a witch’s brew of toxic chemicals. And spooky fog for good measure.That’s not quite the case. Any form of energy production has its dirty side and solar is no exception. While its impact is nowhere near that of coal-fired power plants, photovoltaic modules are made from a witch’s brew of toxic chemicals. Arsenic, cadmium telluride, hexafluoroethane, lead, and polyvinyl fluoride are just some of the chemicals used to manufacture various types of solar cells.

None of this poses much, if any, threat during a solar panel’s working life. Solar modules—which are linked together to form a solar panel—for instance, are solid state and encased in glass or other protective material to keep them dry. The problem, as the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition pointed out in a 2009 report, comes at the beginning and end of a panel’s life. Toxins potentially can be released during the manufacturing process—putting workers at risk—and when panels finally hit the scrap heap decades later.

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